The ABC of wine tourism

Sniff, slurp and savour! It’s time to experience the best of wine tourism with vineyard visits, wine tastings and festivals...
Last Updated 15 February 2019, 19:30 IST

Wine tourism has been picking up the world over, not just in the traditional wine-producing countries of France and Italy, but also in newer regions including India. About 70% of wine is made in the vineyards, a combination of the terroir (natural environment including soil, topography and climate) and the winemaker’s expertise. As wine consumption increases worldwide, both the connoisseurs and enthusiasts are flocking to the source — to understand how their favourite wine is made, to learn how to swirl and slurp like an expert, and of course, to buy a bottle (or more). Here’s where to go to take a deep dive into the fascinating world of wine:

France, where it all began

France is the granddaddy when it comes to wine production, taking the top spot worldwide for the amount of wine produced. With storied wine regions like Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy and more, you’ll be spoilt for choice when deciding your wine itinerary. If you’re a fan of the bubbly, go on the ‘Champagne Trail’, a well-marked route that winds through the region’s vineyards and historic cellars. Drive through the picturesque countryside dotted with charming villages and châteaux, and stop by for cellar tours. Some of the best Champagne houses to visit include Veuve Clicquot (veuveclicquot.com) and Ruinart Maison (ruinart.com) in Reims, Moët et Chandon (moet.com) and Champagne Mercier (champagnemercier.com) in Epernay, Pierre-Trichet (champagne-pierre-trichet.com) in Bouzy, and Champagne Pannier (champagnepannier.com) in Château-Thierry.

If you prefer the big, bold reds from Bordeaux and Burgundy, try a river barge cruise through the regions. These cruises typically last for a week and are a great way to really immerse yourself in the destination. There are vineyard visits and wine tastings, of course, but also cycling tours, picnics by the canals, gourmet degustation and local sightseeing. Don’t miss Cité du Vin (laciteduvin.com), an immersive wine museum in Bordeaux. Several cruise companies offer tours in the region; we recommend Barge Lady Cruises (bargeladycruises.com) for an intimate, luxurious experience.

Italy, home of traditional stuff

Wine is an integral part of Italy’s culture and it’s no wonder that it produces copious amounts of it. Its wide variety of microclimates and terroir yields a broad spectrum of wines, from dry whites to fruity reds, and everything in between. Chianti in Tuscany is perhaps the most well-known Italian wine region, especially outside the country. It’s Italy’s most ancient wine-growing region known for its scenic vineyards, rolling hills, and robust reds. The region is dotted with tiny villages and hamlets, many of which have agriturismo, or places that offer farm or vineyard stays.

There are fancy castle wineries to choose from as well, like Castello di Gabbiano (castellogabbiano.it) and Castello La Leccia (castellolaleccia.com). If you have limited time, sign up for a day-long Chianti Wine Tour (chiantiwinetour.com), which includes winery visits, a Tuscan lunch, as well as a side-trip to the medieval town of San Gimignano. Piedmont in Italy’s northwest is another important wine region, which produces the so-called ‘King of Wines’ i.e. Barolo as well as Barbaresco, both of which are produced from the Nebbiolo grape.

Most wineries are concentrated in the Langhe and Roero regions separated by River Tanaro; don’t miss Cascina Meriame (barolomeriame.com), Ca’ del Baio (cadelbaio.com), and Taliano Michele (talianomichele.com). Sicily in Southern Italy is another major wine-producing region that is known for its sweet and aromatic Marsala and Zibibbo wines as well as the rich, full-bodied Nero d’Avola. Wineries worth visiting include Planeta (planeta.it) in Menfi, Vivera (vivera.it) in Etna, and Donnafugata (donnafugata.it) in Vittoria.

