Last year, travel plans came to a screeching halt. For wine professionals, this meant instead of plotting out stops through Burgundy or Bandol, turning their attention to weathering the challenges brought on by Covid-19. And as if 2020 weren’t enough of a dumpster fire of a year already, wine producers and growers in Oregon, Washington, and California were forced to contend with wildfires that affected their vintages with smoke taint.
Now that things are opening up and more travel restrictions are being lifted, we’re all eager to fill the travel void. Many wine pros are inspired to cross off bucket-list destinations or prioritize return-trip wish lists. Others are making up for lost time or missed conferences and trade events by building itineraries around reconnecting with peers.
We polled over a dozen sommeliers, buyers, and producers from California, Texas, New York, and more on the drinks destinations they’re looking forward to the most on their travel lists. From Paris and Provence, to Sicily and Tokyo, here are wine pros’ post-pandemic picks.
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The Top Post-Pandemic Drinks Destinations Recommended by Wine Pros:
- Charleston, S.C.
- Southern Italy
- The Aeolian Islands
- Warren, Maine
- Bandol/Provence/the French Riviera
- Porto, Portugal
- Burgundy and Champagne
- Santa Barbara County (Buellton, Solvang, and Santa Ynez)
- New Orleans
Keep reading for details about the drinks destinations topping wine pros’ post-pandemic travel lists!
“Charleston, S.C. First stop will be Graft Wine Shop to catch up with the dynamic duo Femi and Myles! Looking forward to some bubbles, that new happy hour menu, and Femi’s latest and greatest playlist. Always good to check in with Justin Coleman of Monarch Wine Merchants. I’ll swing by Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co. for all my beer needs (P.S. I love to shop for wine there, too). I’ll grab a few bottles of Fernet from High Wire Distilling and catch up with Scott. Burgers from Little Jack’s, Leon’s for some yard bird and oysters, rooftop cocktails at The Dewberry… I could go on and on.”—André Hueston Mack, Sommelier at Large & Sons Hospitality Group, Brooklyn
“Oregon! I visited the Willamette Valley years ago and want to get back to explore all the state’s wine-growing regions. I’d really like to see how a region with significant rainfall during the growing season is able to make such balanced, thought-provoking, tasty wines. I got the chance to meet Stephen Hagen from Antiquum Farm at a tasting at Market Street Wine in Charlottesville. His passion, approach, and personality makes me want to visit his farm and vineyard first, and see how he is able to grow grapes, as well as pigs and sheep, in such an integrated way.” —Kirsty Harmon, Winemaker and General Manager, Blenheim Vineyards, Charlottesville, Va.
“Southern Italy, Sicily, and the Aeolian Islands. Over the last year I’ve learned that I really enjoy wines from volcanic wine regions. They are usually refreshing, very mineral-driven, and slightly salty. Our first stop on our way down to Sicily would probably be a long lunch at Quattro Passi, near Sorrento. They have an amazing wine cellar, and my mouth is already watering thinking about their squash blossoms and Bolognese. The Aeolian Islands are an under-the-radar destination with killer local wines that I would love to see and explore for myself!” —Margaux Reaume, Co-founder, Argaux, Costa Mesa, Calif.
“My first trip would be to visit Oyster River Winegrowers in Warren, Maine. I first came across the wines from maker Brian Smith at one of our Sunday Asado dinners at Colonia Verde. I tried it and was floored, and the guests were too. I then started trying his pét-nats and that’s when I fell hard for his wines. He does a rosé pét-nat made out of Merlot grapes — it’s life changing. Brian is truly a wonderful guy, making beautiful and unique wines in a region that one doesn’t really think of … my kind of wine!”—Tamy Rofe, Partner and Sommelier, Colonia Verde and Disco Tacos, Brooklyn
“I’m excited to get back out and about here in my home state of Oregon. Even just driving an hour outside of Portland feels luxurious right now! So, I’m looking forward to heading out to the Columbia Gorge to visit wineries in the Hood River area. I love Analemma Wines in Mosier, Oregon. They’re just a few minutes outside of Hood River but you feel like you are in the Italian countryside. They have a wide range of amazing organic and biodynamic wines, and a spectacular outdoor tasting space with views of the whole valley.” —Carrie Wynkoop, Owner, Cellar 503, Portland, Ore.
