A tour of any of the great wine country regions of the world is an opportunity to explore culture, history, cuisine and wine in a single trip. Without exception, the scenery is beautiful, the people passionate, and the wine — nothing short of phenomenal.
What is a wine tour? It’s a tour through a region that has developed a substantial vineyard and winery presence. Usually, a wine tour consists of visiting the wineries and tasting rooms to sample their current wines, often paired with food. Sometimes, a tour of the winery itself is included, and visitors can see where the wine is grown, processed, barreled, aged and eventually bottled.
Most people would first think of areas like the Napa Valley region of California or the Burgundy region of France as ideal locations for wine tours, and that’s with good reason, as those are outstanding locations. However, there are vineyards the world-over. For the majority of United States travelers, wine regions are within a few hours driving distance of their homes or an easy weekend fly-drive retreat, provding plenty of options. And if you are looking for a truly great epicurean vacation, you’ll pleasantly discover that the experience ends up being about much more than the wine.
A number of tour operators specialize in regional wine country tours. Chances are, your travel consultant has access to excellently priced tours of wine regions throughout the world, offering a variety of accommodations from luxurious villas to budget hotels. In many wine regions, wineries have formed “wine trails” to make it easy for visitors to find the participating wineries and to sample the wines. Often, tour operators can provide discounted passes to each of the tasting rooms at the different wineries. Along with a good travel consultant, you are sure to create experiences that would be hard to find on your own. On the best tours, you’ll discover small, unknown producers, meet top winemakers and in some cases, even receive an invitation into a home of a vigneron. Top tour operators can give you the opportunity to enjoy meals and tastings as guests of the estates – just one example of the kind of event often not available if you travel on your own, even if you visit the same cellars. However, many tour operators can even arrange independent, self-drive opportunities with the same privileges as their group tours.
Top Regions to Tour
If you want to tour some of the finest wineries and taste some of the world’s finest wines, certain regions are considered the regions to tour. They consistently produce excellent wines year after year, and some have been doing so for literally thousands of years.
Tuscan, Italy – Italy’s most famous wine region has over 157,000 acres of vineyards throughout its picturesque countryside. The Italians have been making wine for thousands of years, and Italy boasts the largest output of wine in the world. Its climate and soil are ideal for growing grapes, and nowhere is the setting more ideal than Tuscany. The region is most famous for producing Chianti, a wine that pairs naturally with most Italian foods.
Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone, France – France has many wine growing regions, and each is worth a visit. The Burgundy region is especially popular because it is legendary for producing both excellent red and white wines. The rich history of wine making dates back to when the Romans first invaded the area. Visitors can tour old and new wineries that produce several well-known wines like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Beaujolais.
Australia – In the past few decades, Australia has emerged as one of the fastest growing wine regions in the world. Although many wineries have been around for over a hundred years, the public has only recently taken a serious interest in this region. More than 70 wineries in the New South Wales region are located just a few hours drive from Sydney. Wineries here are best known for producing excellent Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc.
USA – In the United States, the most popular region is certainly California’s Napa Valley, which is also one of the world’s newer wine regions. Its wine making history dates back less than 200 years, but those years have seen the birth of more than 260 wineries famous for producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Not to be outdone, however, Oregon, Washington State and New York all boast thriving wine industries and vineyards. Smaller regions include the Texas Hill Country, as well as areas in Connecticut, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Germany – German wines have historically been mostly white, made from Riesling grapes more suited to the northern climate. German wines are produced around the Rhine and its tributaries, and the vineyards are sheltered by mountains so steep that while they catch the most sunlight, they are difficult to harvest mechanically. Germany’s 13 regions include Ahr, Baden, Franken, Hessische Bergstrasse, Mittelrhein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, Sächsische Weinstrasse and Württemberg.
South Africa – Cape Town is the trailhead of the South African vineyards. The local wine industry has become a global force, producing approximately 3% of the world’s wine production, ranking as 9th largest producer in the world. New wineries are opening at a fast clip. Pinot Noir and Reisling varietals are predominant.
