Visiting wineries in Europe can be a very different experience from visiting them in the U.S., for a variety of reasons. Largely these reasons all relate to the fact that wineries in Europe are more generally agricultural operations, not tourist attractions — the are typically small, family run operations, and few if any have the kind of public “tasting rooms” you see in the U.S. that are set up to entertain visitors by the busload.
As a result, winery visits in Europe are typically very intimate affairs — spending time with the people that make the wine, hearing their unique stories, and getting to see their modest operations are what makes these visits so fascinating and enjoyable.
So if you plan on traveling to Europe and visiting with wineries in France, Italy, Germany, Spain or any other country, here are a handful of things to keep in mind:
- Make an appointment. Since you’ll likely be having a personal visit led by a family member, you’ll want to schedule an appointment in advance, likely via email or through their website. And since you’re on a schedule, it’s critical to plan logistics carefully and show up on time! Your hosts will be putting their work day on hold to show you around, so it’s especially important to respect their time.
- Make a connection. The best way to score a visit to a top winery is to demonstrate some specific connection you have with their wines. Whether you’re on their mailing list, you’ve enjoyed bottles in the past, or they came highly recommended by a wine expert friend, wineries are more likely to make time for people they think will especially appreciate their time and attention.
- Allow plenty of time. Because these visits can be intimate affairs, you’ll often have the pleasure of a full tour as well as a tasting, and maybe even do a vineyard visit and/or barrel tasting. As a result, expect to spend at least an hour and sometimes as many as 3 hours or more! So resist the temptation to over-schedule a large number of visits.
- Put away your wallet. Wine tasting in Europe is much less commercial than in the U.S. — despite all their time and attention most wineries wouldn’t dream of charging a fee for the tour and tasting. In addition if you wish to purchase wine after your visit, you’ll find many wineries simply aren’t able to accommodate sales; those that do often offer stellar prices on cellar door sales, however.
- Plan your schedule carefully. Wineries in Europe are generally further apart than in the U.S., and the rugged terrain and narrow roads mean that traveling between visits can take much longer than one might think from simply looking at a map. So schedule your visits accordingly, and be mindful that the drunk driving laws and narrow roads in most wine regions make things especially dangerous.
When I am in Europe I typically schedule no more than 2 or 3 appointments in a day — one in the morning and the other(s) after lunch. Trying to fit in any more than that risks cutting visits short and/or running late, both of which significantly erode the great pleasures that come from such unique, intimate and in-depth visits.
I hope you find that list helpful. Feel free to post any comments, questions or advice of your own in the comment section.