Planning your route in French wine regions

August 29, 2012

There are a many differences between touring independently around the wine country in France and touring in the New World, notably along the organized wine routes of South Africa, Australia, California or indeed anywhere in North America. One of the biggest challenges is actually how to find the winery you planned to visit, and second to that is working out how long it takes from one place to another, and trying to be on time.

French winery opening timesWhen you plan the timings for your own wine trip in France, you have to take into account that the vast majority of French wine producers, open and welcoming to visitors, still close for lunch. Whereas their attitude to closing the doors dead on time isn’t in most cases as draconian as it used to be, you may still feel the atmosphere start to get colder if you are still tasting wines at 12.30pm. If you get lost finding the producer where you planned to arrive at 11.30am and instead show up close to midday, then beware, there may be significant glances at the clock or even shaking of heads.

Planning with GPS codes and Google maps
This summer a few visitors to Wine Travel Guides have requested personalized itineraries, which we create after discussion with the client, providing a spreadsheet with timings and including links to personalized Google maps. It is Brett Jones, aka The Wine Maestro, who does the mapping work and, following a request for advice from a Gold member, he shared how he does this.

On the 48 guides to French wine regions you will find on the main website, each recommended wine producer, place to stay, eat or shop, and attraction has its own Google map which is generated from the GPS codes. It is true that these GPS codes cannot be guaranteed to be 100% accurate for wine producers located in the middle of the countryside, but we have done our best, and I reckon over 95% will get you very close indeed to the destination.

Jura wine village

Not all wine villages offer a wine producer map like Pupillin in the Jura ©Brett Jones

So, to plot a route, start with one of your chosen wine producers or your place to stay and open the Google map, clicking on the Google map link to take you onto Google’s own mapping site. You can then use Google’s own tools to plot other locations you wish to visit, by entering each of their GPS codes one by one. It’s a bit long-winded, but it does work!

Remember that even if the best laid plans might go wrong, for most people travel is much enhanced if you have a plan to begin with, and we give you the tools both to plan and to make the most of your wine trip in France and beyond.

Access to our comprehensive guides
It is some time since we’ve written on this blog about the guides on the main website. Due to lack of resources and other commitments the guides have not all been updated in the past two years, but despite this we are confident that the guides provide superb and detailed information, not available in one place elsewhere. Recently, I’ve received several complementary comments from buyers of the PDF guides. The recent Gold member who wanted help on mapping wrote: “The guides are amazingly full of detail.” And, someone who purchased individual PDF guides sent a note of thanks with: “The recommendations were fantastic, and really made a difference to our experience in Champagne.”

All the guides are free to view, but the inexpensive PDFs are useful if you want to print some pages, and Gold membership also allows you to view the whole of each guide at one time, saving clicking through all the page links. So, if you are planning to visit wine regions in France in the next 12 months, here is a generous offer for Gold membership giving access to download or print all 52 PDF guides. Use the code D2blog12 to buy membership for only £20 (approximately 26€ or US$32) about 30% off the normal price. This special discount is valid until 31 October 2012 and may also be used for Gift membership.

My thanks to Doug Pike for the use of the cartoon below, which should inspire you in your wine travels. Doug is author of the cartoon books Gone with the Wine and Less than a Full Deck.

Cartoon by Doug Pike

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Wine Travel Guides loves good Wine Photos

March 15, 2011

We are currently working on updates to our travel guides to wine regions in France, Tuscany and Rioja. Up to now, we have only included one stunning photo per guide, the majority supplied by Mick Rock of Cephas Picture Library, professional specialists in wine photos. Now we have the facility to add photos to individual entries on the guides.

Edmond Jacquin et Fils

Jean-François Jacquin in Savoie ©Brett Jones

Like the picture on the left, we are gradually adding photos to the producers recommended on our site, as well as the places to stay, eat and shop, and we thought you might like to help. Would you like to see a photo you have taken on Wine Travel Guides and receive a PDF travel guide of your choice as a thank you?

Here’s what you should do:
Look through the travel guides on our website – all content is free to view. Find the guides to the regions you’ve visited, and on each guide click through the list of Producers and the Places to Stay, Eat and Shop to see if we include a producer or place you’ve visited and photographed on your visit. If you find one and would like us to share your photo on our website, then if it’s suitable, we will upload it, make sure you are properly credited and we will send you a free PDF wine travel guide of your choice for each photo we use.