But this list is far from comprehensive. Chile, Spain, Portugal and dozens of other countries have robust wine economies where local vineyards have adapted varietals to changing climates and soil conditions.
Tell your travel consultant if you would prefer to travel independently or with a fully-guided tour group. In an independent setting, your agent will create an itinerary of wineries to tour, as well as any special events to attend, transportation, and lodging. You will then be on your own to follow the itinerary, which offers a great deal of flexibility.
A fully-guided tour provides you and other travelers with a knowledge-packed tour of the wine region. You will not have to worry about transportation, and the itinerary will include fixed times to visit wineries and other attractions as well as some free time to enjoy the wineries on your own. A fully-guided tour is an excellent choice for those who are going to regions so large that the options can be overwhelming, or for those who would rather leave transportation and other logistics to someone else. In addition, most tour companies provide a multilingual tour guide able to speak both English and the language of the region.
Remember, too, that you can travel a little more creatively. Hike or bike your way through wine country, and have an experience you could never get from a car or bus!
Prepare for your journey by reading about the region and its wines. Your travel consultant will obtain any materials from your tour operator to assist your studies, including maps, itineraries or brochures. If you’re going to a region where you don’t speak the language, learn a few choice phrases in the language before you go as a courtesy to your hosts.
If you are planning to purchase a lot of wine while you are on your trip and want to ship it back home, research your home’s laws concerning importing alcohol from outside the country. Your wine could sit in customs for days or weeks before delivery, and in the heat of summer, wines could go bad while they are waiting to be delivered.
Many of the great wine regions offer seasonal festivals when it is time to bring out the new wines. Bigger wineries will hold their own festivals, while smaller wineries will often team with others in the region and have a festival where guests can taste the new offerings from all of the wineries in the same location. Travelers who time their wine tours right have a chance to experience a true cultural celebration. Many wine regions also offer activities such as spas, cooking classes, museums, arts and crafts festivals, music festivals and other events – just ask your agent what’s available.
Most wine regions also offer restaurants that showcase both local cuisine and wineries. Also note the growing trend for restaurants that allow you to bring a bottle of your own – visit wineries during the day and choose a favorite bottle or two to enjoy with your meal in the evening.
It’s impossible to come away from a wine tour without also getting a lesson in local culture. Most winery owners are not only passionate about their wine; they are also passionate about the land and region that supports their lifestyle. It is not unusual to hear about an immigrant family that bought a piece of property years ago and was told by their neighbors that they could never operate a successful winery on the land – and who eventually proved them wrong.
Those who choose a wine tour come away with much more than just a few new bottles of wine. They leave having experienced a deeper cultural appreciation of wine and those who make it.
What are you waiting for? Contact R and B International Travel and get started.
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It was the most perfect experiment in the history of science. Holding both a cannon ball and a small musket ball, the 30-something Pisa native Galileo Galilei scaled the steps of his city’s famous Leaning Tower, and held them dramatically over the edge. Eight stories below, the town’s most learned scholars and priests were gathered as observers. They watched as the two balls dropped to the ground at the same speed – disproving, with a single stroke, the ancient idea that objects fall at different rates depending on their weight and size. This archaic concept, which had been espoused by the ancient Greek author Aristotle, had been accepted without question for more than 2,000 years, Galileo’s great innovation was to put it to a practical test of observation. Unfortunately, this famous story is probably not true. Galileo never wrote about it himself – it was recounted in a late biography penned by his secretary, Vincenzo Viviani. Most historians now believe that it was Galileo’s imaginative disciples who invented the Leaning Tower tale in order to make the theory so clear that even a child could understand it. The Leaning Tower was an appropriate setting not just because of its unusual angle – surrounded by the most impressive collection of religious buildings in Italy, it makes Galileo’s experiment, in defiance of an ancient tradition supported by the Church, seem all the more radical. In the long run, the fabrication hardly matters. Galileo was indisputably the pioneer of scientific experimentation – relying on direct observation, rather than abstract reasoning based on research in the library – and he probably did test his theory in other places around Pisa. Albert Einstein praised Galileo as “the father of modern science” for his breakthrough. And in Italy, Galileo has become a historical celebrity almost on a par with the saints. In the mid-1700s, when his body was disinterred to move it to a more magnificent sepulcher, admirers removed his middle finger from his body and preserved it as a secular relic. The dried-out digit can be seen today, mounted in a lovely chalice-like container in the Museum of the History of Science in Florence – although nobody seems to know why that particular finger was so honored.
