When travelling across the world, there is always an opportunity to learn new skills, develop a taste for new cuisine, enjoy local experiences and meet new people. This, of course, can all be experienced on a wine tour.
Travel to: France
Whether you’re stopping for a quick tipple while driving through wine regions or joining a specialist, multi-day wine-tasting tour in Europe or other parts of the world, a winery tour is always a good idea – and even better when you have a designated driver!
Before you go, we’ve collected some useful tips to help you understand what to expect when visiting a winery and how to choose a perfect experience for you.
How to choose your winery visit
With so many options across the globe, it can be difficult to know where to start. Naturally, you might be drawn to wineries or wines that you’re familiar with, but travelling also gives you the opportunity to sample new varieties.
Commercial Vs small business?
Europe certainly has no shortage of winemakers, ranging from industrial size factories with generations of family history to small, family-run businesses who produce comparatively minuscule amounts of wine per year, used mainly for local consumption. These are the kinds of wines you’ll never see on the shelf back home and a great souvenir to take back with you (if the bottle makes it that far).
Old world vs new world?
Do some research to understand what wines are typical of the region you’re visiting for the most authentic experience. Many grape varieties have been exported around the globe for cultivation in new lands, but it’s always interesting to get back to the source and understand how world famous varieties found their roots.
It’s also important to note that wines can often be categorised as the old world or new world wines.
Old world wines often originate in Europe, including the likes of Bordeaux, Chianti, Vermentino, and will usually be made according to strict rules and regulations, being limited to grape cultivation only in certain areas. These are referred to as AOC or DOC in France, Italy and Spain respectively, which can be found on the label.
New world wines, on the other hand, are often the winemaker’s playground, where they make the rules, cultivating varieties outside of their region of origin and often mixing non-traditional cuvees.
It also helps to consider which kind of wine experience you’re more interested in when selecting a winery. Are you a traditionalist or a modernist? Are you interested more in deepening your wine knowledge, or taking a more light-hearted approach and simply supporting a local wine-maker who works with your favourite grape variety? The choice is yours!
If you’re driving, simply make sure you have a designated driver and check out the winery’s website for directions. If your winery visit is included on a tour, this bit is easy and no-one has to worry about having to hold back if you’ve chosen your perfect winery experience.
If you’re an independent traveller, it’s always best to call ahead. Larger wineries will conduct group tours at different allotted times throughout the day in various languages, whereas a smaller winery may only be open for a visit that is pre-arranged, so it’s not only a time-saver but also simply courteous to plan ahead.
What to expect on a wine tour
Although the wine tour experience will vary from one winery to the next, it is safe to say that there will always be certain things you can reasonably expect to encounter.
Your tour will usually follow the wine-making process itself, starting with explaining harvest, grape selection, fermentation, ageing and bottling before tasting.
One of the most romantic parts of visiting a winery is gazing out across the endless rows of vines with grapes just waiting to be brought to maturity. This is often where the tour will begin, before heading indoors to the processing area and finally, down to the cellar where you can surround yourself with beautiful wooden barrels and endless rows of bottles.
When I started doing wine tours I was interested in learning about the different ways in which the wine itself was produced and the processes involved which impacted the distinct flavors of wines. This level of understanding helped me better appreciate what I was drinking as well as determine what wines I prefer and why.
While I was fascinated with the process of wine-making when I first took tours, I am not so interested in that aspect of it now. So I make sure to seek out tours that are organized around things I do like; some tasting with food, a combination of winery visits with other destination highlights, etc. Not every wine tour is the same, so make sure that you find one built around your interests. – Carol, Girl Gone Travel
The wine and the history of the winery
Throughout your visit, you will typically learn about the grape varieties in the region and how wine is made. If you are visiting multiple wineries in the same region, you will usually find this part a little repetitive, but there are often small nuances which differ from one visit to the next.
Winemakers are often following on a family tradition, even at the big wineries like the famous Marques de Riscal in La Rioja, Northern Spain. Needless to say, the family history will feature strongly in your wine tour too.
I enjoy how a wine tour fuses tourism and authentic Spanish culture together, to create an immersive experience. In Spain, the wineries I visited were family-owned and operated.
It’s truly a way of life and a means of income for Spaniards in La Rioja. It was wonderful to see locals and tourists support them. To anyone interested in a wine tour, I would say go during autumn. The vineyards are the most beautiful and vibrant from September to October! Also, if you’re in a place with multiple wineries, book two in one day. Each wine tour has a different vibe. – Sojourner, Sojournies
Obviously, this is the fun part! A standard wine tasting tour will have you sampling anything from one to six wines, and some may even have small bites of local meats and cheeses to accompany your tasting. Tasting sizes are often around half the amount of a regular glass of wine.
Often your guide will give you some pointers on what you’re looking for in the glass visually, as well as explain the aroma and bouquet. Of course, you will have an opportunity to buy directly from the winemaker too, with some offering shipping options for larger quantities.