Planning Your Wine Trips

As with any type of travel, there are lessons to be learned and shared that will make future trips more enjoyable.  The following recommendations are ones that we have experienced or have been passed on to us by other wine travelers.  If you have one that is not listed below, please share it with us by e-mail.

Before you go

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Go to or host your own wine tastings prior to planning your trip.  This will help you learn what wines you like and dislike and enable you to plan your wine tour accordingly.  Keep this in mind when you are choosing a destination.  If the only wines you like are full-bodied reds, for instance, then you won't want to go to the Loire Valley or Alsace as their wines are primarily white and tend to be more fragrant and delicate. 

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Talk to your local wine retailer or restaurateur about places to go to.  Bear in mind that in some wineries (especially in Europe), an appointment may be required.  This is something that they may be able to help you with.  (NOTE - the restaurateur and the wine retailer are businesspeople and therefore may not leap at the "opportunity" to set this appointment up for you as they may not know you well enough and/or feel comfortable with doing this.  If this is the case, do not take it personally.)

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If you think you will be bringing more than a couple of bottles home, bring a sturdy wine box to keep wines secure during travel.  For more ease, mail this box to your place of lodging in the wine region about two weeks prior to going and have it waiting for your arrival). 

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Your other option is to ship the wine home.  Although people have frequently done this successfully, here are the official positions of FedEx and UPS:
FedEx
The following items are prohibited and will not be acceptable for shipment by FedEx service:
- Firearms
- Fireworks
- Alcoholic beverages

UPS
The following items may be shipped into the United States (via UPS) on a prearranged basis only:
- Alcoholic beverages*

It is the shipper's responsibility to comply with current government regulations or laws applicable in each country. Shipments are subject to inspection and possible delay by customs officials or representatives of other government agencies. Certain countries have additional prohibited articles. For additional information, call the UPS International Customer Service Center at 1-800-782-7892.
*Alcoholic beverage shipments are accepted for transportation only to certain states. Please contact your UPS international account executive to determine in which states UPS accepts such shipments.

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In Wine Country - When You Are Eating Out

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When touring in wine country, always drink the local wines.  The local cuisine you eat will typically match the local wines perfectly, allowing you to fully enjoy the flavors.  Don't let it bother you if you don't taste the nuances -- "essences of plum and cherries with just a hint of (whatever) ... " Most people can't. If someone tells you they are there, try and discern them, but don't worry if you can't.  It is an acquired skill, at best. Just drink and enjoy what you find pleasant and like -- regardless of price -- and don't get tied up in the snobberies of wine drinking.  Remember Rule #1 in wine drinking - if you like it, it's a good wine. 

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When you discover a delicious local wine, either take the label from the bottle or write down the name, address, and phone number of the winery.  Another plan is take a small notepad and make notes about the wineries you visit and the wines you bought, tried, or had at restaurants.  A wine journal will help keep wines straight, especially when you return home and the memories start to dim.  It also will help re-live the trip.

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If you feel your server has a good knowledge of the local wines, ask for recommendations to their favorite wineries.  If you start hearing the same names, then you know you should definitely visit them.  If they really know the winery, ask if an appointment is necessary and if they could help you with one.

In Wine Country - When You Are Touring

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First and foremost, TRY IT!  If you don't like it, don't buy or drink any more!  Don't let pre-conceived notions limit you as each wine region, winery and wine maker has a unique approach.  Also, eating the local cuisine will enable you to experience new flavors that you had previously never found.  You may find wines that you never knew you liked.

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If you are staying in a larger town, find a wine shop to do some "scouting" in.  Chat up (i.e. schmooze!) the clerk/shop owner and get winery recommendations from them.  Note that it may be more productive to purchase a bottle or two before picking their brain (make it worth their while).  As before, ask if an appointment is necessary and if they could help you with one (again, do not take it personally if they decline doing this for you.)

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Rely on your gut instincts while driving around.  If you see a place and it looks intriguing, STOP!  Some of the best wines we have discovered were found purely by accident!

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In Europe, smaller wineries are family-owned and operated.  They are not the Mondavi operations you will find in Napa!  Very often you will be going into the winemaker's home.  Treat it as such. 

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Remember that in the Northern Hemisphere, grape harvest season ranges from early September to late October (depending on where you are).  Bear in mind that wine makers will have very little time (and patience) to speak with you during this period.  Also, you may find the driving difficult at this time of year, as the roads may be filled with farm vehicles slowly transporting the harvest to the wineries.  On the other hand, the vineyards take on a new beauty as the leaves change colors.

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Even if you only speak English, and they only speak French (German, Italian, Spanish, etc.), your body language will convey more than you can imagine.  Even if you only use the local version of hello, goodbye, please, and thank you, that will be greatly appreciated.

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Unlike many wineries in the United States, most wineries in Europe (especially the smaller ones) will not charge you for tastings.  A customary exchange for this is to buy a bottle of wine (don't worry, at most smaller wineries, this will only set you back US$2 - US$5 per bottle). 

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If you find a wine you love and you know you will miss it once you've drunk it all, ask if it is imported to your home country.  If the answer is yes, get the name and phone number to see if is available in your hometown/state.

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In many wine regions, there are picnicking facilities available in and around the vineyards.  This can be a truly memorable experience as you enjoy the local breads, meats, cheeses, fruits, and wines while you sit among the rows of vines.  If you are in doubt as to whether or not it is permissible to picnic there, go with your gut feeling.  In Europe, you will usually frequently find this easier to do.  If a local farmer approaches you to ask your business, you may find his demeanor less intimidating if you greet him warmly and offer a glass of wine and some of your food.  Bottom line, though, is to use the camper's axiom - take nothing but pictures, leave only your footprints!

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As the day progresses, be aware of the fact that you have wine in your car.  If it is hot, do not leave your car closed up as conditions will bake your newly found wines.  Conversely, if you are touring in the winter in a cold region, do not leave your wine in the car overnight, as it is possible for wines to freeze.

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Also be aware of your alcohol consumption as the day goes on.  In Europe, the cost of being caught for driving under the influence is significantly higher than in the United States.  Assign a designated driver and make sure to pace yourself and to eat while visiting the wineries (an excellent reason to eat the local breads!)

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When overseas and you purchase wines to bring home, remember that you can only bring one liter per person back into the United States without incurring penalties from U.S. Customs.  If you cannot prove the value of each additional bottle that you declare, U.S. Customs will provide a value for you that is frequently may be up times what you actually paid for it!  To minimize these fees, always keep your receipts for Customs.  Click HERE for specific U.S. Customs information.

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When you are packing to return home, make sure that your bottles are securely packed.  If you have room in your luggage for the bottles, it is a good idea to wrap them up in your dirty laundry.  A simple suggestion that is often overlooked is to wrap your "whites in whites" and your reds in colored clothing to minimize damage to your clothes in the event of breakage during transit.

When You Get Home

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Wine does not really like to travel.  Whether you are flying or driving more than two hours, give your wine 10 - 14 days of resting before you crack open that mouth-watering Burgundy.  We don't have a scientific reason, just experience - wines we opened immediately after getting home were watery and flavorless.  The same wine, two weeks later, was fine.

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Don't be disappointed if your wine doesn't taste as exciting as when you were in that quaint restaurant on the banks of the Rhine.  Part of what's missing is the local cuisine matching perfectly with the wine and part is the excitement and novelty of being in an "exotic" locale.  Think of this as an incentive to travel back again.


Click HERE for assistance in planning a trip
to a wine region or send us an e-mail.