Have you been bitten by the travel bug? While every glass of wine is a journey, wine travel will deliver your wine experiences to new heights.
Enotourism is a relatively new travel concept, and it’s growing at a rapid pace. According to a 2007 study by the Travel Industry Association, wine tourism exploded during the first decade of the 21st century. Sixty percent of those surveyed expressed interest in food and wine related travel, while seventeen percent (or 27 million people) confirmed wine-related travel at least once during the previous three years. These numbers have surely increased over the past nine years. That said, wine travel opportunities abound in all corners of the globe. Veer off the beaten path this winter and indulge in some enotourism, as recommended by some of the web’s top wine writers.
Loire Valley, France
For me it’s impossible to designate one wine vacation as my favorite. I consider the collection of all my wine experiences with friends and family part of larger favorite vacation. From the first wine trip my wife and I took together to Napa, CA in 2006, to a few years later having dinner (crab cakes and lamb) at Steve & Jill Matthiasson’s home in Napa sharing stories of our families, to discovering the beauty of Australian Pinot Noir while driving around the Adelaide Hills region lost with no GPS or map in the spring of 2009, to making new friends over late night bottles of bubbles in Franciacorta, Italy, at EWBC in 2011 and in again in 2012, to many weekend trips roaming the trails of Virginia wine country with friends.
Visiting the Loire Valley last year is my most recent favorite wine vacation. I cherish the time I spent in the Loire, again without a functioning GPS, driving the roads of Vouvray visiting with American Peter Hahn, winegrower and owner of Clos de la Meslerie, practicing my French with Bernard Fouquet of Domaine des Aubuisieres (and helping him with his English) while tasting his stunning Chenin Blancs, indulging in older vintage of Huet during an extended afternoon visit to their tasting room, spending several hours eating and drinking with local growers (that spoke no English) at a small village restaurant, and turning a 90 minute drive into a three hour drive because of a few wrong turns to visit with Cathy & Nigel Henton of le tasting room to learn more about the wines of Chinon and Anjou, capped off with a memorable visit with Jo Pithon.
A lost toll ticket on the motorway and an eventual speeding ticket added experiences to my favorite vacation called life. My next favorite wine experience that will become part of my favorite wine vacation of life will be visiting Spain this spring.
One of the wine regions I had the most fun visiting was Lodi, California. Almost seems like yesterday, but I enjoyed several lovely spring days there in 2014. Even though Lodi (Central Valley of California) is largely known for red wines with Zinfandel topping the charts, the area’s diversity, both in soil and climate, accommodates the planting of over 75 [commercial] grape varieties. The region benefits from pretty significant diurnal temperature swings. I needed a sweater by evening time.
The cooler nights provide balance to the warm-to-hot, sun-filled days allowing the berries to retain good natural acidity while achieving optimal flavor development. This is why some of the region’s more substantive & robust red wines are also well-balanced.
Lodi has a number of multi-generational, small-production family wineries and vineyards with old, head trained Zinfandel sites (and even Cinsault) dating back to the 19th century. Walking through these vineyards was truly amazing! And more importantly, these old, gnarly vines are producing rock solid juice.
Behind the delicious wines, I found a collection of passionate and ambitious wine-growers, winemakers, and grape growers. From tasting-room to tasting-room you will find a lot of variety. For example, Sue Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards crafts small amounts of bright and refreshing Rhone-inspired white wines (and only white wines with one pink exception) from 100% estate-grown fruit; Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Wines makes wines that are meant to be shared at the dinner table with family & friends (I highly recommend his Syrah); Markus Bokisch of Bokisch Vineyards has grown and produced Spanish-style wines in Lodi since 2001 – his Albariño is scrumptious; and Markus Niggli of Borra Vineyards and Markus Wine Company is doing something rousing and unique with German and Austrian grape varieties. When is the last time you tried Kerner and Bacchus?
I could go on and on about varying styles & varieties; but the bottom line is: diversity is the spice of life when it comes to Lodi wine country. Lastly, and sort of the cherry on top, what also made my trip so much fun and special were the wine personalities I visited Lodi with: The Great Gregory Dal Piaz, Wine Harlots, Cuvee Corner, Wine4Me, and the late Ben Carter of Benito’s Wine Reviews. Ben was one of the smartest, funniest, and quick-witted people I have ever met; he left us way too soon and is sorely missed in the wine blogging commune.
In closing, if you plan to visit Lodi, I leave you with two tips: follow @Lodi_Wine on Twitter and be sure to stay at Wines & Roses Hotel, Restaurant, and Spa (you will not regret it and you may want to stay). Cheers!
What do you want in an island vacation? Seamless sand, turquoise water, gleaming azure sky, sandstone cliffs— and, of course, wine.
Mallorca, the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, has long been a resort paradise for Europeans seeking respite from bleak northern winters. They come for the beaches, the sun, and the outdoor fun. Cycling is especially popular, drawing athletes to the island’s serpentine roads that cover both rolling and steeply demanding terrain. If hiking’s your thing, the Tramuntana Mountains that flank the island’s northwest coast are a UNESCO World Heritage site, with trails offering dramatic vistas to day-hikers. More ambitious trekkers can attempt the multi-stage, 135-kilometer GR221 Dry Stone Way. The hikes of the Serra Llevant range, in the northeast corner, are somewhat gentler on the knees.
Mallorcan cuisine celebrates the island’s sea and farming traditions. Fish and pork are ever present, liberally infused with the island’s local citrus, olives, almonds, and garlic.
Wine has been grown on the island for thousands of years, and although many of the native grapes have been replanted to international varieties, it’s worthwhile to find examples of indigenous wines whose flavors are perfectly suited to the island’s cuisine. Look for those made from Callet, Manto Negro, and Prensal Blanc. And given all of this deliciousness, be thankful for those scenic trails that let you work it off.
Napa Valley, California
I am a relatively new wine enthusiast, having had my most pivotal wine moment during the summer of 2008 when a former business travel client of mine, a wine broker and importer, shared with me a bottle of premium, estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
My love affair with wine began with the first sip. In March 2009 during spring break, I took my first wine vacation to the Napa Valley and Sonoma County, finishing up in San Francisco. My travel client made VIP appointments for my travel companion and me at three of the wineries he represented: Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in St. Helena (the source of that life-changing Cabernet Sauvignon), Bell Wine Cellars in Yountville, and Trentadue Winery in Geyserville. At each winery, we tasted with the owner or winemaker and learned so much about wine. I also had my first Zinfandel at Trentadue Winery, the 2005 La Storia Zinfandel, Alexander Valley.
The food experiences were equally fun and included In-N-Out Burger, Oakville Grocery, and Hog Island Oyster Company. The owner of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards, Todd Anderson, took us out to lunch at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena after our winery visit.
As we drove from the Napa Valley to Sonoma County, then back to San Francisco, I said to myself, “I could live here.” I fell in love with the wines, the food, and the area hook, line, and sinker and vowed to return. Between March 2009 and December 2013, I kept my promise to myself: I visited 12 times before moving to the Napa Valley in January 2014. My most favorite wine vacation became my real-life home.