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Wine-tasting 101 - Tips for Winery Tours


Introduction - 

Once upon a time I used to be a wine drinker. Now three years a teetotaler, I miss a fine drop – especially on a nice, hot, summer’s day! So what’s a teetotaler doing writing an article about wine tasting? Well, the knowledge I have accrued during my time as a wine-drinker would be wasted (no pun intended) if I didn’t share it, hence this article. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest or use here when you’re planning your next excursion to a wine-tasting region. Bon voyage! 

Let’s go!

If you’re a wine-lover and you’re planning a trip, why not go on a wine-tasting tour at any number of amazing wineries around the globe? Wine tasting can be one of the most romantic and rewarding events to do while on holiday, especially if you prepare in advance for the experience. Here are some tips that will ensure you obtain the maximum benefits while visiting the wineries on your itinerary:

Step 1. Choosing your destination.

The country you wish to visit and the different wine regions in that country are two things that will determine what kind of trip you have. If you are traveling internationally, keep in mind the different language and customs that you can expect to encounter. If there are no language barriers to consider, you can save yourself cost and effort by not having to employ a translation service when booking tours, accommodation, travel and visiting wineries.
  • Research local wineries and accommodation in the region you wish to visit and read visitor comments on travel/wine blogs to gauge the type of experience and reception you can expect.
  • Carefully consider the distance between your accommodation and the wineries you wish to visit. Factor in travel times to and from your accommodation and the wineries by using a map to plot your journey. Travel times and fuel costs both need to be factored into your travel plans in order to remain within time-fares and budget.

Step 2. Selecting the best time of the year to travel.

Consider what time of the year is the best for your travel preferences. When you are deciding which wine region to visit there are a few things to consider. One of the most important things is knowing what time of the year to visit. Timing is crucial if you want to experience the wines and wineries at their best.
  • Winetraveler.com suggests that there are certain advantages for each of the seasons. For example, during the winter months there will be less crowds and, as a result, you will often have more of an intimate experience with the vintners. Another advantage is that accommodation and other services are usually less expensive in the off-peak season.


Step 3. Making travel arrangements

Decide what type of experience you want before you book your flights. Sometimes you will get more from your budget if you do all the booking and planning yourself. If you have a bigger budget, some tour companies and airlines offer exclusive package deals which include travel, accommodation and winery tours but these are generally more expensive than doing it yourself. The greater advantage in this instance is to book and plan your own trip as you will be able to pick and choose your own accommodation and the wineries you wish to visit.
  • Consider using local transportation to and from wineries to mitigate any issues that may arise with consuming too much alcohol. Many wine regions have bus or chauffeured businesses that offer pick-up/drop-off services from from your hotel to the wineries.
  • Allow enough time to visit all the wineries you want to see. Always allow extra contingency in your accommodation bookings and travel plans so that you do not have a stressful time meeting booking/reservation deadlines. Unplanned for events such as bad weather, winery closures, local transportation issues etc. can all affect your plans.

Step 4. Researching Wines and Wineries 

Most wineries have websites and this is the best way to determine which ones to visit within a region. Before you reserve your wine tasting tour, think about what wines you prefer and whether the wineries offer the tastings you want to experience. Some regions and wineries specialize in certain varieties. For example, if you’re hoping to taste Chardonnay and you’re visiting a region famous for its Pinot Noir, chances are you might have difficulty locating your favorite tipple at a local winery.
  • Check out websites where visitors to the region you wish to travel to have left reviews. While everyone’s experience will be different, customer feedback is useful in determining what wines and wineries you wish to experience.
  • Plan your holiday around your favorite wine and visit the region where the best wines are grown. Alternatively, why not try a new wine or visit a region for the pleasure of experiencing the countryside and the unique architecture and landscape of the wineries within that area?