The world is a library. What story might you discover on a Globus vacation in Italy? Contact R and B International Travel and find out!
Dance the Night Away
Do the Hula in Hawaii…stomp out the rhythm of folkloric dancing in Mexico (and wear a bright colorful skirt just for fun)…tango the night away in Buenos Aires, Argentina…move to the music at a salsa dance lesson at San Antonio’s Institute de Mexico…experience the song, dance and guitar of the flamenco, the national dance of Spain.
Cooking your way to a healthier you
- Cook with olive oil.
- Cut down meat portions, and increase portions of grains and legumes proportionately.
- Eat more fish.
- Eat more leafy green vegetables and salads.
- Sit down for meals whenever possible, rather than eating on the run.
- Choose whole grain breads and pastas instead of refined products.
Gardening – Reap what you Sow
What is more gratifying than arranging a lovely bouquet of cut flowers from your own garden or savoring the delicious flavors of colorful vegetables that you tended from seeds and picked fresh that day? Many Americans list gardening as a way to unwind and relax. Squatting, stooping and bending in the home garden are good for circulation and “playing” in dirt lowers stress levels and promotes a sense of well-being.
Contact R and B International Travel and discover how fun staying healthy can be.
There is a reason France is the most visited country in the world. See for yourself why… you won’t be disappointed.
Paris. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a visit to Paris will leave you speechless. The city of lights and love, she is also the capital of the country largely considered to be the philosophical cradle of the Enlightenment. Paris is not only to be savored in the springtime, but summer, fall and winter as well. A quick ride in a Parisian cab or on the Métro will bring you to the Louvre, Notre Dame, Montmartre, Sacré Cœur, the Seine River’s famous left bank, the Hôtel des Invalides where Napoleon is entombed, the Galleries Lafayette or Printemps (or other famous Parisian shops) … the list goes on and on.
The dining: cafés, brasseries, and restaurants offer everything from basic fare to exquisite gastronomy – in the fancier restaurants, it would seem the chef moonlights as a poet, adding to the charm of the experience.
Normandy. Famous for its cider, Calvados brandy, and cheese, to most North Americans, it is better known for the pivotal moment in history that saw the Allied forces break through Hitler’s Atlantic Wall to open the Western Front in WWII. My first visit to Normandy started at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. I remember watching the early morning fog rise revealing perfectly arranged Carrara marble headstones shone like white beacons over the beaches the men they commemorate had helped liberate. I later learned why those grave markers are so white: one of the cemetery’s French custodians takes the time to paint all 9,387 of them each year. The whole area around the landing beaches is a living memorial to those valiant soldiers.
The Loire Valley. Cradle of the French monarchy for centuries, this part of France is where the magnificent chateaux of France can be visited. Chenonceau, once seized by King Henry II, was given to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. After his death, Henry’s wife, Catherine de Medici, had Diane expelled and maneuvered a way to finally call Chenonceau her own. Astonished visitors marvel at the gardens, and this summer party house of royals and nobles, built over the river Cher. Not to be outdone, the chateau in Amboise is also a sight to see, with its secret underground passage. Built by Francis I, the passage connects Amboise to the Clos Lucé, the last home of Leonardo Da Vinci, who had been invited by the king to France and notably brought with him a painting of a certain smiling lady that now resides in the Louvre.
