choosing the non-alcoholic path

Visiting wine country without the alcohol

by Martha Wright •

In Oregon, Napa Valley and 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 non-alcoholic beers, non-alcoholic wines and alcohol-free 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.

What to do at a vineyard if you don't drink?

When visiting wine country, I do my research ahead of time. 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.

In Europe or lately in the US, they even have wine tours for non drinkers.

For years, my husband and I operated a wine tasting room. If I were to do it again, I would have local kombucha, non-alcoholic wine, 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.

If you’re looking for expanding options in the non-alcoholic wine category make sure to check out No & Low’s 
Guide on Non-Alcoholic Wine.

Does Napa or Oregon have non-alcoholic wine?

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.

How about visiting the world famous Napa Valley without drinking wine? Yes, these options do exist and are always growing. For instance t
he beautiful castle winery Castelo di Amorosa, offers fresh, flavorful and aromatic non-alcoholic grape juices from premium grapes like Muscat Canelli, Gewürztraminer and Gamay.

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? And if all this talk about wine country has you craving a delicious glass of non-alcoholic wine I encourage you to discover No & Low’s very own Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Chardonnay. Cheers!

Martha Wright is a New Orleans-born wine industry veteran turned sobriety/mindful drinking coach. She works in small groups and 1:1 in her own practice, Clear Power Coaching, as well as coaching hundreds of people within This Naked Mind (founded by best-selling author Annie Grace) where she is a Senior Coach. She offers a path to regain control that focuses on understanding the neuroscience of habits, uncovering unconscious beliefs, honing coping tools and cultivating fun and play. The goal is not removing alcohol, but rather removing alcohol is just one tool in reconnecting to our best thriving lives. She loves sourcing and tasting the latest non-alcoholic beverages; inspirational podcasts (Ten Percent Happier, This Naked Mind and Take A Break are current faves); visiting her daughter in Paris; cooking and eating; and roller skating.

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R RaShell C.
Jul 3, 2022

Martha and AF Peers,
I’m on a journey to find fabulous AF beer and wine. The articles and blog posts have been most helpful. Just because I’ve been AF for over five years doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the ceremony of wine tasting and socializing.

C Christina Dillow
May 27, 2022

I’ve been AF for over two years. As a veteran of the hospitality industry, in the wine soaked region of Paso Robles, I am wondering if people would be interested in a tea totaler tour. I don’t want to focus on tea either but a nice guided tour of some cool places to visit on the central coast. My husband (who is a drinker) says people wouldn’t pay for that kind of tour, they would drive themselves…hmmmmm. I think I would pay to have someone do the driving and share great stories of the food and wine scene from an ex-wino.
Thanks for this article. It’s comforting to know that other’s can still enjoy the wine and beer culture without imbibing. It’s still a lot of fun!

M Martha Wright
Nov 3, 2021

In response to JoAnne: That is an awesome idea for a future post and one of my favorite topics. As a winemaker/importer, I have some very strong opinions on AF wines and have tasted extensively, so here goes. The options are growing rapidly. Some of the earlier AF wines were terrible and too sweet. Producers made up for lost mouth feel when you remove alcohol by adding in sugar. And we all want to be patient while producers figure this out! It’s actually more expensive and an extra step to remove the alcohol. The equipment is expensive. But the two big game-changers are that the technology has improved (allowing the alcohol to be removed gently and at a low temperature so that flavors remain) AND there is now a bigger market of customers who are interested. I very much like the AF Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand by Giesen, recommended in the comments by Bess! It is crisp and dry and smells and tastes like wine (not juice). Not only that, but it smells and tastes like a New Zealand Sauv Blanc. It’s one of the first AF wines I know of to proudly say where it’s from and what varietal! In general, AF sparkling wines have been having a lot of success because the bubbles add a delight to the palate and help ensure the mouth-sensation we know and love. The sparkling wines I like are the most dry (ie, the least sweet). Noughty, which you’ll find right here on the No & Low site is a particular favorite. Nice minerality, crisp, dry, lovely. It’s made by a female winemaker who makes alcoholic sparkling wine too. Another huge favorite of mine is Sovi, made by a wine industry couple in Napa, from grapes sourced just east of Napa Valley. They make a fabulous dry sparkling rosé and now a still red, sold in cans, which is very convenient for taking on the go, and when you don’t want to open a full bottle. Another very solid, dry still red wine is from Buonafide 0.0. Keep your eyes on this site, too, because Louis and Max from No & Low have a nose for good new stuff. I hope this helps and thanks for your comment!!

E Esther
Nov 3, 2021

I loved this. Sometimes I feel sad because I can’t go back to wine-soaked adventures in my favorite places but this helped me to see it differently!

B Bailey Hess
Nov 2, 2021

I just visited my hometown of Sonoma, CA for the first time since becoming AF. While I steered clear of tasting rooms (for several reasons) I WAS able to score 4 bottles of Geisen 0% sauv blanc right off the shelf at the local Whole Foods! This yummy N/A wine has been virtually impossible to find where I live now (Seattle). Looking forward to checking out your OR recos next time I’m down there. Thanks!