How to send photos and conditions:

  • Send us any in-focus, bright pictures that represent the wine producer or venue well.
  • Size should ideally be around 300 x 400 pixels and 200 – 500KB.
  • Provide a caption to explain what your picture represents.
  • It is ESSENTIAL that you own the copyright for the picture. Include your name and/or how you would like the copyright credited.
  • Email as an attachment to admin[at]winetravelguides[dot]com. (We will not download pictures from your site or 3rd party site).
  • In your message let us know which PDF(s) you would like to receive as a thank you. These will be emailed to you as soon as we’ve published your picture (and we’ll include a note with the link so you can see your photo on our website and share it).
  • We reserve the right to edit your picture and your caption.
  • We reserve the right to accept or refuse your pictures.

There is no time limit on this although we will gradually be adding more pictures that we find ourselves so you may miss certain slots. As you plan your wine travels over the next few months, bear our request in mind so that you can send us any relevant photos on your return.

Thank you so much in advance of your help! And, as this is the perfect time to plan your wine travels for the year we are delighted to offer all readers of this post a special 30% discount off our normal price for Annual membership that gives access to the latest version of all our 52 PDF guides ready to download and/or print. Simply go to the Join Here page or to the Gifts page if you want to offer this to someone else, and enter the promotional code D2BLG0311. Once you click enter, the usual price of £29 will reduce to £20 (approx. US$33 or €24). This offer is valid until 30th April 2011.

We look forward to seeing and posting your photos on the site, and in a few months, we’ll post some of the best ones here on the blog.

Postcript: UK readers may like to check out the special opportunity to bid for a Savoie evening with Wink Lorch presenting a special selection of Savoie wines. 100% of funds received will go straight to Wine Relief, the UK wine trade’s fundraiser that supports Comic Relief’s work in Africa and the UK. Hurry! Bids must be in by March 18th 2011.


Our Champagne Writer is a Louis Roederer Winner

September 16, 2010

I am delighted to announce that one of our Champagne writers, Michael Edwards has won the prestigious Louis Roederer award for International Wine Book 2010 for his recent book The Finest Wines of Champagne.

Among the panel of six judges was Tom Stevenson, renowned Champagne expert and the original writer of our three Champagne guides. Michael’s book was one of a shortlist of four books, all strong contenders for the award. The others shortlisted were, from the same publisher, The Finest Wines of Tuscany and Central Italy by Nick Belfrage MW; What Price Bordeaux by Benjamin Lewin MW; and The Great Domaines of Burgundy by Remington Norman MW and Charles Taylor MW. Chairman of the judges, Charles Metcalfe introduced the awards which were presented by the head of Champagne Louis Roederer, Frédéric Rouzaud.

Charles Metcalfe, Frédéric Rouzaud of Louis Roederer and Michael Edwards © Brett Jones

Michael used to be a hotel inspector, making him possibly our best reviewer of Places to Stay and Eat, but for the past 20 years he has focussed on wine writing, and as one of the judges said to me: “we chose him because, quite simply, he writes like a dream.” The book is an in depth study of the region, the wine and in particular the Champagne producers, with around 100 profiles that include a mix of the famous names, as one would expect, along with some excellent smaller Champagne growers that Michael recommends. A few of these featured in the latest updates of our travel guides earlier this year. We are, frankly, honoured that Michael makes the time to write for us.

Brett and I were very privileged to attend the Louis Roederer Wine Writers’ Awards ceremony at the top (39th and 40th floors) of London’s ‘Gherkin’ building in the city where we were treated not only to a splendid view of London, but also a taste of the very young, newly launched Louis Roederer Cristal 2004, along with copious amounts of their always delicious Brut Premier.

Louis Roederer Brut Premier ready to serve on the 39th floor of the Gherkin, London © Brett Jones

I had actually entered the competition, submitting the Wine Travel Guides website into the category for International Wine Website – I was, however up against some formidable competition with the shortlist being Tom Cannavan for wine-pages.com, Jamie Goode for wineanorak.com, Gabriella Opaz for catavino.net (for whom I promised to collect the award if she had won) and the eventual winner, Jancis Robinson for jancisrobinson.com whose website has undergone a re-vamp in the past year and is one of the most successful part-subscription websites in the world of wine.

