Wine-Themed Travel

by Katie McElveen

Aug 1, 2018
August 2018

IF IT SEEMS EVERYONE AROUND you is drinking wine, you’re not imagining it: In 2016, Americans sipped 790 million gallons of this ancient elixir, up from 330 million gallons in 1993. That surge in consumption also spurred an interest in wine-related travel that ranges from tours and cruises through winemaking regions to tastings, wine-pairing dinners and classes held by well-known sommeliers, winemakers and other experts. There are also wine-based treatments at spas, and in Bordeaux, France, La Cité du Vin, a museum devoted to all things wine, opened in 2016. Last year, 445,000 oenophiles visited the 144,000-square-foot museum, which also houses three restaurants, a tasting room, a theater and 19 interactive exhibits. And if you’ve ever wanted to play winemaker for a day, you can do that, too, at wine blending programs cropping up not just in wine-producing regions but in destinations all over the world. In Charleston, S.C., for example, guests at the Grand Bohemian Hotel can craft their own bottle; Bahama Barrels, which occupies a former convent in downtown Nassau, started a blending program in early 2018.

Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston Wine Blending Room © GRAND BOHEMIAN CHARLESTON

Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston Wine Blending Room © GRAND BOHEMIAN CHARLESTON

Cruise lines, which delivered travelers to farflung wine-producing regions for decades, have been quick to add creative wine components to many of their journeys. Guests aboard AmaWaterways’ Enticing Douro cruise spend days sipping Port, Vinho Verde and other Portuguese wines at vineyards overlooking the Douro River; a highlight is dinner and a wine tasting at the quinta, or country home, of a local winemaking family. Uniworld’s Connoisseur Collection cruises offer exclusive food and wine programming — think lunch on a Burgundy estate with perfectly paired wines — on specific departures through France. Culturally curious travelers aboard Viking Cruise Line’s Empires of the Mediterranean adventure visit three boutique wineries in and around Santoríni, Greece, to taste varietals unique to the region. On its Piedmont and the Italian Lakes exploration, land-based tour company Trafalgar takes visitors off Italy’s beaten path with wine-focused jaunts to less-visited Asti and Cherasco.

Prefer to travel with your own small group? On six-day sailing trips along the coast of Croatia, guests of Wind & Wine Croatia explore islands such as Brač, Hvar, Vis and Korčula. Spend mornings hiking, swimming and snorkeling and afternoons and evenings on bespoke visits with local winemakers. “Based on the producer, we’ll do barrel or library tastings, food and wine pairings or a tasting dinner at the winery’s restaurant,” says Lizann Grupalo, cofounder, Wind & Wine Croatia. “With each passing year, Croatian wines garner more accolades and awards, yet they remain relatively undiscovered globally.” Verve, a Napa-based wine tour company, gives tours of this well-discovered wine region a twist with vineyard tours on horseback, classes in sabrage (the art of opening a bottle of bubbly with a saber) and the chance to explore tiny boutique wineries not open to the public.

Laurence Vuillemin launched her French tour company, Paris-Toujours, in 2015; the company offers a variety of individual one- and multi-day wine-focused itineraries throughout France. A lifelong resident of Paris, Vuillemin formed a network of more than 50 partners; activities include a private introduction to the French wine regions in a prestigious cellar in the heart of Paris, wine and cheese pairing with a cheese master in a traditional fromagerie and even an experience comparing the aromatic similarities of perfume and wine. “Our goal is to be 100 percent authentic,” says Vuillemin. “In the regions, we work with local wine specialists that help the guests discover small producers and book accommodations that are strongly connected to the wine culture.”

Jordan Winery outdoor wine and olive oil tasting © JORDAN WINERY

Jordan Winery outdoor wine and olive oil tasting © JORDAN WINERY

Wineries regularly open to the public also upped the ante, wooing wine lovers with gorgeous new spaces, inspired food pairings and extravagant excursions that go well beyond the tasting room. In Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, Jordan Winery expanded its portfolio to include vineyard hikes and estate tours with stops for food and wine, dinners at the French-style château and library tastings of its Bordeaux- style wines. Even better, club members can earn points to be used toward one-of-a-kind experiences like release dinners and a Champagne and caviar tasting — and even an overnight stay in a private apartment overlooking the nearly 1,200-acre estate. Although regulations don’t allow wineries in Sonoma County to operate restaurants on site, the owners of Ram’s Gate got around this pesky rule with Palate Play, a five-course set pairing that just happens to be large enough for lunch. It’s served in the winery’s stunning glass and dark-wood tasting room, perched on a bluff overlooking a lake.

Ram's Gate Palate Play © RAM'S GATE

Ram’s Gate Palate Play © RAM’S GATE

If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, hop aboard one of the wine trains that meander through some of the world’s prettiest vine-covered landscapes. The granddaddy of them all is probably the Napa Valley Wine Train, which began shuttling tourists to wineries along the 36-mile route between Napa and St. Helena in 1989. As riders flocked to the rails, the company added offerings such as a winemaker-led Meet the Maker ride and private after-hours tours. Another popular wine train is the Lavaux Express, which chugs through the steeply terraced vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva near Lausanne in Switzerland; aboard the hop-on/hop-off Franschhoek Wine Tram, sippers can visit eight wineries in South Africa’s Franschhoek Valley.

Partnerships between hotels and wineries are another source of cool winery experiences. In Thailand, guests of The Peninsula Bangkok can board a helicopter on the hotel’s 37th floor bound for Hua Hin Hills Vineyard, where a team of elephants awaits to take them on a tour through the vines. Carmel Valley Ranch, in Carmel, Calif., holds weekly wine programming that includes an educational wine tasting experience with the resort’s sommelier and a fun winemaker challenge where small groups create their own wine and pitch its attributes to a potential “buyer.” At The Duniway Hotel in Portland, Ore., oenophiles who want to get their hands dirty spend a day in the fields at Stoller Family Estate that might include picking grapes, measuring ripening grapes for sugar levels and tasting grapes fresh from the crusher, followed by a harvest lunch overlooking the Dundee Hills. Situated in the northern reaches of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Estate provides guests at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay with a two-hour, exclusive private tasting experience that includes a tour of the vineyard, a five-wine flight and library pour of the acclaimed Monte Bello Cabernet. You can even take a wine tour in Myanmar, thanks to the Sanctum Inle Resort’s Wheel and Wine cycle excursion through sugar cane fields and tiny villages to Red Mountain Estate. In Mendoza, Argentina, you can’t get any closer to the vines than the Loft Suite at Entre Cielo: The futuristic — but plush — pod suite sits on stilts in the middle of the resort’s 35-acre vineyard.

Wine-based treatments at spas are another popular way to enjoy the fruit of the vine. Made from fresh Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, the Pulp Friction massage at the acclaimed Les Sources Caudalie outside Bordeaux, France, smoothes and freshens skin; the spa also offers wine baths in converted barrels and other treatments. Malbec is the most widely grown grape in Argentina, and at the Cavas Wine Lodge outside Mendoza, the seeds are ground and used to exfoliate and clarify dry skin. Stateside, vinotherapy facials at Sonoma’s Kenwood Inn & Spa infuse skin with stress-reducing antioxidants. You can enjoy the therapeutic benefits of wine therapy at sea as well. In early 2018, MSC Cruises launched a partnership with Andrea Bocelli Wines and spa products company LAJATICA to curate eight different vinotherapy treatments in the MSC Aurea Spa aboard MSC Seaside.


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