The travel clinic: Wine travel edition

The travel clinic: Wine travel edition

Welcome to the fifth edition of my travel clinic, where I share the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to help make your travel life easier. This time I’m bringing two of my passions together with questions on wine travel. In one of my lives away from blogging I’ve been studying wine (and no that doesn’t just mean doing a lot of tasting, though practical work is very important!) and one day I’d love to lead wine tours around the world. Until then I love visiting wine regions on my travels, and have picked up a few tips from vineyard visits everywhere from Herefordshire to New Zealand. So pour yourself a glass and let’s get started…

Blue Grouse Winery in Canada

Rosé in the vineyards at Blue Grouse in Canada

Where’s a good place for a first-time wine trip?

There are so many to choose from! Your perfect wine trip will depend on how far you want to travel and what kind of wines you like, but here are some of my favourites to get you started. France is the classic European wine destination and there are lots of good weekend break options – you could stay in Bordeaux and travel out to some of the world’s most famous and expensive vineyards (pack your credit card!). You could stay in Beaune and visit the Burgundy vineyards, or go Champagne tasting in Reims, with some big names like Veuve Clicquot right in town and lots of smaller producers in the surrounding countryside.

In Portugal you can go port tasting in Porto then take the scenic train up into the Duoro valley which produces lots of good reds. In the US you can combine a trip down the Californian coast with tastings in Napa, Sonoma or Santa Barbara. Or across the border in Canada there’s the Okanagan Valley, with wineries surrounded by beautiful lakes and mountains. Marlborough in New Zealand is home to some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blancs and some stunning coastline, or in Argentina you can drink amazing Malbec on a backpacker budget. There are also cities with wine regions nearby where you can combine the two – like Cape Town (Stellenbosch), Sydney (Hunter Valley), Santiago (Maipo) and Auckland (Waiheke Island).

Wine shop in St Emilion in Bordeaux, France

Wine shops in St Emilion in Bordeaux

What about more unusual wine destinations?

If you’ve already been to the famous wine regions or fancy something a bit different, there are lots of places that have great wines you’ll probably never have heard of. A lot the time they don’t make enough to export so you can only buy it out there. In Europe, you can head to Croatia’s Istria peninsula where they make good white wines from a grape called Malvasia. You can also find the same grape growing in the Canary Islands, where vines grow in holes dug into the black volcanic soil rather than in the usual neat rows.

Hungary is famous for a sweet wine called Tokaj that’s grown in the north-east of the country, but it has seven wine regions that produce dry reds and whites too. Neighbouring Romania was a huge wine producer back in the 1980s but the wine industry collapsed after the Revolution. It’s on the up again now and you can find good whites in Transylvania and reds in Dealu Mare, north of Bucharest. A bit further afield Lebanon is one of the world’s oldest wine-producing regions, with great reds being made in the Beqaa Valley. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous Thailand, India and China all produce their own wines too.

Wine tasting, Waiheke Island near Auckland, New Zealand

Wine tasting on Waiheke Island in New Zealand

Does someone have to drive?

Being the designated driver does take the fun out of wine tasting, but there are ways around it if you don’t have a teetotal friend to bring along. Some wine regions are more spread out than others, but a lot of the time there are enough wineries close together that you can get around by bike – I’ve done cycle tours around vineyards in Sonoma in the US and Marlborough in New Zealand. You can pick up a map of the wineries from the local tourist office or often bike hire shops will have a suggested route. Make sure you get a bike with panniers if you want to bring some wine back (or make arrangements to pick it up later).

If you want to cover a bit more ground then you can hire a driver for the day (a lot of the US wine regions have a ‘wine limo’ service) or take a tour. The Winerist website is a really good resource for booking wine tours around the world, with everything from a few hours to multi-day trips with accommodation.

Wine barrels in Sonoma, California

Decorated wine barrels in Sonoma

How about wine tours in the UK?

