Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Professional Wine Tours - Worth Taking?

If you’re a wine lover, chances are when you go to a new place, you check to see if there are any wineries close by.  Over 27 million travelers in the U.S. have taken a food or wine tour since 2000.  But have you ever taken a professional wine tour?  Maybe now’s the time to consider it…

As a DIY person, I understand the thrill of searching the internet for wine trail maps, wine ratings, and winery info.  But you may just miss out on some tour-only finds and options.  Here are a few reasons to consider leaving the driving to someone else.

The first thing to remember is that a wine tour is only as good as the company and/or person leading it.  Many states will offer you several options; other states will be lucky to have one wine tour company. So how do you decide?  

First, find out how long the tour company has been in business.  Are the guides knowledgeable about the topic?  What’s their experience?  Have they been involved in this industry in other ways? Has the company received recognition? In other words, have they or are they establishing a good reputation?   

Few people get in the tour business unless they want to offer a memorable and fun experience to others who have an interest or passion for their tour destinations. Visit the tour company’s web site, then call them, talk to a real live person, and ask some questions. If they won’t take time to talk with you, they probably won’t on the tour either.  Remember, this is supposed to be fun – for everyone!

To find the right wine tour company, begin by knowing what YOU want a tour to cover.  Do you want to see where the wine is made, or are you happy just tasting the wines?  Would a trip through the vineyard be fun, or would you rather have time in the gift shop?  Hiring a professional wine tour company is a bit like having a personal shopper.  You need to know your basic requirements to be satisfied, then let them work their magic.

If a scheduled wine tour doesn’t meet your needs, consider a private tour.  Many tour companies offer not only regularly scheduled wine tours, but also wine and dinner tours, wine spa tours, and private custom tours.

Find out how many winery stops and tastings are included in the price.  (A brewery tour I took in Wisconsin had five breweries on their agenda, but we only stopped at two for tastings and tours - the other 3 were drive-bys. ; (

Questions to ask:
What is included in the tour and price?  Is it a winery tour or a wine tasting tour?  A winery tour may include a trek through the vineyards, the winemaking facility, a chat with the winemaker, and end with a tasting at the bar. 

A wine tasting tour may include a quick trip through the production facility, but the majority of the time will be spent tasting the wines in a private room, maybe pairing them with food, or tasting at the bar.

Regardless, remember that if you will be entering the winemaking facility on your tour, the floor may be wet and slippery, and there will be drains in the floor covered with grids. (IE; wear flats or sneakers, NOT heels! And consider taking a light sweater or jacket.  Winery buildings are kept very cool temperatures for the wines.)

Other questions:
Is the tour company independent of any winery? Will you meet the winemakers or winery owners?  Do you get a souvenir glass to taste with and keep?  Is a meal or snacks available?  Is food included in the price?  Is bottled water available?  Who pays any tasting fees?  Is tipping of the winery staff expected, or allowed?  Is there a discount on wine purchased on the tour? Are you limited to the number of bottles/cases of wine you can purchase on the tour? Will the tour company assist you in shipping the wine back home?

Ask if the tour company has a PDF of the itinerary so that you can familiarize yourself with the wineries you’ll be visiting. Have an idea what wines will be tasted at each stop or what you’d like to taste, if asked.  Find out how long you'll be gone.  Will your tour vehicle be locked during destination stops?  What is the cancellation policy? Is there an age restriction for tour participants? Are ID’s required in order to be served?

Once you’ve covered all the details and understand what the tour will include, and what it will not, you’re ready to go.  Be on time to the designated meeting area, wear comfortable clothes that fit the  tour's itinerary, relax, and have fun.

A wine tour company should allow you to experience the local area or region, and get a little taste of its terrior, wines, and hospitality.  You should come away from a tour feeling like you’ve had a fun and carefree day.

Many wine tour companies also offer brewery tours, bourbon tours, whisky tours, even themed wine tours.  If you’ve enjoyed your tour experience, let the wine tour company and the wineries know!  If something was off or not quite right, let them know that too!  

Wine tour companies and wineries are in this business because they love sharing wine and the wine experience with others. Take advantage of their expertise and Enjoy!

~ Joy