Group Wine Tour vs Private Wine Tour: Pros and Cons

May 20, 2009

There are many differences between participating in a group wine tour and organising your own private wine tour whether you are a professional in the wine business or simply a wine lover. Recently I’ve had a few occasions to ponder on the pros and cons of the group wine tour versus your own private wine tour (by which I mean a tour for just yourself and partner/friends, say, up to 4 people without any professional guide for the trip) so here are some thoughts to share with you.

Note that the points below apply mainly to the choice for wine lovers rather than professionals though many apply to the latter too. I have presumed that this concerns a wine trip with a reputable wine tour specialist. Also, I should say that my thoughts apply particularly to trips in Europe and are not necessarily geared to buying wine. Please do add comments to this debate.

Group wine tour 2 - blogGroup Tours – The Pluses
• No advanced planning – just book and go.
• Someone to drive you around.
• Someone who speaks the local language and can interpret.
• Possibility of visiting certain difficult-to-visit wine producers who only accept visitors on a strict appointment and limited basis.
• Possibility of tasting older vintages or special wines that aren’t opened for individual visitors.
• The price is fixed in advance, often an all-in price.

Group Tours – The Minuses
• An enforced group situation possibly with strangers!
• Usually impossible to adapt or change the itinerary.
• Often slower visits, meals etc as there is a need to cater for everyone.
• Bus travel – not everyone enjoys this.
• Difficult to have access to speak directly with winery owners/winemakers.
• Often impossible to choose where and what you eat.
• Expense of the tour due to organisation/guide/transport.

Private Wine Tour - blogPrivate Tours – The Pluses
• Free to plan your own itinerary, often at the last minute.
• Complete freedom to adapt part way through.
• Travel at your own pace in your chosen form of transport.
• Travel with the people you know and like!
• Visit small wine producers that can’t accept groups.
• Can often chat directly with winery owners and winemakers.
• Eat in small restaurants that don’t take groups.
• Work to your own budget – choose whether to spend more on food or accommodation.

Private Tours – The Minuses
• Usually requires a lot of planning (but many enjoy this part!)
• One person nearly always has to drive a car.
• Can’t necessarily get access to visit very famous wine producers.
• Possible language issues if you don’t know a word of the language concerned and are not very confident.
• Budget is not so easy to control.

A few weeks ago I was a guest on the weekly wine podcast the New Wine Consumer where we debated this very subject – you might want to listen. The consensus was that private wine tours win in most cases providing that you have a willing driver (someone prepared to be rigorous at spitting out the tasting wines or abstain) and that you are confident enough to tackle just a few words of the local language of your chosen destination, however basic. With reference to the wine regions of France, we also talked about whether or not you need appointments to visit, something we note for all the wine producers recommended in Wine Travel Guides.

I look forward to your thoughts in the comments. Happy wine travels!

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Twitter Quiz #11 – Montbéliard Cows and Sausages

March 18, 2009

It’s time to confess: I’ve never been to Montbéliard in the French department called Doubs, though it’s only just to the north of the Jura, a region that I know very well indeed. What singles the town out for me is that it gives its name not only to a breed of cow that grazes the mountain pastures of the Jura and beyond, producing some of France’s finest cheeses, but also to one of the delicious smoky sausages widely served in the Jura.

montbeliard-cow-for-blog1The Montbéliard breed of cow (sometimes in English seen with an ‘e’ on the end and also known as ‘The French Dairy Simmental’) is hardy and can cope with mountains pastures. Only the milk from this breed is allowed for the famous Comté cheese of the Jura that goes so well with Vin Jaune. If you’re not familiar with the cheese, it’s a Gruyère-style hard cheese and, as Fiona Beckett of Matching Food and Wine says, it can also go well with some, soft ripe reds such as Spanish Tempranillo-based wines. You do find this breed of cow in Savoie too, where, alongside the hardier breeds of Abondance and Tarine it’s one of the permitted breeds for Reblochon cheese and Beaufort. Funny, before I lived part of the year in the mountains of France, I could never have believed that I’d learn about breeds of cows and cheeses – I thought I’d just stick to grape varieties and appellations.