The other winner I particularly want to mention is Simon Woods as International Online wine columnist/blogger for articles from simonwoods.com – extremely well deserved by Simon. He provides interesting and witty short posts, regular videos and much more on his site, having really grasped the online potential and how to communicate in a really direct, yet educational manner with wine consumers online. I commend his site to you!

Finally, I want to mention the World of Fine Wine, a quarterly magazine, perfect for those of you who enjoy in-depth wine writing. They won the award for Wine Publication of the Year and also happen to be behind the publication of Michael’s book.

You can read the complete list of the Louis Roederer 2010 International Wine Writers’ Awards and no doubt soon see the photos from the enjoyable prize-giving evening, and launch of Cristal 2004, on their dedicated competition website. Thank you to Louis Roederer for supporting these awards and giving us such a great party for the presentation. And, thank you and congratulations to Michael for being such a diligent Champagne writer!

Michael’s book along with other selected books, is available from our Amazon Book store – you win, Michael wins and we get a few pennies too. We have both a UK Amazon store and a US Amazon store.

I predict that a future Louis Roederer award-winner could be our new Wine Travel Guides writer, Tom Fiorina, who has written our two new, quite amazing in-depth guides to wine travel in Corsica. More from him soon!


Visiting the Quieter Part of Burgundy

August 17, 2010

By Brett Jones

I always enjoy visiting Chalon-sur-Saône, a bustling city in Southern Burgundy, with a calm centre that straddles the river, the Cathedral Square on one side and Rue de Strasbourg, a street replete with restaurants, on the other bank.

300093 PANORAMA Cathedral, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

We recently visited Burgundy during the Grands Jours de Bourgogne where wine tastings are organised in different regions of the area. After the giddy heights of the major appellations it was refreshing to reach this gentler area, the Côte Chalonnaise, where the vineyards are interspersed with fields of cows, chickens and other animals in La Bresse.

300095 Rotisserie St Vincent, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

There is a good choice of restaurants and bars. Near the cathedral is the Rotisserie St-Vincent offering a classic, local menu.

300145 120 Wine Bar, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

For simpler fare you can try 120 Vins wine bar (say it in French: Cent Vingt pronounced Son Vin…).

300152 120 Wine Bar, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

You choose from a blackboard wine list, which not only specialises in the wines of the Côte Chalonnaise but other parts of France. When we were there we stayed local, choosing a Givry Clos des Vignes Rondes, Domaine François Lumpp 2008. It went well with a plate of local ham and cheese which was a pleasant respite after all our serious meals of the previous days!

The Rue de Strasbourg, on the other side of the river, is lined with restaurants from quite grand to simple.

300110 Le Bistrot, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

We have enjoyed lunch a couple of times at Le Bistrot were the owner cooks and his wife looks after the restaurant. Small, very informal with short, but perfectly formed menus. In the summer you can eat outside on the car-free street.

300125 Chocolatier Allex, Chalons sur Saone, Burgundy 25 Mar 10

In the centre of town you can indulge yourself in chocolate heaven at Allex Pâtissier-Chocolatier, whose window displays entice you to buy even if you are full up after a good meal!

400084 Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10

The next day we travelled to the wine village of Rully where we were intrigued by the number of large, indeed very large houses in this village. Appararently in the late 19th century with the arrival of the railways, a branch line was built from Chalon, and a number of wealthy burghers built country houses in Rully, to enjoy its mild climate.

400037 Lunch, La Grange, Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10400039 Lunch, La Grange, Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10

We ‘discovered’ a new restaurant in the heart of the wine town of Rully, La Grange.

View La Grange

Here in the converted stables of the Château Saint Michel, chef Ludovic Briday, who was at the famous Lameloise restaurant in Chagny just to the north, offers a choice of menus as well as à la carte. The wine list, as one would expect in the heart of wine country, is focussed on good local wines with a few by the glass, selected to complement the food.

