The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Making the Most of Your Winery Visits

Posted on | June 17, 2015 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

The author with Paolo Bea in Umbria

The author with Paolo Bea in Umbria

Delving deep into your fascination with wine requires you to eventually visit a winery, preferably one that makes wines you love. I have been fortunate to visit and taste with some of my favorite producers, but in visiting unknown estates, I have also discovered new favorites. For me, visiting a winery was like connecting the dots. Not only are you able to see the source of that wonderful wine, but you also get to touch the soil and the leaves of the vine, taste the fruit off the vine, breathe in the air the vines breathe, and feel the sunshine that nourishes those vines. Experiencing these elements gives you an understanding of what people mean when they say that “a good wine transports you to its place of origin.”

Summertime is when most wine-lovers choose to visit wineries, and I wanted to offer a few tips that I’ve gleaned from my own trips to wine country. But do your research; there are so many things to take into consideration and so many choices to make that depend on your personality. You want to make sure you get the most from this often once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Plan Your Trip: When staying in wine country, it’s usually pretty easy to find a designated driver who will drive you, letting you stop to explore and to visit tasting rooms. But if you are planning a visit and want to go to a specific winery, call in advance. When I arrange a visit ahead of time, I find that the time flies and am content in staying pretty much the whole day. With summer coming I plan on visiting some local upstate vineyards as well as some down south, and I’m already making reservations.

The author with Quinto Chionetti in Piemonte

The author with Quinto Chionetti in Piemonte

Educate Yourself: Learn about the region you will be visiting. Learn which grape varietals grow there and what wines are the producers known for. For example Piemonte is known for Nebbiolo, which is used to make Barolo and Barbaresco, but producers craft a range of wines from these grapes in these sub-regions, and each one reflects the estate’s style and personality. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy your experience; however, even if you know nothing, walking around a vineyard and drinking wine can be a lot of fun.

Take Care of Your Body: Take into consideration if you will be walking through the vineyards or just visiting a comfortable tasting room. Wear the appropriate clothing for outdoor activities. Have a nice, greasy breakfast—you will be tasting wine, after all. And bring water with you.

Moderation is Key: To further that thought, don’t overdo it (ie, don’t get drunk) Always be a good ambassador. Use the spittoon, and don’t drink what you don’t like. Pace yourself so you can enjoy the whole day.

Get Your GPS Ready: Research your destination carefully and make sure you’ve got it nailed. If you’re driving yourself, program your GPS before you head out to get your route straight. If you’re on vacation in a foreign country and you do not speak the language, you should have a guide or interpreter so you get the most from your visit. Agritourism is on the rise across the world, so you’re in a better position now than even a decade ago, regardless of where your vineyards may rest.

The author in a Montalcino vineyard

The author in a Montalcino vineyard

Think Like a Farmer: When you walk around the vineyard, make sure to look around—and ask questions. You will be able to see firsthand the soil the vines are planted in, the way the vines themselves are trained, how densely they grow, and what comprises the terroir. You’ll be able to smell the air and feel the direction of the sun. These elements help to connect the dots in creating a full, 360-degree understanding of the wine in your glass.

Planning is Winning (and Wining): If you plan your visit ahead of time, ask politely if you could meet the winemaker and if you can see the barrel room. Sometimes you can sample right from the barrel giving you the privilege to be among the first to taste a vintage before it’s even bottled. Winemakers like when you ask them questions, so ask away and learn all those little tidbits that make you appreciate the wine more.

Caveat Emptor: It’s really easy to spend money at winery visits. Once you start tasting, you start buying. I like to purchase something when I visit to show my support and appreciation for the winery, but it’s easy to get overly excited and buy up the whole vineyard. Remember: the wine will never taste as good as when you taste it at its source. That said, it still tastes pretty great.

The author in the barrel room of Canalicchio di Sopra in Montalcino

The author in the barrel room of Canalicchio di Sopra in Montalcino

Ask for Advice: Even if we ourselves don’t have any friends in the industry, we all know someone who has visited a winery, and these people are excellent sources of information because they have experienced a place first hand. If that’s not available, simply reach out to your friendly IWM portfolio manager for recommendations.

These are just a few points that you can expand on. Just remember: it’s not just about the wine—it’s about the whole experience. It’s about sharing your passions with passionate people. And it’s about adding to your body of wine knowledge, which only deepens your love of wine.

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