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

Good Bed and Breakfasts in French wine regions

July 31, 2012

Be adventurous! Choose a B &B
©Brett Jones

Until recently in many French wine regions there was a rather slim choice of places to stay, often limited to one very expensive hotel, perhaps a few very basic ones, and a clutch of self-catering gîtes where a minimum stay was required. But, the past few years has seen a welcome change with the arrival of increasing numbers of good chambres d’hôtes – the French expression for Bed & Breakfast accommodation.

I’ll be honest in saying that I used to be rather scared of the prospect of staying in a chambres d’hôtes: would the bed be comfortable; the shower hot? Could I arrive back late after a meal elsewhere? And most of all, would I be required to make conversation with the owners? After all, chambres d’hôtes translates as ‘guest rooms’.

Having experienced the decline in quality of, in particular, the French family-run hotels (with honourable exceptions of course), due usually to lack of funds to update them with better beds, a shower with the <a style="text-decoration:none;" href="”>best shower head, etc., I confess to having increasingly stayed in anonymous, well-priced motels for one or two-night stays near the vineyards. But recently, I’ve taken the plunge to experiment more with staying in the B & Bs, and been really pleasantly surprised.

Very personal decor, Le Cèdre Bleu
©Brett Jones

Points to consider before booking a French B&B

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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The first National Wine Tourism Awards from France

February 1, 2010

Last week the French minister of tourism presented the first ‘Prix National de l’Oenotourisme’ – wine tourism awards in four different categories and I’m delighted to say that all of them are already included in Wine Travel Guides! There were 260 entrants in all and I would love to get hold of that list. In the meantime, the winners are as follows:

The winners receive a plaque and also – apparently – public relations help with promoting the award. (Needless to say no-one has yet officially contacted Wine Travel Guides about these awards).

Source des Caudalies

As these were the first ever awards, the wine tourism council decided to mention four family wine producers they consider to be pioneers in wine tourism. These producers will also help on the council, which was only formed last year.

These last four recognitions demonstrate to me quite simply the public relations power of certain wine families in France. I will say no more except that there are other pioneers that could have been selected – let’s hope they will enter next year’s competition and receive just recompense.

The only other similar awards that I know of in Europe are the Great Wine Capitals Awards and these of course only cover one city/wine region per country so, in France that’s Bordeaux.

I do hope these awards encourage more French wine producers to fully embrace the potential of wine tourism. The next task of France’s wine tourism council is to create a new seal of approval awarded to those who fulfil certain designated standards of wine tourism. Applications are being called for now.

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