400065 Dom la Breliere, Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10

Although La Grange is bang opposite Domaine Anne and Jean-François Delorme we decided to visit Domaine Brelière as I had just met the ebullient owners, Jean-Claude and Anna, at the regional tasting a couple of days earlier.

They own seven hectares of vines producing a selection of wines organically, including Crémant de Bourgogne as well as Premiers Crus, all of which can be tried in their charming small tasting room.

We enjoyed this visit to the Côte Chalonnaise, appreciating the softer, calmer aspect of one of the classic wine regions of France, and Wink used our visit as the basis to update and refresh our Wine Travel Guide to this area.

400072 Dom la Breliere, Rully, Burgundy 26 Mar 10

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A Good Time to Plan a Wine Tour in the Euro Zone

June 14, 2010

It’s high time to plan that wine tour, and also high time that we gave you an update on what’s happening on our main Wine Travel Guides website. With the Euro sliding against the US dollar and to an extent against the UK pound  as well as several other currencies, travel in France, Italy, Spain and the rest of the Euro zone is suddenly less expensive than it was a few months ago.

Châteauneuf du Pape pebbles

Vines in the famous pebbles of Châteauneuf du Pape ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Our biggest news is the recent launch of tailor-made wine tour itineraries aimed at those who are time poor and in need of an extra helping hand with planning a few days or more in the wine regions. The itineraries are based on the information in our on-line travel guides, but are truly tailor-made after we’ve emailed and/or called you to discuss what help you need to make the most of your wine tour. We provide an Excel spreadsheet including distances, timings and map links along with a Word document highlighting how best to secure appointments and get the most out of each day.

Patrimonio in Corsica from Cephas

Patrimonio in Northern Corsica ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Corsica to complete our French Wine Region coverage
Our 50 on-line travel guides are soon to become 52. We already boast that our guides cover all the major French wine regions, but one region has not yet been included… and that’s off-shore, namely Corsica. I’m really excited to share with you that Tom Fiorina of The Vine Route, who has been visiting the island for many years, is currently writing two guides to address this gap and they should be live sometime next month – personally I can’t wait to visit Corsica as their wines are improving dramatically, in keeping with the dramatic landscape.

Media Recognition for Wine Travel Guides
Back in April, we were selected by the UK’s Daily Mail as Website of the Week; we were also mentioned in an article on best new travel technology in the UK Telegraph’s Travel section and appeared in several regional papers, notably by wine writer Liz Sagues in the Ham & High covering North-West London. Importantly, we’ve received some lovely comments from users of our guides and the new tailor-made itinerary service too.

Kaysersberg in Alsace

Kaysersberg in Alsace ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Keeping the on-line information accurate
The huge advantage of on-line guides is the ability to keep information up-to-date relatively simply, though I confess it’s time-consuming with 50 guides equating to over 1,500 recommendations (wineries to visit, places to stay, eat and shop plus attractions) and 400,000 words when you add in the general wine and tourism information. If you spot any errors in our guides, please do let us know.

The good news is that two-thirds of our micro-region guides have been updated in the past 6 months and we try to update each guide thoroughly every 12 – 16 months. The ‘last updated’ date you see on each of our guides relates to the last time we did a thorough update adding several new or replacement recommendations. By the way, at least one well-known guide book series I know that’s available to access on-line is an exact replica of the books, so no more up-to-date than the printed guide books are.

Saint Emilion

The town of St-Emilion ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Other Interesting Travel Planning Resources
Earlier this year NileGuide licensed some of our content as part of their travel planning resources they are building to help you plan your travels worldwide. Do take a look at their website: they have a tool to create your own travel guides which could be useful to link up your wine tours with the other destinations on your holiday itinerary.

Recently I became a Tripbod, one of a team of over 100 local experts who advise travellers through calls and emails on their forthcoming trips. Sometimes, an on-line travel guide or a guide book is simply not enough; on the other hand, our itinerary planning service may be too in depth for you. If you simply want some help with a few ideas of where to visit in the world of wine, especially France, or even some help in my part-time home area in the French Alps, then take a look at Tripbod. Direct access to a person with the inside track can be invaluable.

