Luxury wine tours are all the rage these days. It’s no wonder that more and more people have succumb to the allure of visiting picturesque vineyards and sampling the variety of wines produced.
Few experiences truly compare to a day out tasting different wines, while also being able to speak to the people who are passionate about what they make.
If you are about to embark on your first wine tour, here are 8 things you need to know to ensure it is an absolutely memorable and enjoyable experience.
1. Safety First
It goes without saying that since you will be sampling numerous kinds of wine, what may start off as a “tasting” could easily turn into a drinking session. For this reason, you should arrange a car service for the day or have a designated driver to get you back home safely.
If you are planning to spend a whole day out and about, or a couple of days moving from spot to spot, expect that it will get tiring. Having the peace of mind that there is someone “fresh” who will get you home in one piece (more or less) will set the mood for a relaxed start to your tour.
2. Bring an Empty Box or Two
One of the biggest errors made by first timers is not bringing some boxes where they can keep the assortment of “extras” acquired during a tour. More than likely, you will come across a wine that you really like, and want to bring home.
Wine is a terrific gift to give to family and friends, so consider who you would want to buy wine for, and bring enough boxes to carry the amount of wine you plan on buying. There’s nothing worse than a long car ride with bottles rattling in the back somewhere, and you fearing they won’t make it home without breaking.
3. Plan Your Trip Well
Like any tour in any part of the world, you should always do your research. Ask yourself which types of wine you and your companions enjoy drinking. From there, you can determine which vineyards to visit. Be sure to include old and new wineries on your list, since this gives you a sense of contrast in scenery, and a greater diversity in flavors to taste.
A rule of thumb for winery tours is; don’t visit more than four in one day. If your itinerary has more than four, scrap the others, and choose the ones you most want to see. This will allow you to fully enjoy what the tours offer, and save you from having to rush from one vineyard to the next.
When travelling with children on your tour, be sure there is something they can do to keep them occupied. While it is immensely pleasurable for adults to sip away the day, it will easily become a world of boredom for children to just sit there and watch. Prepare activities or games that they can do ahead of time.
4. Study the Particulars
It is important to know the details involved once you’ve chosen the wineries you’d like to visit. This entails knowing a bit of their background, their operating hours, the tour hours, and the costs involved in the actual wine tastings. Knowing all this information in advance makes for a smooth sailing tour.
Consider what time of year you’d like to go, and find out if that’s peak or off-season. Peak season means that the places will be busy, and if you intend to have a chat with some of the vineyard owners and staff, you’ll need to adjust your schedule accordingly.
5. Write Down Questions You’d Like to Ask
A significant portion of any winery tour will be talking to people about their wines. Remember that a whole lot of care and effort goes into producing wine, and you’ll be privy to the process.
Wine is a passion for both the producers and the consumers. Don’t feel shy about asking questions. More often than not, the owners and staff will want to share their passion with you by educating you on the process of winemaking.
Before you go on a wine tour, write down any questions you’d like to ask. Or make a list of your questions and save it on your phone. That way, you won’t get home after your tour and realize there were things you forgot to ask.
6. Know the Names of the Grapes
While it’s not really important to know all of the varieties of grapes that are grown, it is useful to have a few common ones down. These are mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel. There are also the Bordeaux varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc.
Having at least some knowledge of grapes will heighten the experience. It can also help you avoid the feeling of being a little lost when the conversation starts to focus on the different varieties of grapes. It’s not crucial to know them all by heart, but having some background information will come in handy.
7. Brush Up on Wine Tasting Etiquette
Spit or swallow? Is it ok to dump? Do I really have to buy bottles? These are some questions that you may be wondering about when you are on your wine tour. The golden rule that applies here is to be polite.
If you are going to be visiting more than one winery during the day, chances are you will be tasting a lot of wine. If you keep swallowing, chances are you won’t make it to the end of your itinerary without getting properly inebriated.
It is not considered rude to spit or dump, even if it’s good wine, because winery owners are well aware that you may also be visiting other vineyards. And getting plastered will not make for a good tour.
Don’t feel pressured to buy bottles of wine. But if it’s a free tasting, you may want to consider the courtesy of purchasing a bottle of wine that you particularly enjoyed.
8. Know the Dos and Don’ts
- Don’t wear perfume or fragrances as this can ruin the tasting experience.
- Don’t be a know-it-all, even if you are well versed in wine trivia – nobody likes a know-it-all.
- Don’t ask for, “the good stuff.” Instead, ask if there is a reserve that has not been showcased. Be mindful that making a request like this puts you under greater pressure to make a purchase.
- Do start your tour early. During the first part of the day, your palate is still “clean,” and untainted. So it’s a perfect time to get started. As you taste more food, and drink more wine, your palate will be increasingly affected. Starting early ends with a better tasting experience.
- Do buy wine. This one is obvious, but don’t haggle over the price of wine.
- Do enjoy yourself in moderation. A tour can take the whole day, and pacing yourself will result in a delightful experience.
- Also, if wine tasting in the U.S., consider tipping your server.
Preparing for your tour can, in itself, be quite satisfying. Once you know you’ve got all of your bases covered, you can rest assured that the trip will be worry-free and amazing.
Make the most out of your trip by discovering all that you’ve set out to explore. And take in the whole experience by focusing on everything being offered, not only the wines. The landscapes, the tour company you are with, and the food that you’ll be tasting will make up a good portion of the memories that you’ll be bringing home after your wine tour.