Discover 8 Unusual Wine Regions to Explore
Bored of the same common wine regions like Napa Valley, Burgundy, or Tuscany? We have something fun and exciting for you with our 8 Unusual Wine Regions to Explore.
There are many wine regions to explore that many have never heard of. Take a trip off the beaten path and explore these unusual places for a delicious glass of wine — you might avoid the tourist crowds as well. Try mixing things up with these 8 Unusual Wine Regions to Explore!
1. The Unusual Wine Region of Lavaux, Switzerland
While we often think of chocolate, skiing, and cheese in Switzerland, the country’s wine region is not to be overlooked. The rolling hills around Lake Geneva are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site with ancient rock walls. The unique Chasselas wine grape commonly grown here makes a light white wine with a slightly spicy undertone and goes perfectly with cheese fondue. It’s very difficult to find outside of Switzerland since the country only exports 2% of its wines.
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History of Lavaux, Switzerland
Although the first documented vineyards in Switzerland are from the 12th century, wine was likely being grown by religious communities before that. The fossil-rich sandstone of the region created delicious wine, but the area’s steepness made it difficult to plant vineyards. Over time, stone walls and terraces were built to help plant and harvest. Because of the steep slopes, even today, almost everything is done by hand, with care taken to preserve the miles of stone walls that the Cistercian monks built.
Lavaux Wine Tours
There are many ways to experience Lavaux, located between Geneva and Lausanne on Lake Geneva. Biking, private tours, and wine tastings are available at multiple locations in this historic wine region.
2. The Unusual Wine Region of Naoussa, Greece
Is there a better place to enjoy wine than where Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, lived? Naoussa is often called one of the most beautiful towns in the Greek islands, and makes an ideal holiday destination for wine lovers. Greek wine is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves, and you can enjoy some world-class wines at affordable prices. Look for wines made from Xinomavro, a grape with an earthy, tannic, acidic, juicy flavor reminiscent of the exclusive red Burgundy wines.
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Naoussa’s Wine History
The first evidence of wine growing in Naoussa was in 1700 when the region was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. It didn’t take long for the wine to spread throughout the Empire. In the 1800s, Greek wine was a popular beverage for rich Europeans. In the 1900s, however, phylloxera wiped out many of the vineyards, and it has taken many years to replant the vineyards and recover from the damage.
Naoussa Wine Tours
The 30-mile wine trail winds through the many vineyards of Naoussa. You can also go through a guided hike of the area that includes history, snacks, wine tastings, and visiting two vineyards.
3. The Unusual Wine Region of Kakheti, Georgia
If you are a wine history lover, Kakheti, Georgia, is the spot for you. Georgia is considered the oldest wine region in the world, known for creating the ancient skin-contact wine that is currently experiencing a comeback. Kakheti is worth visiting even if you’re not there for the wine — it’s full of ancient monuments and breathtaking parks framed by the Caucasus Mountains. But best of all, you’ll love the unique wines made from unusual grapes like Rkatsiteli, Kakhuri Mtsvane, and the ancient Saperavi.
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Kakheti’s Wine History
The country that gave us the word wine, Georgia has the longest known continuous history of winemaking going back 8,000 years, and the same Qveri technique is still used to make many of the wines of the region.
Meaning “buried in the ground,” Qveri is a large clay vessel filled with unaged wine and buried in the ground to age with an opening on the surface. The process is natural, and the wine flavor is never guaranteed, but that’s part of the charm. UNESCO names the method as a part of intangible cultural heritage.
Some of the monasteries in the area have been producing wine since the Middle Ages, and many wineries continue the age-old traditions of the past, integrating them with modern innovation.
Kakheti Wine Tours
Alaverdi Monastery is a must-visit during your stay in Kakheti. The working monastery has been producing wine since 1011 and offers daily tours. Either contact the monastery directly or visit Alaverdi Monastery and two other wineries with this full-day tour.
4. The Unusual Wine Region of Middleburg, Virginia
Virginia, the oldest wine region in the US, is often overlooked but you’ll find multiple small artisanal vineyards producing fine wines just an hour from DC, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area is known for its Bordeaux varieties of wine, like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Merlot. For whites, you’ll find Viognier, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The region’s claim to fame, though is that during a blind tasting in Bordeaux, Jean-Phillippe Roby, a renowned viticulturist, thought the richly fruity and tannic wine was a grand cru from Pauillac, France.
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Middleburg’s Wine History
The first vineyards in Virginia were planted in the 1600s. English settlers hoped the area would become a leading wine producer for England. However, they didn’t have much success and within a couple of years they focused on easier-to-grow tobacco instead. The founding fathers also tried to plant vineyards in Virginia without much success. However, in 1759, Charles Carter was determined to diversify the area’s economy and planted native and European grapes. Soon he had over 1,800 grapevines growing. The Governor of Virginia recorded this as the first instance of European grape production in 1763. Two hundred fifty years later, Philip Carter, a direct descendant of Charles, planted a new vineyard in Virginia, planting 1,800 grapevines in honor of his forefather and re-invigorating interest in winemaking. Today the region has many small family wine producers.
Middleburg Wine Tours
Try the wine that put Middleburg on the map at RdV. The winery offers guided tours of the winery and caves and your choice of 3 wine flights, served with charcuterie and cheese.
