Traveller's Guide: Wine tourism

Raise your glass to the great vineyards of the world on a holiday with plenty of nose. Andy Lynes uncovers some grape escapes

Winemakers are a smart bunch. Not only have they found what must be one of the most enjoyable ways to make a living, they also tend to pick the most beautiful parts of the world to do it in.

There is, of course, the constant worry about the effect of the weather on the harvest – and a very crowded marketplace in which to sell their wares – but that doesn’t seem to stop them from being the most hospitable of people, eager to share their knowledge. And where there’s great wine, there’s generally great food. All this adds up to a very attractive proposition for the thirsty traveller.

Generally speaking, vineyard and cellar tours are pitched at a general audience, so little or no prior knowledge is required and you’ll soon get used to spitting out your wine at tastings.

With so many wine-producing regions around the globe, the biggest problem is deciding where to go. Specialist tour operators such as Winetrails (01306 712111; www.winetrails.co.uk) can help with escorted group holidays and itineraries for independent travellers in destinations from the Auvergne to Australia. Wine Voyages (020-8991 8213; winevoyages.co.uk) currently has tours scheduled to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and South Africa with departure dates between October 2012 and March 2013, some of which may coincide with the late harvest. (Bordeaux, for example hasn’t yet started harvesting cabernet sauvignon, a result of a wet spring and scorching summer.)

Instigated by the region’s largest producer Georges Duboeuf in 1951, Beaujolais Nouveau Day heralds the arrival of the young wine. On the third Thursday of November each year, millions of bottles are raced to Paris in one of the greatest marketing stunts the wine world has seen. If you want to visit the area, north of Lyon, to be one of the first to try the wine in situ, then Smooth Red (020-7198 8369; smoothred.co.uk) offers a three-day Beaujolais Nouveau Experience for a minimum of four people. The price of £550 per person includes local airport transfers, two nights’ B&B accommodation in a private château and a private chauffeured wine tour of the region.

If you want to get hands on during harvest time (August to October in the northern hemisphere and February to April in the southern hemisphere), register for the Sonoma Grape Camp (001 707 522 5864; sonomagrapecamp.com) in October 2013 in California. This year’s activities include grape treading at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery (001 707 857 1471;  franciscoppolawinery.com) in Geyserville.

If you’re travelling with a partner or friends who aren’t quite as sold on the vinous delights, then your holiday needn’t be 100 per cent wine. Book a two-hour private Introduction to Bordeaux Wines workshop for up to 24 people at L’Ecole du Vin (00 33 5 56 00 22 66; bordeaux.com; price on request) in Bordeaux and spend the rest of your time drinking in the historic Bordeaux sights, including the magnificent Place Royale.

As unmissable as destinations such as Australia’s Hunter Valley (00 61 2 49 900 900; winecountry.com.au), the Alsace Wine Route (00 33 03 89 20 16 20; vinsalsace.com) and Stellenbosch (00 27 21 886 4310; wineroute.co.za) in South Africa clearly are, the tourist opportunities closer to home shouldn’t be overlooked.

The reputation of British wines, especially sparkling, is also in the ascendant. The English Wine Centre (01323 870164; englishwine.co.uk) in Berwick, East Sussex – which offers rooms from £135 per night – is a good base to explore the numerous local wineries, including the multi-award winning Ridgeview Estate (0845 345 7292; ridgeview.co.uk) in Ditchling Common.

Organised wine tours

An organised wine tour can be the ideal way for first-time wine tourists to get their heads around a region without having to do a lot of planning and research. Arblaster and Clarke (01730 263111; winetours.co.uk) has a four-night guided Classic Tuscany tour based in Radda in Chianti, with an itinerary (8-12 Oct) that includes visits to some of the leading estates in Tuscany including Fontodi and Tenuta Silvio Nardi. The price of £1,499pp includes accommodation, breakfast, four meals with wines, visits and tastings and transport. Flights are not included.

The Unique Traveller (020-7622 4208; theuniquetraveller.com) has a four-day Architectural Rioja wine tour (April to October) that visits wineries designed by leading innovative architects including Ysios (00 34 945 600 640; ysios.com) at Camino de la Hoya in Laguardia, which was created by Santiago Calatrava. The starting price of €999pp includes B&B hotels, two lunches, winery visits and tastings and ground transport, but not travel to Spain.

Discover the World (01737 214291; discover-the-world.co.uk) has a nine-day self-drive New Zealand Boutique Wine Trail covering the vineyards of Marlborough, Hawke's Bay and Martinborough. The price of £1,404pp includes accommodation with breakfast, nine days' vehicle rental and some of your meals, but not flights.

Out on the town

Pre-Prohibition, most US wine was made in urban warehouses. Now, partly inspired by Bordeaux's innovative garagiste movement of the early 1990s, there's a resurgence of urban wineries. A tour of City Winery (001 212 608 0555; citywinery.com) in New York (above) costs $50 (£33) and includes comparing unfinished wine from the barrel with three from the tasting room. In San Francisco, you can enjoy a Russian River pinot noir in the tasting room at Bluxome Street Winery (001 415 543 5353; bluxomewinery.com) while watching all the action in the winery through the tasting room's picture window. Further south, the recently launched Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail (urbanwinetrailsb.com) takes in 17 tasting rooms and wineries including Carr Winery (001 805 965 7985; carrwinery.com), where you can sample a Carr pinot gris among the barrels and equipment.

