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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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Where Wine History, Technology and Art Meet

February 26, 2010

Nearly every traditional wine region in Europe boasts its own wine museum, sometimes more than one. It makes sense when you think about it – generations of wine producers have practiced their craft for centuries, and over time much has changed in terms of the technology in both the vineyard and the winery, in the marketing of the wines as well as in day-to-day life. The history needs to be preserved and if possible shared, so where better than in a dedicated wine museum, whether publicly run by a region or a private collection, usually of a family-owned producer.

It’s a good idea to visit a wine museum at least once, especially if you are enjoying a wine tour in Europe. But, you might think that once you’ve visited one you’ve seen them all, and certainly with a few notable exceptions there is a certain element of repetition.

The typical wine museum has a room with charts showing how wine production arrived in that part of the world; a room with Roman or Greek wine relics; another with all manner of vineyard implements ranging from hand ploughs to pruning secateurs and even early sulphur-spraying back-packs; next there will be a room devoted to harvest, usually complete with black and white pictures of jolly harvest parties; a room full of wine presses; the winemaking room with tools for cleaning barrels, fining and so forth (some not that different to the implements shown in medical museums); and finally there might be bottles, labels, glasses and even advertising posters.

Relatively traditional wine museums that I’ve visited recently in France that have a point of difference include a really surprising one in Montmélian in the little wine region of Savoie east of Lyon. In the same building that houses the tourist office of this unassuming town with a mountain view, my first visit there really surprised me. They have several extraordinarily huge old wine presses rescued from various parts of France, along with pertinent displays that demonstrate just how poor the mountain farmers of Savoie were before tourism came along to rescue them. I also recently discovered the fascinating négociant museum of Bordeaux in the revived Chartrons quarter, see my post on the delights of the city of Bordeaux. And, I’m told by Diane LeTulle on my informal twitter and Facebook poll that the Musée du Vin de Bourgogne in Beaune is very interesting these days, with a new take on an appellation map, actually showing the direction of the vine rows on the slope.

Moving away from traditional museums, there are those that, although they incorporate much on the history and heritage of wine, build themselves up to be major tourist attractions, not that there’s anything wrong with that if it encourages wine lovers to learn more. Notable in France is the Duboeuf Hameau du Vin in Beaujolais and – as we’re in Europe – London has Vinopolis, featuring not only interactive features and old artefacts, but some stunning pictures from the Cephas Picture Library who supplies most of the photos on the Wine Travel Guides website. In Rioja, it is Dinastía Vivanco’s Museo de la Cultura del Vino that is becoming a real ‘must-see’ destination for any wine lover visiting Spain. Not only does this museum have the most incredible and vast collection of corkscrews, wine art (from ancient to contemporary including an original Picasso) and wine-related machinery among many other items, it is beautifully displayed with excellently produced, educational videos all housed in a magnificent architectural masterpiece in the heart of the vineyards. And, a visit there can be combined with tasting at the winery and lunch in the very good restaurant.

One of the pioneers of linking art with wine was Baron Philippe de Rothschild who helped make the museum at Château Mouton-Rothschild in Pauillac a Mecca for wine tourists long before the term ‘wine tourism’ was even invented. Currently closed for renovations, it is, of course, known in particular for the displays of original artwork for the château’s  wine labels, each year featuring a different prominent contemporary artist (Picasso among the most famous). Also well established and one of the greatest wine museums in Europe is Lungarotti’s wine museum in Torgiano, Umbria in Italy. Established in 1974 we visited it last year and were enchanted by the amazing collection of ceramics from ancient to ultra-modern; the fantastic, huge number of wine-related engravings and prints (yes, you might have guessed, including Picasso again!); unusual wine books (I could have stayed in that room for ever) and the most original collection of book plates or ‘ex libris’. You should certainly put aside a day for a visit to Torgiano as you can also have an educational tasting at Lungarotti’s tasting room; visit their olive and oil museum (which we had no time for) and eat at or even stay at their traditional hotel-restaurant.

Unsurprisingly France and Italy seem to have the widest range of wine museums – in Puglia in Italy, Hallmark Travels recommends the Leone de Castris museum and James Martin rates the Museo della Civiltà del Vino Primitivo. Back in Spain, Anthony Swift of Wine Pleasures also recommends the private Cava Museum of Raymondo Canals in Catalonia.

Please do add any of your favourite wine museums in Europe into the comments below (if you’ve never posted a comment here, please be patient, I moderate them as quickly as possible). How about good wine museums in Germany, Austria, Portugal, Greece or countries further east? There must be many …

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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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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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New ‘Lightning Cruise’ explores the wine rivers of France

April 1, 2009

Wine Travel Guides announces sponsorship of the wine tour to end all wine tours, which will take place in April 2010. This will be your chance to experience the great wine regions of France cruising along the historic waterways of France. The 10-day exclusive Lightning Cruise will see you supping some of the finest wines of the world on the luxury SS Dom Pérignon in the company of some prize-winning British Masters of Wine.

