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: Alsace – Picnic 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!
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.