Vineyards near Cahors

Sunset near Cahors ©Mick Rock/Cephas

Following us on Facebook, Twitter and here on the Blog
Our Facebook Page is gaining a great following which encourages me to update it with interesting links and thoughts. Currently we are highlighting the Facebook pages of wineries listed in our guides in order to give them some support – it’s interesting how some of the most traditional European wineries are responding to the social media opportunity. On Twitter, I tweet about all things wine and travel, with plenty of links to interesting articles in these two related worlds. The next few posts we have planned for the Wine Travel Guides blog are from beyond the scope of our Guides …. out of Europe for once! I look forward to hearing your comments and thank you so much for following.

All the pictures in this post were taken by one of the world’s great wine landscape photographers, Mick Rock, who owns Cephas picture library, one of the major sources for high quality photos of wine, food and travel.

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Hurray for May – Cellar Doors open in France and Italy

April 28, 2010

The month of May is a great time for wine lovers to travel through the wine regions of France or anywhere in Europe for that matter, so if you can sneak in a quick trip, I’d make arrangements now. Apart from being a relatively calm time to travel with no major school holidays, the vineyards look beautiful in their spring colours, and most weekends see one wine region or another holding a wine fair, or better still an open cellars event.

I seem to spend much time warning people to make appointments before visiting wine producers in Europe, especially in France, where tasting rooms and open cellar doors are the exception rather than the rule in most regions. It can be especially difficult to find wineries open for tastings at weekends, almost impossible on Sundays. But, in recent years, there has been a move, once or twice a year, to designate a weekend where a group of wine producers in a particular region keep their cellar doors open.

Much different to a wine fair, wine festival, ‘salon des vins’ or ‘fête du vin’, the open cellar doors events, called in French either Caves Ouvertes or Portes Ouvertes,  mean you can actually drive around the different cellars (yes, someone needs to be a designated driver, either not drinking or rigorously spitting) visiting as many cellars as you want to taste their wines and possibly buy. Usually there are lots of other events attached such as cellar tours, meals or picnics, jazz bands or walks in the vineyards.

In France, the various regions, micro-regions or even single appellations, choose to hold these open door events on different weekends, so throughout May you will find open doors somewhere. Unfortunately, they are often publicized fairly last minute, possibly even changing the weekend each year and there is no one diary source for wine events in France – several on-line and off-line publications do have some sort of ‘agenda du vin’ but not one of them is anywhere near comprehensive that I know of. I thought of including a diary of wine events on Wine Travel Guides, but with so many wine organisations and regions even taking just France, it would be a full time job for someone to put it together. Anyone want to sponsor that idea?

May is a particularly important month for those wine regions who produce wines for consumption in their first few years of life, lesser every-day wines, you might call them. Many of these wines are bottled in March or April, so May is the first time they are released for sale. Another reason to hold tasting events in May is that there are several public holidays – this year the 1st, 8th (both Saturdays this year) plus the 13th and the 24th May are all holidays, so France sometimes seems like it is on a short holiday all month.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of a few of the most interesting open cellar events in May, with links to more information where possible, though most of this is in French – these are real local affairs aimed at French wine consumers, but they are happy to see any wine lovers. I’ve included a couple in French-speaking Switzerland too, which both look excellent.

1st/2nd May: Savoie – ‘Fête de la Vigne & du Vin’ Savoie Vignerons Indépendents hold a caves ouverts on both days. Includes five producers in Chignin, nine in Jongieux, six between Frèterive and Cruet in La Combe de Savoie and one in Apremont. Several are featured on the Savoie wine travel guide Around Chambéry.

1st/2nd May: Savigny (Burgundy) – 15 producers on the Route des Grands Crus in the village of Savigny.

8th May: Calce (Roussillon) – ‘Les Caves se rebiffent’.  All the vignerons in this village in the Côtes du Roussillon open their doors.

8th/9th May: Côtes de Bourg (Bordeaux) - 100 châteaux with cellar doors open and lots of other events. Brochure download.

13th/16th May: Gaillac (South-West) – ‘Les Tables en Fête de Gaillac’ More than just open cellars, the local restaurants are involved and there are loads of activities surrounding wine and food. Around 30 local producers particpate, in this lesser-known wine area just west of the famous town of Albi. Brochure download.