Your cruise through the wine rivers of France

Your cruise through the wine rivers of France

Great wine has always been produced close to rivers and wine used to be transported along the waterways to its traditional customers, the royal courts of Europe. Now wine geeks can follow wine’s journey on our specially designed cruise ship, which will transport you along rivers that have been made navigable exclusively for us as one of the new French Ministry of Wine Tourism’s initiatives.

Meet the ship in Nantes (RyanAir will fly you in from an outlying airport in London – don’t forget to pay the extra for proper life-jackets – NOT included in our price). Then we cruise up the Loire river, with a side visit along the Layon tributary. Here we will examine botrytis spores with a Master of Wine winner of the technical detail prize – 5cl tastes of the famous dessert Grand Crus Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume will be available (or half bottles of Coteaux de l’Aubance for non-wine-reverent spouses).

After a demi-tour back to the Loire we cruise on through Tours and Orléans, then turn northwards along a linking canal to the Seine for a stop in Paris for a firework display by the Bastille (we hope for an appearance from top French wine journalists who’ve been interred for failing to display a health warning on their articles).

Trees grown on Dom Pérignon's burial ground were used for ship

Trees used to build the cruise ship were grown on Dom Pérignon's burial ground above Champagne vineyards by the Marne River

Next we join the Marne river to visit the original shipyard near Epernay, where the SS Dom Pérignon was built from trees grown on the Montagne de Reims. We plan a lively debating evening whilst there about whether Merrett of England or Dom Pérignon himself actually invented Champagne – leader of the debate here will be a winner of the Master of Wine’s Bollinger Prize. (A Karaoke alternative may be made available to non-wine-bore spouses).

From the Marne we spit onto the stately Saône River that runs through parts of Burgundy. Here, choose from side visits either to Jurassic Park home to Vin Jaune with owner of Wine Travel Guides, or to examine pruning at the exclusive Clos de Tart with one of our increasingly common lady Masters of Wine.

Ever southwards towards the great Rhône river we make a stop first in the Beaujolais vineyards for another evening debate: “Beaujolais – Vin de Merde ou pas Vin de Merde?. This will be led by a Master of Wine founder of the Beaujolais Nouveau race – and bets will be taken on the result of the debate – it’s sure to be a fun evening (we will taste samples of the ten Beaujolais cruises during the debate).

Following a gastronomic extravaganza in Lyon with one of our larger-than-life Masters of Wines, our cruise ship will head down the Rhône to Marseille stopping to collect pebbles from the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. (You will receive a full explanation from a newly pontificated Master of Wine of why, in a bid to reduce ever-increasing alcohol levels, the pebbles need to be removed – first-hand evidence of global warming effects).

A little over half-way through our cruise near Marseille, our luxury ship will slip from the Rhône estuary into the Mediterranean for some sea breezes. We will tie up for the evening to allow those who wish, to visit the night clubs of Marseille, whilst others enjoy a guided, comparative tasting of the organoleptic effects of sea breezes on the wine tasting palate.

Into calming waters, we cruise into the famous Canal du Midi, sailing speedily past and ignoring the huge Languedoc vineyards through Béziers and Carcassonne towards the final important wine destination of our Lightning Cruise – Bordeaux.

Jancis Robinson

Jancis Robinson

Slowing down to appreciate the vineyards close to the Garonne River, with a detour to explore the Ciron, another nobly rotted tributary, we sail majestically into Bordeaux to meet our mega famous Master of Wine Jancis Robinson for a tutored tasting on the theme of “Why a Bordeaux Château is a Fool’s Domaine”.

At the end of our cruise, you will have ticked off the Loire, Paris, Champagne, Burgundy, Jura, Rhône, Provence, Languedoc, South-West and Bordeaux from your wine touring wish list and there will be only Alsace and Savoie to go if you want in future to say you’ve ‘done French wine regions’ – all thanks to the Wine Travel Guides Lightning Cruise.

Our luxury cruise ship © Sven Reinecke - Fotolia.com

Luxury cruise ship SS Dom Pérignon ©Sven Reinecke - Fotolia.com

Other cruises run by the Cruising Rivers and Canals Company (CRAC) include The Bonus Cruise: Explore the great Banking Capitals by river and lake (Geneva/Zurich) hosted by Top Investment Bankers; and The Motor Cruise: Visit Europe’s finest Car Manufacturers along the Rhine and its tributaries hosted by recently retired Formula 1 Drivers.

Dates for the Lightning Cruise sponsored by Wine Travel Guides will be April 1st – 10th 2010. Prices start at £10,410/$10,410/€10,410. Places are limited to 10,410 people, so please contact us fast to make your reservations.

For other interesting wine stories published on 1st April 2009 do check out the Dregs Report.

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