Step 5. Budgeting for Best Value 

Before you book your flights, determine what you want to achieve with your trip and how much you want to spend. Do you just want to have a relaxing holiday and taste some local wines? Perhaps you just want to visit a new country and get drunk on fine wine along the way? Whatever your reason for traveling, realize that the best holidays are the ones where you don’t blow your budget.
  • Shop around for the best value accommodation with the comforts you want. Keep in mind the local seasons and temperatures when booking a hotel or B&B. For example, if it’s a hot climate, does your accommodation provider have good air conditioning? If A/C is something you can’t live without then this will affect your budget for accommodation.
  • Local knowledge is a great way to get the best deals. Ask your network of friends/colleagues if they have traveled in that region and what the best deals are. Alternatively, research on the internet and make a list of the options and costs available before you decide where you spend your money. Lonely Planet guidebooks are another great way to save money as they usually list cheap accommodation, dining and activities per region.
  • Allow a reserve fund for holiday emergencies and always make sure that your budget allows for travel and health insurance. Also, remember you’re there to taste wine. Chances are you might not be able to resist bringing home a carton of your favorite vino and that reserve fund might just allow you to do so.
  • If you intend to purchase wine to bring back home, check out the winery websites and their price guides before you leave to give you an estimation of how much you want to spend on wines. Keep in mind customs and shipping regulations in regard to quantities and costs.


Step 6. Understanding Etiquette  

Local customs and wine-tasting etiquette are essential things to understand before setting off on your trip. Take some time to research the region and its customs, especially in regards to wine-tasting best practices and protocols.To get the most out of your trip, know that the greater your understanding of the culture of wine-tasting and the region, the greater your experience will be.
  • Be polite and respectful of local customs and save the drunken behavior for the hotel room after returning from the winery.Remember that you’re visiting a winery and not a bar.
  • If in doubt, ask for advice from the vintner or their assistants. If you’re new to wine tasting practice your tasting techniques at home before your trip. Wikihow has some great tutorials on wine tasting.

Step 7. Keeping to a Schedule

If you have pre-booked a wine tour or a tasting, make sure you are punctual. Allow extra time when planning your day trips to allow you to be on time. If you are going to be late, contact the winery to let them know.
  • Know that a wine tour and a tasting are two different things. A wine tour most often includes wine tasting and a guided tour of the winery and is usually done in groups so bookings are essential. A wine tasting is an event that can happen at a regular time in the winery (usually in the shop or display area) and a booking is not usually essential depending on the winery. However, some wineries require pre-booked reservations for wine tasting so do your research and check out their website for details before showing up unannounced.
  • Allow an extra thirty minutes so that you can arrive on time and experience the countryside on the way to the winery without rushing. If you are relying on a chauffeur service or a driver make sure they are aware of the need for punctuality.

Step 8. Make the Most of your Visit 

When visiting wineries make sure to explore the local countryside. Aside from the wine and the wineries, many wine-growing regions offer beautiful landscapes and unique opportunities to experience different activities and sights. Why not include a tour of the surrounding countryside and meet some locals to truly experience the region and all it has to offer?
  • Check local online directories for events and activities in the region and plan a day trip mid-holiday. This is a great way to rest your palette and to meet locals who may be able to direct you to off-the-path places.  Perhaps even to wineries or vineyards that aren’t as well known or publicly listed.
  • When visiting the wineries, if you get the chance, ask the vintner or staff members about any local sites or places of interest. As a wine industry local, chances are they will be able to provide you with some good regional history as well as wine-related places of interest to visit.

Tips

  • If driving, be aware that even in a foreign country or region, laws still apply to those who drink and drive. Be selective with your tastings and supplement with food whenever possible. Better still, hire a local driver with your vehicle or use a bus or tour option if you plan to imbibe.
  • If visiting during the hot season, wear appropriate clothing and sun protection as many tours incorporate vineyard walks. Take a large water bottle in a backpack with some sunscreen that can be carried if allowed or left in the car or tour bus.
  • Take a box or a cooler with you to transport any purchases. During the warm months a cooler is a great way to protect your wine from the heat.
  • Make sure to budget and spend accordingly so that you are able to enjoy the whole length of your tour, not just the first few days. Remember to have a portion of your budget set aside as a reserve fund to allow for extra expenses and impulse purchases.
  • Research before you go and learn from other people’s mistakes and misadventures. This will save you considerable time and money but be careful not to get bogged down in reading everything online. Stick to the reputable specialist wine websites and forums, such as winetraveler.com, justwineapp.com, winecountry.com or the winesociety.com, to name a few.
  • Try something new! Taste wine that you wouldn’t normally, who knows you may just experience the best wine you have ever tasted!  

Above all else, have fun and be safe. Bon Voyage!



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