5. The Unusual Wine Region of Ethiopia
African wine production is growing, and we’re not talking about South Africa. Ethiopia has been growing grapes for 2,000 years and, in modern times, have turned to making wine. Much of Ethiopia is ideal for growing grapes with warm temperatures, moderate rainfall, and sandy soils. Sometimes vintners can get two harvests a year thanks to the perpetually good weather near the equator. Chenin blanc, Grenache, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and many other grapes grow remarkably well here.
Ethiopian Wine History
Ethiopians have a long history of brewing their own kind of wine, a honey-based alcoholic beverage similar to mead. Grapes and vineyards also grew in the country as early as the 1st century AD, and references to Axumite wine date to the 4th century.
In 1956, the first commercial winery was founded in Ethiopia, Awash Winery. Today it’s run by a local entrepreneur, Mulugeta Tesfakiro. In an effort to increase wine production in the country, the prime minister invited the French company, Castel to experiment with wine production in Ethiopia. The company quickly expanded, and now more than half of the 1.4 million bottles produced are exported to China, Australia, and the US.
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Ethiopian Wine Tours
A visit to Ethiopia wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the two wineries that have made history: Awash Winery and Castel Winery.
See also: 10 Vacations for Wine (and) History Lovers
6. The Unusual Wine Region of Okanagan, Canada
While wine isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Canada, the Okanagan Valley in British Colombia produces some world-class wines in a breathtaking location. You probably haven’t tried Canadian wine, because little is exported, but the dry red and white wines, like Syrah, Merlot blends, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and sparkling wines have won awards. The picturesque lake country is also worth a visit, wine or no wine.
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Okanagan’s Wine History
While the area has been inhabited for thousands of years, Catholic missionaries brought the first vines to Okanagan’s Kelowna and beyond in 1859. The grapes took to the fertile soil, and many small wineries opened. The government prohibited the sale of alcohol for four years, and these wineries shut down. New wineries replaced them once the law was repealed. In 1925, Charles Casorso started growing grapes in the area with his brother. They opened Calona Vineyards in 1930, the now longest-operating winery in the Okanagan. In 1966, Mission Hill winery was founded — another iconic winery in the region.
By the middle of the 20th century, the Okanagan vintners began experimenting with new grape varieties and began to create higher-quality wines. Today, the industry is still growing and gaining popularity.
Okanagan Wine Tours
There are many ways to experience Okanagan wine. Choose from a scenic tour of some of the Okanagan’s prettiest wineries here or here. Or create your own wine tour and visit a few of the 185 wineries in the area.
7. The Unusual Wine Region of Wales
Rainy and cooler climates might not speak of wine country to you, but Wales has been making wine for over 2,000 years. The soil is fertile, drains well, and is able to produce world-class Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other varieties. In fact, a Welsh wine was voted the best sparkling wine at an Italian competition recently.
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Welsh Wine History
The Romans brought vineyards to the UK over 2,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that Wales started going commercial. In 1875, Lord Bute planted vines at Castell Coch, north of Cardiff. This was the first time a vineyard had been planted in Wales since the Middle Ages, so the medieval castle grounds seemed fitting. The castle continued to produce wine until World War I, when the sugar needed to make the wine became too difficult to source. The oldest working winery in Wales today is Parva Farm Vineyard, founded in 1979. Today, the Welsh wine industry is flourishing, with over 30 wineries.
Did You Know: There were lots of vineyards growing in Wales in the Middle Ages.
Welsh Wine Tours
A tour along Wales’ Cambrian Way is sure to be full of picturesque countryside, historic buildings, and plenty of wine. We recommend booking any tour well in advance since most tours are small and fill up quickly.
8. The Unusual Wine Lands of Thailand
Tropical weather is usually not considered the ideal climate for growing grapes, but wineries in Thailand are proving critics wrong. With fantasy-like scenery and even floating vineyards, Thailand is an unusual and welcome spot for a wine vacation. Their wines made from Chenin Blanc, Syrah, Colombard, and other varieties have received awards from prestigious organizations like Decanter World Wine Awards.
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Thailand’s Wine History
Thailand historically has been a beer-drinking nation, although grapes have been grown in Thailand since the 17th century when the French King Louis XIV gave vines to King Narai. Those grapes weren’t commercialized and were eaten as fruit.
In 1986, Yoovidhya, a co-founder of Red Bull, sought to change this. With more than enough money to experiment, he strove to bring wine to his native country and eventually to the world. He won the Thai people over with his mineral water sparkling wine mix. Then he focused on growing quality grapes in the tropical climate of Thailand, bringing in international experts. In 2001, he founded Monsoon Valley Wines, which gained international acclaim. The challenges of growing wine in Thailand persist, but with innovation, many Thai wineries exist and produce wine that continues to impress.
Thailand Wine Tours
Booking a wine tasting or wine safari during your stay in Thailand is a no-brainer. Make sure to visit Hua Hin Vineyard, owned by Monsoon Valley, for a wide range of tastings and activities. PB Valley Khao Yai Winery, a favorite of the Thai royal family, is also a must-visit. Silverlake in Pattaya is a leading innovator in the Thai wine industry with music festivals and daily vineyard tours.
There’s our list of 8 Unusual Wine Regions to Explore!