There’s no better way to learn about a region’s wine than by visiting vineyards and wineries in the area. Plus, taking a tour of local offerings – whether chaperoned or self-guided – not only makes for a wonderful day out, but gives you the opportunity to stock up your cellar with first-hand insight. Whether you’re off to the picturesque chateaux of Bordeaux or the sunny vineyards of Marlborough, keep these tips in mind when you’re planning your visit.
Aim to visit no more than three or four wineries in a day
The whole point of taking a winery tour is to spend some time acquainting yourself with the flavours of the area, so don’t rush. Take your time to enjoy a leisurely tasting and ask questions about the producers and processes. Many wineries operate a drop-in cellar door, but don’t be put off by those requiring an appointment – they usually do so to ensure visitors have the attention they deserve. So while part of the joy of a winery tour is visiting properties as and when you happen upon them, it’s worth planning ahead to get an idea of the standout wineries you really want to visit.
Visit as early in the morning as possible
The quietest time to visit a winery is during the off-season or midweek. Regardless of the date you choose, though, try to get there early in the day – you’ll avoid peak-time crowds and staff will have more time to discuss the wines with you. Half the joy of a wine tour is speaking to the people behind the bar, after all.
Have a designated driver
It goes without saying that drinking and driving should be avoided at all costs, but it’s very easy to justify it if you’re “only having a taste” – the units can quickly stack up. Avoid uncertainty by taking along a designated driver (many wineries offer special alcohol-free options for them) or by choosing an alternative option such as a pre-booked guided wine tour. Hiring a bike can also be a fun way of getting around, particularly if the weather is fine, although bear in mind that cycling while slightly under the influence can come with its own challenges!
Every winery will offer you several wines over the course of a tour, so keep your wits about you and your palette fresh by drinking some water between each sampling. This is especially important if you’re visiting a warm weather region where the sun and heat can also contribute to dehydration if you’re not careful.
Try something new
Tempting as it may be to stick with the grapes you already know and enjoy, a winery tour is the perfect time to try something different, and maybe find a new favourite varietal that you didn’t even know existed. If you normally go for reds, try the winery’s most popular white. If you prefer sweet wines, ask to sample some drier options. And always ask if the winery has something that’s not commercially available elsewhere. Many properties offer older library wines and “club” wines not available even at the winery for more than a few months, and they can be spectacular – well worth breaking out of your comfort zone for.
After a day spent enjoying samples it’s easy for all of the wines to blur into one delicious memory, so take a few moments after each tasting to record your thoughts – what you liked or didn’t like – so when you return home you’re not left scratching your head trying to remember which one you said you’d definitely buy again.
Eat, and eat well
Even if you opt to use the spit bucket throughout the day, a wine tour should definitely not be conducted on an empty stomach. Many wineries offer fantastic food and dining experiences in addition to wine sampling, whether that’s a gourmet lunch, sumptuous cheeseboard or three-course meal – often all lovingly planned to perfectly complement the wines on offer. Alternatively, keep your energy levels up by bringing your own picnic lunch and enjoying it with a bottle from the winery while soaking up the vineyard views.
Come prepared to buy a bottle (or four)
You’re under no obligation whatsoever to purchase wine during your tour, but if something does pique your interest, it can prove good value to buy directly from the producer rather than waiting until you get home and purchasing it from elsewhere. Buy a carrier beforehand so you don’t have to juggle bottles on a bike or find ways to stop them rolling around the boot of your car (and definitely avoid leaving bottles in a hot car). If you’re planning on buying a case or more, ask the winery how they recommend getting it home – many offer international shipping at reasonable rates.