Now we come to the Saucisse de Montbéliard, a Jura speciality. Pure country pork, it’s usually smoked, and often cooked in the Jura with white wine and vine cuttings for extra flavours. You can slice it up to serve cold in salad with potatoes, or serve it with lentils, but typically in the rural Jura, it will be served simply with potatoes and a light red Jura Poulsard wine to drink with it.

If you are visiting the Jura, then as well as arming yourself with our two travel guides to the Jura wine region, do check out the website for the Routes du Comté and plan a visit to see the Montbéliard cows and check out how the cheese is made. You’ll find the saussice on many restaurant menus.

So, congratulations to wine lover Fred Swan of California who jumped in with the right answer after we’d been through answers ranging from Guernsey to Toulouse, with the closer gueses of Tarine, Charolais and Aubrac as well.

Next week, there will be no Twitter quiz as I’m taking a few days off from social networking and spending a few days skiing with family. But, the website keeps going on its own, so do visit it please and spread the word to anyone planning a private wine tour.

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On a Screen Near You Soon: A Dreamy Wine Tour

March 1, 2009

For years I’ve known that when it comes to talking about wine, words can hardly do justice to the liquid itself: you need to taste and drink a wine for it to become alive. It’s true, words can describe a beautiful vineyard, a fascinating winemaking process, an atmospheric wine cellar or even some of the interesting people in the wine business, but words can only go so far. Visual images – photos and illustrations – often do a better job, if I’m honest. So, I really should keep quiet and get to the point.

Sunset near Cahors © Mick Rock/Cephas

Sunset near Cahors in the south-west of France © Mick Rock/Cephas

To illustrate each guide on Wine Travel Guides, I’ve chosen just one photo (because otherwise the PDF guides would be hard to print), and most of the pictures were taken by Mick Rock. Mick has been photographing everything to do with wine for over 20 years and he owns Cephas Picture Library, one of the world’s largest wine-specialist photo libraries. The library’s photos have appeared in some of the best known wine books and journals, published throughout the world. Mick’s library also provided the photos for the banner above.

Now, Mick has released a DVD called French Wine Odyssey – his personal selection of pictures from the wine world in France, many of which feature on Wine Travel Guides. The 24-minute DVD runs through a dreamy sequence of images that take you from Champagne to Bordeaux with stops in many of the more obscure wine regions of France. The pictures lead you deep into the cellars and out into the midst of the most spectacular vineyards; they even introduce you to a few characters of the French wine world. Mick has commissioned background music, which goes with the flow of his pictures.

The DVD is particularly good when viewed on a large wide screen – it would make an ideal backdrop for any wine bar, wine shop, restaurant or even in your own living room. You can preview a short excerpt, view thumbnails of all the pictures and find details of how to purchase the DVD or license it for commercial use from the Wine Odysseys website.

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The Weekly Twitter Quiz #4 – Mercurey in Burgundy

January 28, 2009

mercurey-labelMercurey is one of the 5 village appellations in the Côte Chalonnaise district of Burgundy – an area that can offer outstanding value Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Most wine lovers are more likely to know red Mercurey, but the appellation rules allows white to be produced, though only just over 10% is white. There are no less than 32 Premiers Crus vineyards of which Clos l’Evèque is the best known.

Our Côte Chalonnaise guide recommends visiting the rather smart Domaine de Suremain in Mercurey. Burgundy-based specialist Jean-Pierre Renard writes:
A sizeable wine estate with 20ha of vineyards, the Domaine de Suremain at Château de Bourgneuf produces mainly red wines (90%) from Mercurey and Mercurey Premier Cru. Traditionally made, and aged in oak barrels (with 10-15% new barrels), they are very classic, of excellent quality and will age well.

You can even stay in the wine village of Mercurey at the modest, traditional 3-star l’Hôtellerie du Val d’Or, which would make a great base for a couple of day’s wine tour of the Côte Chalonnaise.

Congratulations to traveler-photographer-writer Lanora of Chicago who correctly identified the appellation and wins a PDF wine travel guide of her choice.

Follow me on Twitter for updates on the guides, new recommendations, random thoughts and of course, to enter the weekly Twitter Quiz.

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