The UK has a surprisingly big wine industry, with 500 vineyards and growing. And even more surprisingly some of it is really good, especially the sparkling wines which have been known to beat Champagne in blind tastings. A lot of vineyards are tiny family-run operations, but there are some that are open to visitors. One of the biggest is Denbies in Surrey, who do a whole range of different tours and tastings – from wine and cheese pairing to a tour through the vineyards on a miniature train (a standard tour with three tastings is £9.95). For something a bit more boutique, check out the English Wine Producers website for details of all the small producers across the country, many of which do their own tours and tastings.

If you don’t want to stagger too far to bed after your tasting, you can stay on site at some UK vineyards. Three Choirs Vineyard near me in Gloucestershire rents out B&B rooms and wooden cabins and does wine tasting breaks which include accommodation, dinner, a tour and tasting (from £240 per night). There’s also Camel Valley in Cornwall which has two self-catering cottages overlooking the vines (one sleeping two and one for four) and Valley Farm in the Suffolk countryside which has an eight-person self-catering barn.

Wine tasting at Broadfield Court Herefordshire

Learning about the wines at Broadfield Court in Herefordshire

How do I learn more about wine?

Lots of wineries, wine bars and wine shops offer tasting classes where you can try a few different wines, learn about how they’re made and gets tips on food and wine pairing. If you want to teach yourself a bit more and get inspiration for future wine trips then check out the World Atlas of Wine (maps meet wine, no wonder it’s one of my favourite books). Or if you want to get more serious about wine then look out for a course from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). They have a wine school in London but their courses are taught and recognised all over the world. There are different levels from 1 (a one-day basic introduction) to 4 (a two-year diploma with exams and blind tastings), all of which you can do online.

Champagne cork

At one of Reims’ Champagne houses

Do you have any other wine travel questions or tips and tricks to share? The next travel clinic will be about skiing, so if you have any questions get in touch.

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The travel clinic: Wine travel edition – On the Luce travel blog

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  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    October 23, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Interesting post Lucy and glad to see Portugal is on your list as we shall be heading up the Douro Valley by train next year to take a closer look at some of the Vineyards. Here in Sussex to have quite a few local wineries and an organic one just on our doorstep – how uncommonly lucky!

    • Reply
      October 24, 2015 at 11:35 pm

      The Portugal train trip up into the Duoro looks amazing – hope to get out there soon too. UK vineyards do seem to be really taking off, I visited one in Herefordshire last month and they had some great wines, will have to come and try the Sussex ones next!

  • Reply
    January 7, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    Great article. One of the more “off the beaten” places is Virginia in the US, particularly northern Virginia has over 50 wineries all within about 30 minutes of each other – and has been compared to Napa Valley as of late.

    Hoping to try many of the places you mentioned in the near future!

    • Reply
      January 8, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks for the tip, I don’t know much about the Northern Virginia wine region and it sounds great, will have to check it out!

  • Reply
    Alina Jack
    May 24, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    First time I heard about Travel for Wine but after reading your article it seems, it was a wonderful experience. You mention India in your article for adventurous. I never visited India but heard that Himachal Pradesh, India is also famous for Apple Wine but, you missed it.

    • Reply
      May 26, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Wine trips can be great – India’s definitely an interesting destination for wine travel too and I’d not heard of apple wine.

  • Reply
    Natasha Sen
    June 8, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you Lucy, for this great info.. actually I’m going on a group tour with my female friend to UK and now we have decided to give it a name of Wine Tour.. hope we going to have fun in there..

    • Reply
      June 12, 2017 at 3:15 am

      Excellent – hope you have a great trip!

  • Reply
    Natasha Sen
    August 1, 2017 at 6:54 am

    Thank you Lucy..!

  • Reply
    Amelie Hawken
    August 7, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    I love your blog very much. I am also love wine traveling. Thanks for sharing your experience with us and thanks for your tips. Keep it up.

    • Reply
      August 8, 2018 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks so much!

  • Reply
    Leni Alexander
    September 12, 2018 at 11:14 am

    Hi, it is a great information on wine and the destinations that are known for its best wine. Till now I had no idea about Croatia’s Istria peninsula who makes white wines.

    • Reply
      September 16, 2018 at 3:29 pm

      Thanks, looks lovely doesn’t it!

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