Why would you want to visit a wine region on your next trip, or even plan a vacation around a region? Well, to start with, wine regions, wherever they are located, are just about guaranteed to be beautiful and restful. In addition, visits to wineries are educational; you will ALWAYS learn something interesting. They are also just plain fun, AND you can usually buy some wine you don’t have access to at home. Wine visits usually come about in one of two ways. Either people travel somewhere and decide to visit a winery or wine region while they are there, or they become fond of a particular type of wine and plan a vacation in that area to immerse in the experience. My first visit to a winery came about because of a business trip to California to which I added a three day excursion to Napa Valley.
Where should you go to visit a wine region? The number of possibilities for visiting a wine region is almost endless. Did you know there are wineries in every one of the fifty United States? Of course the most popular and best known are California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Texas, and Virginia. California, Oregon and Washington state produce over 90% of the wine produced in the US. In Canada, in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, there are 131 wineries producing everything from ice wines and dessert wines to recent plantings of warm climate varietals. If you are traveling abroad, France, Italy and Spain produce over half of the wine in the entire world, and have amazing wine regions. France alone has 17 major wine regions. The most famous are Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Beaujolais, the Rhone Valley, and Provence, but the Loire Valley, the Southwest and Languedoc-Roussillon also produce wonderful wines. Italy has 20 wine regions, including my personal favorites of Veneto, Piedmont, Tuscany and Umbria. Spain has 18 major wine regions and, although it produces excellent, wonderful wines, remains less well known. Germany, Portugal, Croatia, Hungary, Greece and Israel are other countries popular for vacations that have amazing wine regions. In South America, the Argentinean Malbecs and the Chilean Carménères are best known. Australia and New Zealand, while historically famous for their white wines, most notably their Sauvignon Blancs, have become major producers of red wines as well. South Africa also has some absolutely marvelous red wines. In short, nearly any place you might visit will probably provide an opportunity for a wine visit not too far away.
What will I discover on a winery visit? Every winery tour, while similar in many aspects, is completely different from every other tour. Every winery has a different story behind it; every winery makes a different type of wine; has a different feel; has a different history; a different person whose dream created it; a different family that has tended it. They all take great pride in explaining their way of business, their style of winemaking, how they tend the vineyard, how they decide when to pick the grapes, how the grapes are fermented, blended, aged, and bottled. The wine is their passion. At the end of the tour, you taste their wine and hear what they have to tell you about its characteristics and flavor profile. They tell you about how it tastes now and what it will taste like in the future; how long it will age. They will tell you about the label and how it was chosen. You will never forget the buildings, the look of the land, the taste of the wine, and the people who created it. The next time you see that bottle or taste that wine, it won’t just be another bottle of wine to you. It will become something quite personal, a part of your past, a memory, not just a name on a bottle. You will remember how it tasted at the winery, and it will bring that visit back to you. Not long ago, I tasted a bottle of wine from Grave in Bordeaux. I have only visited a couple wineries in Grave, but one was the famous Château Haut-Brion, one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite wines. One sip of that wine from Grave, and I was completely transported back to Haut-Brion. The terrior had imprinted itself on that wine, and I could taste the influence of that particular gravely soil, so distinct to that area. I remembered everything about the tour: the long history of the Château, the beautiful buildings, the vineyard, the drive getting there, the weather. All of those memories came flooding back to me. Each wine is a unique thing, and a tour of a winery brings it to life for you.
Enjoy your summer travels and include a tour of a winery!
Written by Pat Daniel. Permission to publish by Columbus & the Valley Magazine.