There are many opportunities for wine drinkers to explore the inner workings of wine production all around the world. From our experiences we’d like to propose four different ways to encounter wine at its source, depending on the type of travel you prefer.
1. Prearranged tour
If you are the kind of traveler who prefers to pay for everything being arranged ahead of time this can certainly be a plentiful option. Tour companies and joint associations of wineries put together tours that will pick you up and drop you off. Within this framework you will find everything from the more big bulk producers that anyone can drive into, to very elite producers, a visit to which will require reservations. The difference really should be determined by one’s budget and the type of wine tasting or possible purchase that one wants to have. In most cases it is possible to access all these wineries on your own, that just takes more planning, but a pre-arranged tour might have a relationship with the wineries not open to the public. It all depends on what type of experience you are looking for.
2. Explore from the roots up
We recently undertook an exploration of French, Italian and South African Wine lands. On that journey we put ourselves in general regions which we knew we liked: Chateauneuf du Pape, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo & Stellenbosch. Instead of focusing on labels or years, we hit up local bars, restaurants, places on the periphery where there would not be as much bias in trying to sell one wine over another. We talked to locals, bartenders and sommeliers and got wonderful tips. “Try anything from this year’, ‘go to this vineyard’ were all bits of information we received and very happily put into effect.
3. Map out wineries you want to see
Beforehand or once on site you will probably find maps of wineries. A do it yourself trip can be really fun, getting lost on backroads, stopping in interesting or scenic places. Be aware that some wineries have regular hours while some are by appointment only. Some will offer free tastings (with an expectation that you purchase) while others have a fixed price for different levels of tastings. Our recommendation is to know your own wine style and commitment, but be open to new wine experiences too. Why not consider trying a new bottle each day on your trip while putting aside some to take home too? You can find a great new wine in a local grocery, at a tasting or in a restaurant. The exposure itself can be the best part of discovery.
4. Stay in a hotel associated with a Vineyard
Another great way to encounter a wine you already know or to open yourself to something new is to stay in a wine region, more specifically a hotel associated with a vineyard. This can get you access as a guest to some great tours and tastings that may not be available to the general public. We enjoyed this experience at the Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco. Enjoying the hotel or the restaurant is a way to have access to the estates own wines in a refined setting on site. A small family estate in Barolo offered a similar experience as we stayed with the owners who live and work the land, getting a personalized tour of the vineyard and operations.
Wine tourism is all about enjoying good wine in a unique destination. Expanding your tastes, not just buying or collecting bottles of wine, you can do that at any liquor store around the world. On the road you can meet the wine in its home environment, with local food, history and culture.