Experts Tips for Traveling Through the World’s Great Wine Region
We are always interested in tips for traveling in wine country. Even though there is great diversity in the world's wine regions, there are some travel tips that can be applied around the world. We put together 20 of our favorite wine country travel tips from a number of seasoned travelers and wine tasters. We hope you find a few tips that make your next trip exceptional. Please drop us a line and let us know if there are tips you would add. Traveling through the world's wine regions is an amazing experience and a great way to become a wine expert!
[Update Summer/Fall 2020] We are all balancing the risks associated with COVID-19 and the things we love to do. Wine country travel is near the top of our list of things that bring joy to life. However, we are being very cautious about traveling while the virus is widespread in the US.
We think there are ways to lower your risks if you decide to visit the wine country. We put together a list of tips for safe wine country travel. There is no way to eliminate the risk of contracting the virus when you are out in public mixing with people outside your immediate family. There are ways to avoid situations where virus spread is more likely.
Get started early
We are used to associating wine with the evening—dinner, post-work drinks—but when planning a day tasting and touring your way through wine country, it is best to get started as early as possible. Many wineries close daily at 4 pm and very few stay open past 6.
Consider travel insurance
Nothing is worse than getting excited to travel through wine country and having to cancel. Take some sting out of this disappointment by signing up for travel insurance. At least with trip insurance, you can recover most of your money and book your dream trip for a future date.
Be cautious of trying to fit too much into one day
The number of wineries you see in one day depends on what region you are in and what the wineries have planned for you. If you have booked ahead, or know someone at the winery, chances are they will want to give you a VIP tour, invite you for lunch, etc.
If you are just stopping in for a tasting, your experience will be shorter. Likewise, a region like Napa with well-established routes and wineries in close proximity to one another will allow you to see more in one day; but if you are in Anderson Valley just to the north you will spend much more time getting from place to place. On average, for me, 4-5 wineries is the maximum I like to see in one day; this gives me time to tour the facilities, have a leisurely lunch, and enjoy the region between properties.
Consider hiring a driver
This is fairly self-explanatory: you will be drinking. If you have a driver, when you’re reclining in an Adirondack chair on a winery patio, gazing out on a sunlit valley and wondering if you should have a glass of that Pinot you liked so much, you can definitely make the choice to enjoy without worry. Staying safe while wine tasting is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your fellow wine lovers.
Save on lodging and buy more wine
You will always want to buy more wine when you are traveling in wine country. Finding a nice place to stay that is affordable will give you more flexibility. I like to search for vacation rentals in the area. You don't always need to be smack in the middle of the vineyards to enjoy a wine region. You can save money and find beautiful homes on services like Turnkey.
I am all about spur-of-the-moment, but when I’m in wine country there are often specific wineries I want to visit. While most wineries with tasting rooms are open for walk-in tastings or tours, some, including many of the high-end wineries, require appointments. This is as easy as calling ahead.
Join a wine tasting club
Wine tasting can be expensive. Wineries differ in the amount they charge for tastings, but 90% of wineries will charge you something. Joining a wine tasting club like Priority Wine Pass in advance of your trip can save you a lot. Wineries join these clubs in order to get more traffic to their tasting rooms. In exchange, they offer discounts and VIP amenities to club members.
Understand tasting room etiquette
Seasoned wine country travelers know that winery tasting rooms have a set of unwritten rules. These rules are there to make the wine tasting experience fun and pleasurable for everyone. Being familiar with these rules of general tasting room etiquette will make your time in the tasting rooms that much more enjoyable.
Have a plan for shipping your wine back
Wine shipping is fraught with byzantine rules. Spend an hour or two before your trip and learn as much as you can about wine shipping. You need to know whether the wineries can ship directly to your home address. If you are traveling out of the country, you should be familiar with any duties or taxes that you will incur when the wine is imported. Wine bottles and the wine inside are fragile. Consider whether you need insurance and research how to pack your bottles. This is a start. Here is a good source for more information.
PRO TIP: Several of our Facebook followers ask the winery or their hotel for shipping boxes that can fit up to two cases of wine. The boxes will include packaging that protects the bottles. You can then check the boxes in as luggage and avoid your state's wine shipping regulations.
Be prepared for micro-climates
Often, wine regions or vineyards are selected because they have a specific climate. This means in two vineyards very near to each other, one may be chilly and windy and one may be calm and sunny. A great example of this is a day I spent touring Tuscany; starting in the high-altitude region of Pomino, I was wearing a coat and still shivering. Moving down the foothills to Chianti, I removed my jacket and was comfortable. Finally ending up in Bolgheri, I found myself sweating in the vineyard—all within a few hours.
Make sure you bring along protection for the sun. Often times, you will be walking through vineyards or tasting outside. That's a lot of sun exposure throughout the day. Protecting your skin is important and after a few drinks, you may not notice how much sun you are getting.
Bring along protection from bugs. Again, you will be outside a lot on any visit to the wine country. This is even more true now with wineries moving their tastings outside. You don't want to end your day early because of too many bug bites.
Enjoy local cuisine when traveling in wine country
They say what grows together goes together. If you are in a region known for a specific wine, chances are they are also known for a specific food, and that the two will be delicious together. When in Beaune, enjoy beef, Bourguignon. Have pasta with fresh truffles in Piedmont and local oysters in Nantes.
Talk to the locals
They will have the insider tips—where to taste, where to eat—and may be able to recommend people they know personally to give you that special, authentic experience.
Learn (a little bit) of the language
it is amazing how far knowing how to say “hello”, “thank you”, and ”cheers” will get you with the locals.
Learn about the history of the region
Aside from being fascinating in and of itself, the history of a wine region is intimately tied to the history of wine in that region—and will help you better understand and appreciate what you are tasting. To understand the changing of hands between France and Germany of Alsace, for instance, is paramount in understanding the style of the wine and food—not to mention the architecture and culture.
Wine is better when shared. Traveling with friends will not only provide memories to last a lifetime, but will also help make customized transportation and accommodation more affordable.
Know where your priorities lie
Marlborough, New Zealand is beautiful—but if you don’t like Sauvignon Blanc you will likely not enjoy wine tourism there. Likewise, the Burgundy region is legendary but if you were hoping for spectacular mountain views you will leave disappointed.
If you enjoy being active, there is no better way to explore wine country than on two wheels. This allows you a better vantage point for the vines, the freedom to turn off at a moment’s notice, and the fresh outdoor air.
Don’t be afraid to spit
The spit buckets and/or sinks are there for a reason! If your goal for the day is to actually taste and evaluate as many wines as possible, spitting may be a good idea to avoid dulling the senses. If your goal is to catch a buzz and have a carefree day in wine country, then by all means, ignore the buckets!
Inquire with your hotel about specials deals and activities
Hotels in wine country often have activities put together to show you the best of their area. I’ve seen everything from sunrise hikes through vineyards with a champagne brunch at the top, to hot air balloon rides, to standard bus tours. They may offer package deals as well. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
You can read, How To Wine Taste On A Budget for more tips on saving.
Pay attention to everything around you
The beauty of a wine is in its “terroir” or “sense of place”. When in wine country, notice your surroundings: are you on flat land or steep mountainsides? Is the soil rocky, chalky, fertile? Are wineries big, shiny, with the latest equipment or tiny with a few barrels and a shed? Are the cellars immaculate or musty? Everything around you will be translated into the wine itself, so notice it!