Staying on a working vineyard can be an excellent way to familiarise yourself with the winemaking process while getting to know the wines themselves in depth. SoloSicily (020-7193 0158; solosicily.com) is offering a three-night stay at the Cantine Virzi winery on the acclaimed Spadafora estate in western Sicily. A one-bedroom apartment with views of the vineyards starts at £345 for two people. Cellar and vineyard tours and wine tastings are available.

From October 2012 until Easter 2013 Domaine Gayda (00 33 4 68 31 64 14; domainegayda.com) in Brugairolles, 25km south-west of Carcassonne in Languedoc, has accommodation in four stylish, comfortable gîtes from €350 for two nights in a house sleeping four. The onsite Vinécole wine school offers a €40, three-hour Vineyard Visit and Tour of the South of France with tutored tasting led by Master of Wine Matthew Stubbs on 16 October.

Cruising for a boozing

Wine cruises are a great way to explore one or more regions both in depth, and at a leisurely pace. With no need to drive, you can enjoy wine tasting opportunities without designating a driver. Celebrity Cruises (0844 493 2043; celebritycruises.co.uk) offers a 12-night Vinopolis Europe cruise taking in the vineyards of France, Spain and Portugal and hosted by the wine broadcaster and writer Oz Clarke and Tom Forrest, the resident wine expert at London's Vinopolis. The starting price of £827pp includes a cabin with a private balcony, meals and all onboard wine events. The cruise departs from Southampton on 13 October and calls at Le Havre and Le Verdon near Bordeaux, Bilbao and Vigo in Spain, and Porto in Portugal.

AmaWaterways (0808 223 5009; amawaterways.co.uk) has a seven-night Enchanting Rhine river cruise from Amsterdam to Basel that includes visits to the Caveau Klipfel winery (00 33 3 88 58 59 00; www.klipfel.com) and a wine cellar visit in Colmar (both in Alsace) as well as onboard wine lectures and wine-themed dinners. The starting price of £2,149pp includes accommodation, all meals and onboard events. The cruise departs 8 November from Amsterdam or 11 November from Zurich.

Into the valley

The Okanagan Valley in south-central British Columbia is one of the world's most underrated wine regions. Although there are more than 120 wineries strung around a series of lakes – from Osoyoos at the US border to Tappen in the north – production levels in this breathtakingly beautiful valley are generally small. That means very little of the wine is drunk outside British Columbia and the reputation of high-quality producers like Blue Mountain (001 250 497 8244; blue mountainwinery.com) at Okanagan Falls hasn't spread globally. Fortunately, you can try its superb brut sparkling wine at the winery's tasting room, which is open seven days a week until 20 October and then by appointment.

Wine tourists are well served in the Okanagan. There's not only a huge variety of grapes and styles here – from the refined pinot noir of the Tinhorn Creek Winery (001 250 498 3743; tinhorn.com) in Oliver to the delicious fruit wines of Elephant Island (001 250 496 5522; elephantislandwine.com) in Naramata – but most wineries have well-stocked tasting rooms with enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff.

A visit to the imposing Mission Hill Family Estate (001 250 768 7611; missionhillwinery.com) in West Kelowna – which comes complete with bell tower, open-air amphitheatre and terrace – is a must visit. The C$50 (£33) sommelier-guided Legacy Tasting Experience includes a tasting of six of the winery's Library and Legacy wines.

Off the beaten track

You don't have to stay within the classic regions to find great wine tourism. With a 90 per cent Muslim population and a hot, dry climate, Jordan may not be the first destination that springs to mind, but its rich cultural heritage includes winemaking dating back to biblical times.

Visits to the award- winning Saint George organic winery (00 962 6 461 4125; zumot-wines.com) at Wadi Saqra, Amman, and the vineyards at Sam 65km north of Amman, can be arranged in advance.

Or you can take a vineyard tour by elephant at Monsoon Valley Wines (00 66 81 701 0222; huahinhills.com) at the Hua Hin Hills Vineyard in Thailand. This award-winning winery in a former elephant corral is two and half hours' drive south of Bangkok. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, it has invited 10 guest chefs to prepare menus and hold cookery demonstrations. The monthly events got underway this week with former El Bulli chef Alex Gares and continue to include David Thompson of Nahm restaurant in Bangkok in March.

Stay at the vineyard

Staying on a working vineyard can be an excellent way to familiarise yourself with the winemaking process while getting to  know the wines themselves in depth. SoloSicily (020-7193 0158; solosicily.com) is offering a  three-night stay  at the Cantine Virzi winery on the acclaimed Spadafora estate in western Sicily. A one-bedroom apartment with views of the vineyards starts at £345 for two people. Cellar and vineyard tours and wine tastings are available.

From October 2012 until Easter 2013 Domaine Gayda  (00 33 4 68 31 64 14; domainegayda.com) in Brugairolles, 25km south-west of Carcassonne in Languedoc, has accommodation in four stylish, comfortable gîtes from €350 for two nights in a house sleeping four. The onsite Vinécole wine school offers a €40, three-hour Vineyard Visit and Tour of the South of France with tutored tasting led by Master of Wine Matthew Stubbs on 16 October.

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