The above title leaves open a lot of room for interpretation… but I should really have called this little article “Professional Wine Travel” and “Touristy Wine Travel”. The difference for the reader is perhaps not obvious, but all will be revealed.
As an aside I consider the touring of wine regions one of the most important activities that an individual who works professionally with wine needs to accomplish. He /She needs to see where the specific product comes from. This understanding is invaluable in explaining the liquid to your guests: pictures and books are nice, but actually having been in the vineyard and talking to the vigneron who actually made the wine in the barrel cellar adds a dimension that cannot come from theoretical knowledge.
There is also a difference between the “old world” wine experience and the “new world” wine route starts with the duration of your visit. If you are on the touristy wine trail in the new world, you are talking to the tasting room staff in a room full of t-shirts, wine glasses and other related merchandise, and you better not be inundated with an arriving bus tour of thirsty travelers; if you are, things are going to get a lot louder and very cozy.
The tasting room staff may or may not know what they are talking about (wine related) and you might pay (this depends where you are in the new world) for your samples. If you are traveling Hwy. 29 in Napa you will pay dearly for any tastes received, unless you go to the big wine factories where you will receive 3 or so inexpensive samples for free, but if you would like to taste any premium product it will cost you. I should in fairness add that if you do purchase a bottle, some wineries will waive the tasting fee. These individual vineyard visits, can with some small amount of planning, yield up to a half dozen wineries a day, depending on your constitution and your designated driver.
The old world experience is quite different from the frenzy above. First of all, there will be a number of wineries that will be closed to the casual visitor…closed unless you have the right connections. And if the winery is accepting visitors, you will need to make an appointment and you can count on a couple of hours slipping by for the winery tour. There will be no t-shirts, no marinated olives in cute jars and no Riedel glasses for sale. If there is a tour/tasting you will most likely be led around by a member of the family (and perhaps by the one whose English is the best). There will be no fancy tasting room, but instead you might just taste out of the barrel in the cellar, like in Burgundy. If you are tasting at Domaine Weinbach in Alsace (one of the best producers in that part of France) you are entertained in a tiny reception room in a good size Manor House, stuffed full of antique furniture, and the bottles to be tasted are brought into the room one by one, throughout the duration of the visit, just like they are revealing Christmas presents. If you are in Bordeaux, and you‘re tasting at a famous chateau they will, after a cellar tour, give you two or three wines to try, and then tell you that you cannot buy any of those wines at the chateau itself. That is… if you have the right connections and are welcome in the first place.
You will most likely not pay for a tasting in the Europe, but it is assumed that you will purchase a couple of bottles to take along your travels. The whole process is of course slightly different from producer to producer and country to country, and that’s what makes this type of tourism so interesting, if you are the foodie or wino type.
Professional wine travel is a little different still, as the sommelier is gladly seen in almost every winery. But it helps if you are already dealing with the distributor/agent for the producer. Not surprisingly the more important you are as a client, the better your treatment at the winery will be.
The above is best illustrated by the following example:
Domaine X is a good size producer in the south of France, with a large export business.
Lunch or dinner is offered as a courtesy, either at the winery itself or at the fanciest place in town, which conveniently has all of Domaine X’s wines on their large wine list.
Domaine X’s sales manager and the visitor will have jumped in the vineyard’s workhorse Suv, for a tour of the hilly vineyards and to look at fabulous vistas. Thereafter and before dinner, there would have been an exhaustive tour of the winery itself with an in-depth description of the bottling line (the most expensive single piece of equipment in the winery!). Then there would be a grand tasting of all the wines that Domaine X makes, with suggestions made that this wine, or that wine, would fit perfectly as a by the glass pour in your establishment.
And after dinner and because you are already an important client (or are thought to become one) the Domaine has offered to put you up in the guest house on the estate, overlooking the Mediterranean … life is pretty good.