Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them. Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
In the last few decades Vineyards have started doing a lot more than simply making wine. Across the globe, they have become coveted travel destinations for wine aficionados, gourmets and people who want to do a little more whilst on vacation, than just lounge on a beach.
Vineyards provide a unique vacation experience for tourists. Grapes grow in cool mountainous regions and vineyards can not help but be picturesque. Also, most (if not all) vineyards offer free tastings, and wine masters who educate tourists about the wines that they taste. Couple this with the fact that most premier wine growing region today also have some of the best gourmet food traditions – and you have a setting for that perfect holiday.
Vineyard holidays have recently received added impetus from two Hollywood movies. Sideways (which won the Oscar for best writing and adapted screenplay in 2004). The film was about two friends who go on a wine tasting holiday in Southern California before one of them gets married. The other film was A Good Year in 2006 (directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe) which was set in a vineyard in Provence.
Vineyards across the World
There was a time when the only wine producing regions worth their salt were France and Italy. Today, however, France is third in the top ten wine exporting countries behind Spain, while Italy comes in first. Other notable countries in the top ten are Australia, Chile and South Africa, all interesting locations suitable for holidays in search of fine wine.
Here are brief snapshots of some of the best wine- producing regions to visit.
France remains one of the most romantic destinations for wine lovers. There are swathes of vineyards and excellent growing conditions throughout the country, but for first time vineyard tourists, the Champagne region is a great place to start tasting. Cheap flights from anywhere in Europe, lots of vineyards situated close together and the glitz and glamour make Champagne one of the best wine producing areas in the world. If you are on a longer trip in France, then the Loire region is the place to visit. 67 distinct wines are made here, thoughh the two which stand out are the crisp, citrus-scented sancerre and the light, fruited vouvray. With scenic old chateux and a fantastic countryside, this region has a lot to offer even for non-wine drinkers.
Italy is the top wine growing country of the world, and claims twenty major wine-growing regions, including the islands of Sicily and Sardinia and over 2000 indigenous grape varietals. Lombardy, Campania, Tuscany and Veneto are some better known wine areas. From lush, deep red Chiantis to light, fruity Bardolinos, Italy produces some of the world's best red wine. It’s white wines are not as well known, but have a character all of their own. Crisp, soft, and highly acidic, they are made to accompany food, not overpower it. That is why, surrounded with a confusing variety of vino, a wine tourist is best advised to limit himself to a small region in the country. That way, you can ensure that the wine you drink will almost always complement the invariably superb local cuisine you eat.
Spain is currently going through, what wine experts are pronouncing a wine revolution. As with its exquisite blend of classical and modernista architecture, its wines are also now beautiful blends of new sensibilities married to old world skills. One of the most interesting wine growing regions here is La Rioja, home to what is arguably Spain's finest wine. With medieval villages, cellars in underground caves and a wine history that dates back several centuries, there is a lot it has to offer to people with a variety of interests.
South Africa is a fantastic New World destination for wine lovers, combining fantastic wines with some truly spectacular scenery. The grapes grown here -- Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and the native Pinotage, enjoy its climate. Franschoek is in the heart of the country’s wine area, and makes a good base for wine tours. And once you've finish with the wine you can head out on a safari for some wildlife spotting.
Australia has almost 2000 wine producers, mostly small winery operations. It produces some really good Pinot and Chardonnay from Adelaide Hills; Cabernets from Margaret River and the intense Shiraz from Heathcote and Canberra. The story goes that when Australia’s most famous wine, Penfold’s Grange was first produced, tasters complained it had a nose of crushed ants. But he was obviously wrong, for the Grange went on to become the Penfold’s flagship and its 1971 vintage won first prize in Syrah/Shiraz at the Wine Olympics in Paris.
Chile has picturesque vineyards irrigated by the melting snows of the Andes along an 800 mile stretch of land from Atacama Region to the Bio-Bio Region in the south. most common grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère.
California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys are one of the US’s best known wine producing districts. With romantic inns and Bed & Breakfasts, spectacular food and wine, this is a popular tourist destination. Some of its best wines include Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandels. Many vineyards here have converted to organic practices and a method of dry cultivation which imparts an intense flavour and sweetness to some of their wines.
So Many Vineyards, Where to Go?
There are many things that one must keep in mind when planning a Vineyard Vacation.
- First, how much time do you have? If your holiday is going to be ten days to two weeks long, you could afford to visit wine regions that are spread out over a large area (for example, France’s Loire region where some good sparkling wines are produced). However, if the time in hand is short, concentrate on a region which is small, like Spain’s La Rioja, where you could visit many vineyards in a short time and taste different types of local wines. Another good option would be California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys, where in just four days, it is possible to visit some of the best vineyards of the area.
- How active do you want to be? For those so inclined, walking or biking through wine country is almost as heady a delight as wine drinking is. Otherwise, you have two options –
- Go in a coach which will take you to a specified number of vineyards in a day
- Rent a car and drive around on your own (just remember not to get too enthusiastic tasting the wines if you are driving though!)
- What sort of budget do you have? If you are on a no-holds-barred budget, one option in front of you is to go to Champagne in France. It is deluxe, pricey and the wine is good. However, if you are on a low budget, here is what you can do –
- Research on the internet to locate vineyards which offer free tastings.
- Instead of staying in one of those pricey chateaux, opt for a budget option in a nearby city and take a day tour into the vineyards. For example, instead of staying in Napa or Sonoma valleys, you could stay in San Francisco and take the tour.
- Try booking mid-week dates, most hotels hike up their rates for weekends.
Tips for the Vineyard Tourist
- Carry water and snacks – keeping yourself well hydrated and full will make you weather the wine tastings better than your companions.
- Take a taxi for the day instead of driving yourself unless you intend to sit out the tastings. Napa Valley, for example, is the prime place for getting caught for intoxicated driving.
- Shop wisely – all the wineries have sales outlets, and offer discounts as well as perks like free shipping within the country if you buy a case or more. Most vineyards also have wine clubs, which are an inexpensive way of getting good wine every month if you’re a US resident.
- And last, remember to spit while tasting the wine…if not every time, then at least once in a while. You’ll appreciate the scenery better.
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