15th May: Pouilly (Loire) – Association des Portes Ouvertes groups many producers in Pouilly-sur-Loire. A few details available from the Pouilly growers’ syndicate.

21st/22nd: Vaud (Switzerland) – No less than 300 producers are opening their doors in the spectacular vineyards between Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and Lac de Neuchatel.

23rd/24th May: AlsacePicnic Chez le Vigneron – not exactly Caves Ouvertes but similar. A great event where the doors are open for tasting and you bring your own picnic to eat at tables provided. Music and other activities often accompany.

29th May: Geneva (Switzerland) – The canton of Geneva produces some excellent wines and everyone speaks English! Public transport from the city and free shuttle between the wine villages.

Of course, there are many more in June too and later in the year!

Poster from 2009 Cantine Aperte

Called Cantine Aperte in Italy all the wine regions of Italy conveniently hold their open cellars events on the same weekend, this year it’s the 30th May with some regions also holding events on the 29th May. Lots of producers participate in every region of Italy. Plenty goes on with not only the open cellars, but meals and events surrounding. If you have a chance to be in a vineyard area in Italy at the end of May, don’t miss it! Sadly, I’ve found no full lists of local links, but this expat blog does a good job. There is also a Cantine Aperte Facebook page but it’s only in Italian!

If you know of any specific links to Open Cellar Doors events in France, Italy or elsewhere in Europe during May 2010 please do add them in the comments.

We include major annual wine fairs and festivals under the title ‘Events’ in each travel guide on our website, however, as the Open Cellars dates seem to be fairly fluid, they are not all included.

NEW ON WINE TRAVEL GUIDES: We are now offering tailor-made wine tour itineraries for France to assist those with less time available for planning or who want an extra helping hand. Take a look at the new page on the website or read our latest press release.

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News! All Wine Tour Content Now Free to View

October 30, 2009

We’ve made some major changes on the Wine Travel Guides website, which will benefit anyone planning a wine tour in France, Tuscany or Rioja and other regions we will add next year. All the contents of our 50 micro-region travel guides to wine regions can now be viewed free on the website.

There’s no catch here, but anyone who would like the convenience of downloading the guides as PDFs to plan their wine trip off-line and print pages as required, can purchase the guides at a very reasonable price of £5 (approximately US$8.50 or €5.50) with discounts for multiple guide purchases. A sample PDF guide can be downloaded on registration; for those of you who have already registered, do log in and take a look as we’ve changed the sample to the Southern Graves and Sauternes guide by Jane Anson.

We have also converted our former Gold Subscription to Gold Membership, which allows any of our guides to be downloaded for a full 12 months (meaning you get the latest, updated guide) including any we add in the future. The price has been reduced too – Gold Membership costs just £29 (approximately US$49 or €32). A package of member benefits is also planned, and these should include discounts on other valuable wine and travel related information.

In case you are not familiar with the content on our Guides, our micro-region guides are bite-sized chunks of major wine regions, for example, we have 8 guides to Bordeaux; 5 to the Rhône Valley; 2 to Tuscany (covering only central areas at present) and so on. Each guide (about 10 – 20 pages in PDF form) includes 8 – 12 recommended wine producers to visit; a few places to stay (ranging from top hotels to friendly Bed and Breakfasts); restaurants, shops and attractions, plus a useful aide-memoir of the regional wines including appellations, grape varieties and wine styles. A wealth of information in a small package.

Most importantly of all, our guides are written by a selection of top wine and travel writers, selected because they have the inside track on their regions – some you’ve already seen on this blog, others are also top-class, including three Masters of Wine and several published book authors. We also make a point of updating our guides regularly, once a year at a minimum with tweaks during the year as necessary.

There are no other travel guides to these wine regions which are as authoritative or comprehensive as ours available anywhere else on the web, so please visit the site and tell the rest of the world about our existence. The main idea of these changes is to open up our content to many more independent travellers who love wine. Increased visibility – and let’s be honest about it, revenue – will allow us to expand our guides to other countries and regions in the future.

Thank you for reading this blatant sales blog post.  I felt that it needed to be spelt out as going from 60 pages to over 1500 pages of quality content is pretty big news for a website! I hope you agree and look forward to your reactions to the changes. I promise you that interesting wine and travel posts will resume soon!

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