Provence. The inspiration of artists like Cézanne and Picasso. Many artists and actors have frequented Provence, renowned for the way its striking sunlight bathes its perched villages in a warm glow, the fragrant fields of lavender that blush a purple radiance in mid-summer, the olive groves and their related oil and tapenade, and the easy-going nature of its residents, many of whom gather to play long, relaxing games of pétanque under the shade of plane trees. The Mistral wind blows here, necessitating that many of its church towers be built with open wrought-iron campanile, as well as the planting of cypress hedgerows to protect crops and vineyards.
The French Riviera. This breathtaking area opens up France’s Côte d’Azur, where the rich and famous have been coming since the late 19th century for its Mediterranean climate, movie and music festivals, and Europe’s oldest principality in Monaco. Stone dolmens recall this area’s Paleolithic history, and its flower fields are the raison d’être for famous perfumeries like Fragonard in Grasse. Rénoir, Matisse, Chagall, Van Gogh, and Picasso all lived here, along with royalty from around Europe, and who can forget the fairytale marriage of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainer III.
Contact R and B International Travel and discover France Uncovered.
Gregory Hall, one of our seasoned Tour Managers, a citizen of France, who speaks fluent English, French and German, grew up in West Berlin, Germany, and now lives in Michigan. He spends much of his time guiding tours through Europe – and wants to take you on a virtual tour of some of his favorite parts of France!
In Austria, history, breathtaking scenery and outstanding cultural offerings comprise the charming atmosphere that keeps travelers coming back. Austria resounds with music, art, architecture and history. This pristine Alpine country boasts cities like Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg, where travelers are welcomed with open arms into everything Austria is known for.
In Vienna, six centuries of Habsburg rule resonate. The city on the “Blue Danube” is graced with famous landmarks like the Imperial Palace and Schoenbrunn Palace, and monumental St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Located high in the Alps is Innsbruck, a colonnaded medieval town, famous for its Golden Roof. The bright Hofburg and the Hofkirche create lasting impressions as well. The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg and its environs, contributing to its international renown. Majestic alpine scenery, with steeples and palaces are also parts of the backdrop, which creates a beautiful wonderland for all who visit.
Vienna • Danube Cruise • Salzburg
Mozart Dinner Concert • Munich • Oberammergau
Innsbruck • Bavarian Castles • Black Forest • Bern
Chateau de Chillon • Zermatt • Lucerne
Bern • Chateau de Chillon • Montreux • Gstaad
GoldenPass Panoramic Train • Lucerne • Interlaken
Bernese Oberland Woodcarving Museum • Grindelwald
Innsbruck • Austrian Alps • Bavaria • Oberammergau
Salzburg • Mirabell Gardens
Did You Know?
- Did you know that the car “Porsche” was invented by an Austrian called Ferry Porsche in Austria in 1947 in Gmuend and Zell am See?
- Did you know that the energy drink Red Bull is an Austrian product? The Red Bull inventor and owner Dietrich Mateschitz also bought the NY Metro Stars soccer team in 2006 and renamed them Red Bull New York.
- Did you know that the seven children in the film “Sound of Music” – which is a true story of the Austrian family, the von Trapps – had different names than the real von Trapp children? The real von Trapps were Martina, Johanna, Hedwig, Werner, Maria, Agathe, and Rupert. The movie children were called Liesl (played by Charmian Carr), Friedrich (played by Nicholas Hammond), Louisa (played by Heather Menzies), Brigitta (played by Angela Cartwright), Kurt (played by Duane Chase), Marta (played by Debbie Turner), and Gretl (played by Kym Karath).
- The ancient province of Carinthia, Austria – known for beautiful lakes, mountains and winter sports – was the site of the first organic farming system in the world. In 1927, a new generation of Austrian farmers saw the benefits of organic farming in creating a better, healthier lifestyle. Today Austria has the highest percentage of organically farmed land in Europe.
- Did you know that one of the most well-known Christmas carols originated in Austria? On December 24, 1818, the organ at the Chapel of Oberndorf near Salzburg was out of commission and a substitute was needed. The priest Joseph Mohr and the schoolteacher Franz Xaver performed, for the first time ever, one of their own songs – “Silent Night.”
Contact R and B International Travel and travel well in Austria.