- Kermit Brown
Living in Wine Country: Five Regions Beyond Napa Valley and Sonoma County
These alternative destinations promise world-class wines, breathtaking scenery and space to sprawl
Mansion Global | Tracy Kaler
Napa Valley and Sonoma County have carved out a place on the international stage of wine. These bounteous regions in Northern California promise thriving culinary scenes, stunning landscapes, and optimal locations since they’re but a drive from San Francisco, making them attractive places to call home.
While these pieces of California wine country are arguably two of the world’s most revered, Napa and Sonoma aren’t the only places to live among the vines in the U.S.. From Virginia to the Pacific Northwest, other wine regions around the country are gaining popularity.
For oenophiles who envision a lifestyle with world-class wineries and tasting rooms in their neighboring zip code, these U.S. wine regions are outstanding alternatives to Napa Valley and Sonoma County.
TEMECULA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
A drive through this picturesque valley in Southern California, about 90 minutes from Los Angeles and Palm Springs and 45 minutes from San Diego, reveals a setting similar to Tuscany, Italy. Undulating hills and rainbow-like sunsets set the scene for acres of vines, with over 40 wineries producing the likes of Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Barbera and Syrah.
Minutes from the wine trails, downtown Temecula is a flashback of the Old West. The village oozes charm yet features modern amenities with a parade of restaurants, taverns, and shops.
Besides award-winning wines, a dynamic locale, and jaw-dropping surroundings, quality of life and services rank high on the list of reasons to buy property here. Jackie Steed of the Temecula-based Reliable Realty said the area offers dozens of community parks, plenty of city-organized activities, top-notch schools and an inclusive environment.
“Buyers come here from everywhere,” Ms. Steed said. “We have a reputation of being that place where you can live a good life, where your kids are safe, with great schools and things to do.”
Temecula saw a hot market during the height of the pandemic as folks escaped big cities, with properties selling in less than a week, according to Ms. Steed.
“Most homes sold for over list price with our median home price averaging around $760,000,” she said. “This is for homes generally within 10 to 20 minutes of wine country.” Housing stock ranges from ranch-style houses to mini-mansions, some with acreage.
A four-bedroom home with mountain views is currently on the market for $797,000. And a five-acre estate with a main residence and a guest house is listed for $2.788 million.
WALLA WALLA, WASHINGTON
There’s no shortage of art and culture, delicious food, or 90-point wines in Walla Walla, a town in Washington state with about 33,000 people. Michele Rennie, a longtime resident and managing broker at eXp Realty, said the town has a “sophisticated small city vibe” and is known as being “no more than 10 minutes from everywhere.”
Set in the state’s southeastern section, within a drive of Seattle; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Boise, Idaho, the AVA (American Viticultural Region) is home to 120 wineries and nearly 3,000 acres of grapes, notably Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, among other varieties.
Retirees flock to the area for the wine scene but stay for the quality of life, Ms. Rennie said. But younger folks are drawn here, too. “We are seeing Whitman College alumni returning with their young families. Younger people are creating new businesses or have found a way to do what they do from Walla Walla.”
Offering shops, restaurants, and about 40 wineries, the city center is sought after. “Renovated, historic homes in our downtown core are most popular,” Ms. Rennie said. “Our tree-lined streets, great parks, and walking distance to downtown put them in demand.”
But the southside boasts Blue Mountain views and more than 20 wineries within a three-mile radius, so this area is the most desirable spot for wine estates, Ms. Rennie explained. Here, house styles run the gamut, from traditional to ranches to contemporary, with prices ranging from $1 million to $3 million, she said. Meanwhile, east of downtown, a five-bedroom home on 6.4 acres in a vineyard recently sold for $1.499 million, also the listing price.
THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OREGON
For those looking to leave the crowds of city life behind, look no further than this verdant chunk of Oregon cradled between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains with its eponymous river spilling through the valley. Acres of farmland, boutique wineries and a relaxed atmosphere quintessential to the Pacific Northwest describe this vast region stretching 120 miles from Portland in the north to Eugene in the south.