Lavaux wine region, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
Lavaux wine region, Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Australia, for an authentic feel

The Land Down Under is another must-visit for any oenophile. Barossa Valley in South Australia (the country’s largest wine-producing region) is just 60 km from Adelaide and makes for a great day trip or even a short stay. In India, we are most familiar with Jacob’s Creek (jacobscreek.com), Barossa’s premier wine producer. Their sprawling visitor centre offers wine tastings, cooking classes and an excellent restaurant. But the best experience here is the ‘Blending Bench’ where you can try your hand at blending your own wine, choosing from various wine varietals and experimenting with proportions to come up with wine as unique as you.

Seppeltsfield (seppeltsfield.com.au) is known for its port-style fortified wines and you can taste the wine made in your birth year in their cellars. Another Barossa winery to visit is Penfolds (penfolds.com), one of Australia’s oldest wineries. In McLaren Vale, also in South Australia, stop by at d’Arenberg (darenberg.com.au), a family-owned winery that recently opened the d’Arenberg Cube, a striking Rubik’s cube of a building that houses a multi-sensory wine experience centre.

About an hour’s drive outside Melbourne, Yarra Valley is another fabulous wine region to explore. Several companies offer day tours that include winery visits to Yarra stalwarts like Balgownie Estate and Domaine Chandon, tastings and lunch; book a tour with Australian Wine Tour Co (austwinetourco.com.au) for a fun day out.

USA, teeming with wineries

Though all the states in the US produce wine (of varying quality), almost 90% of the wine produced in the country comes from California. And two names stand out — Napa Valley for its world-class Chardonnay and Merlot, and Sonoma for its Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are more than 4,000 wineries in the state, so deciding on which ones to visit can be difficult. Less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco, Napa Valley’s upscale Silver Oak (silveroak.com) and the bucolic setting of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (cask23.com) offer two very different winery experiences. Other notable wineries include Beringer (beringer.com) for their Zinfandel and the rather flamboyant cellar door of Raymond Vineyards (raymondvineyards.com).

In Sonoma, head to Gundlach Bundschu (gunbun.com), California’s oldest family-owned winery, and the hipster chic Scribe Winery (scribewinery.com). Recently, wineries in other regions of the US have started producing good quality wines, giving Napa & Sonoma a run for their money. The Finger Lakes region of New York is one such, boasting more than 100 wineries and three signature wine trails.

If you want to visit individual wineries, Lamoreaux Landing (lamoreauxwine.com) and Ravines Wine Cellars (ravineswine.com) are quite popular. Lake Michigan Shore is rightly called the ‘Napa of the Midwest’, producing complex wines most notably at Gravity Vineyards (gravitywine.com). Despite climatic challenges, more than a hundred wineries thrive in Central Virginia; Barboursville Vineyards (bbvwine.com) and Early Mountain (earlymountain.com) are local favourites.

Grape vines in a vineyard in Maharashtra
Grape vines in a vineyard in Maharashtra

India, a nascent market

Just a couple of decades old, the Indian wine industry is a baby when compared to the traditional wine-growing regions in the world. But in a short time, Indian wines have made a mark and the vineyards in Maharashtra and Karnataka have become preferred weekend getaways. Nashik’s Sula Vineyards (sulawines.com) is a favourite with the Mumbai-Pune crowd, especially its tasting room, which is packed even on weekdays. Stay at The Source At Sula, a Tuscan-style resort right next to the vineyards or at the plush Beyond by Sula near Gangapur Lake.

The 3-bedroom SkyVilla is especially stunning and ideal for a family or a group of friends. The vineyards host the very popular Sula Fest every February, which is a great time to visit, especially if you’re a music aficionado; you can even set up a tent and camp in the vineyards during the festival.

Another winery worth checking out is Vallonne Vineyards (vallonnevineyards.com), a boutique winery that is known for its high-quality Reds and the Rosé made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The winery offers four guestrooms that overlook the lush vineyards and the surrounding Sahyadri Mountains. In Karnataka, Grover Zampa’s Vineyards (groverzampa.in) at Nandi Hills are very popular considering they are just 40 km north of Bengaluru. While the winery doesn’t provide accommodation, a vineyard tour includes a tasting of five wine varietals followed by lunch.

(Published 15 February 2019, 19:30 IST)

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