Feature

Tippling trips: Exploring America’s wine—and whiskey—country

Michigan’s Riesling wonderland; Getting personal on Long Island; California’s wine-country rest stop; Where Bourbon is born

Michigan’s Riesling wonderlandEven though I’ve never considered myself a wine snob, said Andrew Putz in Food & Wine, I was of the opinion that “just because all 50 states are capable of producing wine does not mean they all should.” But the more friends I heard gushing about the wine produced near Traverse City, Mich., the “more curious I became.” I had always thought Michigan would be too cold for wine grapes, but it turns out that part of the state sits on the same latitude as the top French wine regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Alsace. In fact, the “cooling effect of Lake Michigan creates ideal growing conditions for Riesling, the area’s most widely planted grape.” Michigan has 71 commercial wineries, but many of the best are on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas, which run north into Grand Traverse Bay on either side of Traverse City. “As we drove north through Old Mission—the road taking us over a series of rolling hills through forests, fruit orchards, and vineyards”—I realized that this countryside was not only fertile but remarkably beautiful. Sipping a fine local Riesling that evening, I had to “wonder why anybody would ever second-guess the decision to visit this area.”Contact: Wineriesofoldmission.com

Getting personal on Long IslandOnce a hobby for “rich lawyers and venture capitalists,” winemaking on Long Island has become serious business, said Nancy Trejos in The Washington Post. A 90-minute drive from Manhattan, the stretch of land known as the North Fork has been producing wine since 1973. But only in recent years has a new generation of winemakers stopped trying to emulate wines from other regions, and begun “making true Long Island wines” that better express the region. What’s more, the winemakers here are unusually willing to personally show off their wares. “It was nothing like what I’d experienced during a visit to Napa.” At Castello di Borghese, Marco and Ann Marie Borghese met me in the vineyard before taking me on a tour. At Palmer Vineyards, winemaker Miguel Martin let me taste rosé and Sauvignon Blanc “straight out of their stainless-steel tanks.” Finally, at Shinn Estate Vineyards, I actually stayed the night at the bed-and-breakfast maintained by proprietors Barbara Shinn and David Page. There I enjoyed some Cabernet Franc, some Cabernet Sauvignon, and—in the morning—“a hearty breakfast that included a duck egg from a nearby farm and bacon cured on the property.”Contact: LIwines.com

California’s wine-country rest stop“Sitting at the junction of three prime winegrowing regions—the Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander valleys—Healdsburg is a nexus for some of California’s best wines,” said Jon Bonné in the San Francisco Chronicle. A quaint, “bucolic little town,” Healdsburg was until recently just a place where San Francisco–area wine seekers stopped for local produce while on their way to nearby Sonoma or St. Helena. Then, almost overnight, luxury hotels and four-star restaurants began to sprout up. Thankfully, so far, these have been seamlessly woven into Healdsburg’s country charm, rather than overrunning it. Follow the “sun-draped country roads” to the town center, where a Saturday farmers’ market still offers “some of the best produce in Northern California.” Grab a sandwich and enjoy it in the “shady, peaceful town square,” or shop for toys and antiques. Then head to wine country proper to find “outstanding examples of nearly every type of North Coast wine,” including Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Cabernet.Contact: Healdsburg.com

Where Bourbon is born“Kentuckians like to brag about” their state’s bourbon—they’ve even created a heritage trail dedicated to it, said Bruce Schreiner in the Associated Press. On the Bourbon Trail, “no single road connects the distilleries”—which include Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, and Wild Turkey—but a driving tour provides an unforgettable introduction to the colorful landscapes of central Kentucky, where a mix of thoroughbred farms, horse-racing tracks, and bluegrass music venues complement the tasting experience. The state produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon, which officially must contain at least 51 percent corn mash and be no more than 80 percent alcohol. At Woodford Reserve, you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the process. After placing raw white whiskey into charred oak barrels to age, distillers check its maturity by drilling into the barrels’ bottoms to extract samples for tasting. Tourists, though, have to wait until the end of the tour to learn how “a super-premium, small-batch bourbon” ought to taste.Contact: Kybourbontrail.com

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