“Oregon is all about no urban sprawl,” said Samantha Alley, a realtor with the Home Team/REMAX Integrity in Corvallis. “People move to Oregon because they want to be in wide-open spaces.” Ms. Alley said much of the land is zoned for conservation and farm use, which only contributes to its expanse and natural beauty. But folks also relocate for a change of scenery and to embrace the environmentally-conscious lifestyle.
In terms of wine, the Willamette Valley is one of the leading Pinot Noir producers in the world, but white wine drinkers won’t feel neglected because the region crafts excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. A farm-to-table movement is booming here, Ms. Alley said, with restaurants sourcing their ingredients from nearby fields. Superb eateries in Newberg, McMinnville, Dundee, Salem and Carlton, among other towns up and down the valley, rival those in Portland.
The real estate offerings are diverse in the Willamette Valley, ranging from smaller, in-town homes to sprawling properties. In McMinnville, a three-bedroom home overlooking wine country is on the market for $2.1 million. Meanwhile, a luxurious 20-acre Newberg estate with five bedrooms and a hobby vineyard sold for $1.485 million in March.
THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY, TEXAS
Only about an hour from Austin and San Antonio, the Texas Hill Country wine region is the third-largest by area in the U.S.. True to the area’s name, rolling hills abound on the outskirts of quaint towns like Dripping Springs, New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, the hub offering more than 50 of the region’s wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms, both in town and peppering Wine Road 290.
Properties include historical houses from the 1800s to sprawling estates featuring over 10,000 square feet, said Kat Brooks, an Austin-based realtor with Douglas Elliman. “Most homes are an average of 3,200 square feet, and the style of home is Texas ranch style, which can vary in finishes from Tuscan to Craftsman.” For high-end turnkey properties, prices typically range from $2 million to $15 million, she said.
But the region offers plenty of options under that price point as well. Six miles from downtown Fredericksburg, a four-bedroom home on 12 acres with Hill Country views is on the market for $1.69 million.
One of the Texas Hill Country’s most desirable attributes is its undulating landscape marked by vineyards, caverns and state parks, with the Guadeloupe and Colorado Rivers streaming through the region’s valleys. Not to mention the rich European heritage––Germans, Swiss, Austrians and Czechs settled here in the 19th century–– evident in the architecture, food and culture. The region’s proximity to urban centers adds to its appeal. Ms. Brooks said May was the second-best month in the market’s history in the Texas Hill Country.
LOUDOUN COUNTY, VIRGINIA
“Very Virginia” is how Vicky Noufal, owner of the Platinum Group Real Estate Team in Leesburg, describes Loudoun County, a verdant patch of Virginia less than an hour from Washington, D.C. Dating to the 1700s, Loudoun deeply reflects its equestrian roots, she said. Barns, horse properties, colonial-style houses and grand estates dot the area.
The county is also a burgeoning wine destination showcasing 500 acres of vineyards, 40 wineries and tasting rooms, and 60 grape varieties––Chardonnay, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are the most widely planted.
Beyond the vines, newcomers should expect gorgeous farms, outstanding schools and beautiful American history, Ms. Noufal said. Even with Loudoun County’s rural setting, towns like Leesburg, Middleburg and Purcellville provide culture and connection. “Leesburg is Americana with a cool vibe, good restaurants with music and a great sense of community,” she said. “You don’t feel disconnected from the world.”
Like much of the U.S., Loudoun County has recently shifted to a “more normal market.” But buyers can expect to pay between $700,000 to $1 million on average, with some homes costing several million. In Middleburg, a newly-built four-bedroom home is on the market for $4.3 million. And in Leesburg, a four-bedroom house on three acres with rolling hill views recently sold for $1.16 million.
In parts of Loudoun County’s wine region, those rare properties can cost as much as $20 or $30 million, Ms. Noufal said. But generally, “buyers get a lot for their money here.”