Wine travel is a great way to experience wine more deeply. I’ve had the good fortune of visiting wineries in three countries – Canada, France, and Uruguay – so far. It might not be wise to travel abroad as I write this (April 2021), but we can research and plan for a post winery trip.
I’m going to lay out two ways to approach winery visits depending on whether you are a wine beginner or not.
Wine Travel Beginner Tips: 3 Tips To Get Started
This is where we all start. You might be familiar with French wine regions, and you want to visit a winery in person. To get started, use these tips.
1. Think local first – find a winery within driving distance
Depending on where you live, you may have some wineries nearby. In my case, I live about two hours from the Niagara region. It is a wine region in Canada that is home to more than one hundred wineries. I have visited the region several times and found it enjoyable each time. During a 2020 visit to the region, I got a little lost and ended up discovering some great wineries in Ontario.
2. Look for “best wineries to visit” lists
Now that I’ve been to more than ten wineries across several countries, I can tell you something important: wineries are not created equal. Some invest more resources into accommodating visitors. Some have impressive architecture and grounds to see, while others do not.
On your first visit to a winery, I want you to have a good experience. To give yourself the best chance of enjoying wine travel, start with some best-of lists. Get started with one of the lists below:
The 10 best destinations in France for wine (The Telegraph)
If you’re planning a visit to Bordeaux, including a visit to the region’s wine museum (Cité du Vin, Bordeaux) is an inspired idea.
If you don’t have time to fit in a wine museum, you can learn the fundamentals of French wine in a weekend with an audio course: The Everyday Guide to Wines of France.
8 of the best wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Escapism Toronto)
While Canadian wine is not the focus of this website, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight some great wineries to visit here. If you have just a day, make sure you taste a glass of ice wine. It is one of the region’s specialties.
3. Take the tour and learn about the winery
Most wineries serious about visitors offer tours and provide samples, so take the tour and learn the basics of how the winery operates. Give yourself a mission to learn about the winery’s history and approach.
Questions to ask:
- When did the winery start?
Whether the winery is newer or has been around for centuries, it is fun to learn about the history. Newer wineries sometimes have more flexibility to adopt new wine-making methods. In contrast, older wineries have a wealth of history to show.
- What is the winery’s annual production?
You might be wondering why you should care about this number, so I’ll explain it. If a winery has a large output, they are more likely to obtain large-scale distribution in retailers and restaurants. In contrast, a smaller winery tends to have smaller production. If you’re looking for an “undiscovered wine,” focus on smaller wineries.
- What grape varieties do you produce?
The winery’s geography partially influences this decision, but not entirely. For example, a cool climate like Ontario or Alsace tends to favor Riesling. Ask about what they grow and take a look at the grapes on the wine.
Advanced Wine Travel Tips When Visiting Wineries
If you are more knowledgeable about wine, you can get more ambitious in your wine travel goals and your approach to winery tours. By all means, take the tour and ask the questions outlined above. You can take it a step further by finding out more about the winery’s methods.
To further your wine appreciation, ask more questions about the property and their wine making methods.
1) How does the winery age their wine?
Wineries have many options here include oak barrels, steel containers, and more. I’ve even seen some wineries store their wine in outside barrels! If the winery meets specific requirements like the AOC standard in France, then specific wine aging requirements may be involved.
2) Has the winery won any awards?
There are many types of wine awards and competitions, so ask about any recent awards the winery has won. A recent award matters because there is a good chance that you might be able to buy a bottle of a prize-winning vintage if the prize was recent at a reasonable price.
3) Does the winery welcome events?
A few years ago, I attended a wedding at a winery in Ontario. It was a great experience! If you enjoy your winery experience, find out if they welcome events. In my experience, relatively few wineries are equipped for events, so it is worth asking.
4) Look for unique finds in the wine shop
Some wineries hold back some of their wines for onsite sales. That means you have an opportunity to buy unique wines on the property. I’ve found promising vintages directly from a winery that would have been tough or impossible to find elsewhere. If your wine travel involves several winery visits, keep in mind your baggage limits on how much you can carry home.
Take the time to explore the property
Before you leave the property, get outside and give yourself permission to wander around. Walk up and down the property and observe the details. If it helps, take photos of what you see as you explore. You might find something unexpected!
When I visited a winery in Uruguay in 2019, I was surprised to see that the winery also had fruit trees on the property. It added to the experience.
Get Started: Plan Your Wine Trip
Now you know some of the best questions to ask, your next step is to choose a winery to visit. If you’re on a budget, look for nearby wineries to visit in your region. If you do not live nearby a wine region, then the world is your oyster!