Vail Wine Ink column: Planning a trip abroad to wine country
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Eroica Riesling — You could always stay stateside for that wine excursion and go to Washington State for a little Riesling. Woodinville, home of Chateau Ste. Michelle, is beautiful in the fall, as is a glass of Eroica. A collaboration of two of the greatest Riesling makers — Dr. Ernst Loosen, of Germany, and CSM, as some refer to the Chateau — this wine offers a hint of sweetness and a basket of lovely fruits. Limes, oranges and kiwi all are referenced in this pure, mineral-laden Riesling. Outstanding by itself, it may be even better with a plate of well-spiced Asian food. A trip in a glass.
There are few things better than planning a trip to wine country. Sometimes the planning is almost as great as the trip, as the anticipation can be as intoxicating as the wine when you get there. OK, perhaps an exaggeration, but still …
Anyway, here are a few things to consider if you are of a mind to hop a flight this fall to wine country.
Before you go
Pick a place: Begin with what your time and budget dictates. Of course, the Holy Grail of wine country travel is assuredly France, with Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne being the must-see regions. But there are other places in Europe — think Piedmonte in Italy or Priorat in Spain — that encourage off-the-beaten-path whimsy.
Think about what kind of wines you like, and then visit the places where they are made. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Call some wineries: Once you have a region in mind, do a little research. Nearly every winery in the world is online these days, and all, well most all, of them would love to see your face at their cellar door. This may not be the case with, say, the first growths in Bordeaux, but for the most part, you’ll find that if you do a little research on the wineries you’d like to visit and send an email or call ahead, there will be a warmer welcome when you arrive.
Stay in the vineyards: One of the joys of being on a wine country trip is seeing the sunset over the vines or watching the moonrise. It’s hearing the birds and watching the grapes ripple in a warm breeze. Try to find an in-the-vineyard accommodation to get the most out of your wine country travel. I’d pick a B&B with an acre of vines over a Four Seasons with a spa any day. It’s a wine trip, after all.
Make reservations: As wine country travel has become more sophisticated, so too have the culinary opportunities along the way. Wine country can get pretty busy at the better restaurants, so it is to your advantage to book your dining plans early.
While you’re there
Get a designated driver: If you plan on visiting a number of wineries, always figure out your transportation in advance. The worst potential ending to a great day tasting wine is to see the little red lights in the rearview mirror. Actually, there is a worse outcome, but we won’t go there.
As strict as U.S. laws are about driving under the influence, European laws are, for the most part, even stricter. It is reality. The only place worse than a jail in Napa is a jail in, say, Sicily. Get a driver.
Don’t try to do too much: The thing about wine tasting is that it should be stress-free. People have a tendency to schedule too much in too short of a time. I think that the perfect number of winery visits in a day is three. Two before lunch and one after. Less is more when it comes to a great day of wine tourism.
Spit: There, I said it. Even if you are not “that guy,” a full day at four wineries is going to test your resolve and sobriety. Tasting is not an excuse for inebriation; rather, it is an opportunity to sample and learn as you go. Swallowing instead of spitting will diminish that opportunity.
Get into the vineyards: Wine country is about the wine, and the wine comes from the vines — so get out amongst them. Look at the grapes and see the color. Check out the canopy, or the way the leaves are pruned. Is the canopy thin to let in sunshine, or is it thick to shield the grapes? Check out the vines. Are they thick and gnarly or are they thin, young and growing?
The vines are where it all starts. You’ll only see them when you are in wine country, so take advantage.
Get dirty: When you are in the vineyards, pick up a little dirt. Some vineyards are rocky, while others are chalky. Get a feel for what the place feels like. Next time you buy a bottle of wine from that vineyard, you’ll remember what the soil that nurtured that wine felt like in your hands.
If you want to take a wine country trip, this is the week to begin making your plans. I assure you, you will have a wonderful time.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab, Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.