Visiting wine country without the alcohol
In Oregon, and in other wine-producing states, the fall is often a time associated with wine tasting.
Maybe you’re a foodie and belong to several wine clubs and you’re actually scared of what it would mean to NOT drink wine! I hear you! I was born and raised on the good eats and party-culture of New Orleans. I worked for Food Network chefs. Chef Emeril Lagasse cooked my wedding rehearsal dinner. My husband and I chucked our stable jobs and went out on a limb to start a winery, without experience or money. We built a business we were proud of, and I believed we were creating community by bringing people together over glasses of Oregon pinot and bottles of Champagne and Burgundy made by small family producers in France. We hosted hundreds of events and regularly took clients on tasting trips to France. Wine culture was part of my identity and the thought of giving it up was scary.
Only I realized I didn’t have to. In fact, I decided to double down on the sensory pleasure and the connection with people that I enjoyed most about wine and wine culture. I’ve made diverse friends in the alcohol-free space, many of them younger than me, and we get together virtually or in person to taste and passionately discuss AF beers, wines and spirits. One friend meets me in a public park and she is like James Bond with her nifty case of bar tools and jiggers, including silver ice tongs. Another new friend pulls up in her tricked-out van, a rolling bar cart. I get excited to discover a very small kombucha producer making an unpasteurized, low-sugar beverage blended in wine barrels with yeasty smelling kefir water. After dinner, I can linger at the table over exotic teas. Or sample chocolate bars from different continents. Or taste cheese made from the milk of animals fed only spring grass, or cheese rubbed in ash or aged in caves. I can sample prosciutto made from pork raised on hazelnuts. There is so much to savor.
When visiting wine country, I do my research ahead. I find wineries that offer special features, such as a world-class art collection, gift shop, charcuterie plate and Japanese garden (Saffron Fields in Oregon’s Willamette Valley), lawn games, or lavender fields. I visit another winery that boasts a working olive mill (Durant at Red Ridge Farms) to sample the different oils and to hike their nature trail that meanders through the woods, past a sheep’s meadow and through the vines with a view of the snow-capped mountain. I have lunch at a historic farm house cafe, pick raspberries, and pet impossibly cute baby goats (Portland Goat Party). Why not rent a vintage convertible, soar in a hot air balloon or blast through vineyards on an ATV? Take photos, ride a bike or play frisbee golf! Where there are fine wines, there are always talented chefs, so I love to enjoy a terrific meal in beautiful surroundings.
For years, my husband and I operated a wine tasting room. If I were to do it again, I would have local kombucha, nitro cold brew or an AF beer on tap, or maybe a shrub or bitters and soda, for all the folks choosing not to consume alcohol that day for any reason.
I still love wineries, winemakers and wine country restaurants and hotels. Yet today (and yesterday and tomorrow!) I choose not to drink! Little by little, wineries realize that people like me…like us…have money in our pockets - savings from not spending it on alcohol - and that we can be customers too. (At one winery, I bought a boxful of their candles, olive oil and honey). Thus, options will expand.
A winery near me in Oregon, produces a line of alcohol-free spirits, Dhos Spirits, and sampling them in their gracious tasting room, is a treat! Another winery, Raptor Ridge, is offering a non-alcoholic flight of house-made sodas from seasonal ingredients. Still another, Ponzi Vineyards, serves their non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice in the same beautiful crystal wine glasses used for the wine flight, to enjoy in their gorgeous tasting room. Montinore Estate, produces a delicious Verjus (the tart juice of underripe grapes) that I bought to make a refreshing spritz with sparkling water, tonic and a lemon twist! And Roots Wine Company cans a Sauvignon Blanc grape juice with CBD.
Note: Always use your own judgement about whether a visit to a winery will be triggering to you. If you feel that it might, honor that instinct and stage your own fun tasting of alcohol-free beverages and gourmet food products at home.
Let me know in the comments…what are you savoring?