“Sicily! It’s been on my list for years. The trip will include a glass of Carricante with a view and a sea breeze, taking in the cultural and historical wonders of Taormina, and visiting Mount Etna and the wine country around the volcano. I’ll also seek out historical red grape varieties like Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’Avola. I always enjoy taking a cooking class in a new country, but also can’t wait to eat at Ristorante San Giorgio e il Drago in Randazzo.” —Chantal Forthun, Winemaker, Flowers Vineyards & Winery, Healdsburg, Calif.
“Bandol/Provence/the French Riviera. I want to visit two of the most legendary Bandol wineries and their vineyards: Domaine Tempier and Chateau Pradeaux. I’ll be seeking out as much Bandol and Cassis wines as possible, especially rosés and whites. Lately, I have been dreaming of sitting at a restaurant along the Cote d’Azur enjoying a late lunch of bouillabaisse and Provençal rosé after a morning of visiting a winery or two.” —Cappie Peete, Beverage Director, AC Restaurants, Raleigh, N.C.
“Paris is always on my list and a guaranteed good time. It’s all the things I missed in the pandemic — friends, spontaneity, street life, and café culture. We went two years ago after not having gone in decades; the eating was so much fun, but I was pregnant, so I missed out on a lot of good wine drinking. My first stop will be La Buvette for natural wine. There are only a few tables, and we weren’t able to snag one when we went, but it’s my ideal way to sip wine and snack.” —Julia Sherman, Owner/Creator, Jus Jus Verjus, Pasadena, Calif.
“I can’t wait to go back to visit my family in Porto, Portugal. I’m always a sucker for great port, and that’s port mecca; and now, I have a new appreciation for making a day of jumping between all the wineries. My first stop would be Sandeman and then Graham’s. Without a doubt, I’ll be seeking out white port. We don’t see it as much stateside. One of the trendy things right now is white port with tonic and a squeeze of orange.” —Steve Pinheiro, Creek Club Restaurant Manager & Sommelier, Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Ga.
“Europe is calling my name, Burgundy and Champagne in particular. First stop is Paris. I’d have a quick lunch at Clamato, then jump on the train and head straight to Burgundy to drink hidden treasures for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are so many exciting young growers in Champagne; I’m eager to visit and taste with them. And then in Burgundy, I want to spend time with the winemakers and get a better sense of how the 2020s are tasting and how the 2021 vintage is shaping up.” —Thatcher Baker Briggs, Founder, Thatcher’s Wine Consulting, San Francisco
“Ever since my business partner TJ Provenzano and I visited Tokyo in September 2019, we’ve been dying to go back and explore Japan’s emerging wine culture. The first stop would be Fukagawa Wine Garden, where Rooftop Reds’ proprietary planter boxes are currently growing native Japanese grapevines! Along with great wine selections from Fukagawa Winery (one of the first urban wineries in Japan), the wine garden offers traditional bar snacks and dishes from all over Japan. Two places that are worth revisiting are Kiraboshi Restaurant & Wine Bar, owned by Satoko Konuma, and Sherry Club in Ginza. At both establishments, daily specials, events, tastings, and hospitality abound.” —Devin Shomaker, Partner, Rooftop Reds, Brooklyn
“Santa Barbara County to check out Buellton, Solvang, and Santa Ynez. They’re home to a handful of producers who make great wines, everything from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir to Syrah. The first stop is a sister winery to Screaming Eagle called Jonata. These guys are just killing it down there and making high-quality wines. The top priority is discovering interesting white wines. My winemaking friends and I are on a mission to make them well and really expand white wine and its reputation.” —Landon Donley, Head Winemaker, Trinchero Napa Valley, St. Helena, Calif.
“I’ve always been in love with New Orleans and it’s always on my list of drink destinations. There is a combination of romanticism, culture, and flavor that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. In fact, I plan to retire there, and it will become my final destination. First stop is usually Port of Call for a mushroom cheeseburger and a couple of Monsoons.” —Randy Hester, Founder and Winemaker, C.L. Butaud Wines, Austin, Texas