From drinking 40-year Port wines from casks to helping out wineries pick grapes in Slovenia, to staying in a “wine hotel” where my bed was a huge barrel — my best travel experiences have been at wineries. Wine makers, distillers and brewers are people always happy to share their creations and, if you learn how to become friends with them, your tasting experience can be unforgettable. While I refer to wineries below, these tips also hold true for breweries and distilleries.
When to visit
Harvest would seem like the most obvious choice to visit a winery. Crushing is on and there is excitement in the air. However, this is also the time a winery is at the peak of its work cycle. (If you are hoping to stomp some grapes, you may be disappointed. It’s a practice long out of fashion. Today, it’s used by wine fairs in India simply as a crowd-puller, a gimmick I hope will stop soon). If you cannot afford the luxury of visiting a winery on a weekday, at least try and be there by noon on weekends and start tasting early.
Research smaller producers
Every wine region will have big producers as well smaller producers, who may not have much of a name, but may be producing better wines. Always visit a few wineries that you have never heard of. After all, you can drink a wine from a big brand anywhere in the world.
Write to a winery before a visit
This can make a lot of difference. When planning a trip to a wine region, write to a couple of wineries you plan to visit, even if it’s just on Twitter. Ask them if you can meet the winemaker, maybe do some tank or barrel tastings. In most cases, if a winery knows you are really interested in wine, they will want you to taste their best, including samples not on offer during regular tastings.
When you ask questions at a tasting, the winery understands you are there to explore wines and not just guzzle. These can be simple questions (number of wines in store, vintage of the vineyards, what wines go through barrel ageing) to more specific ones (what barrels are used). It is amazing how much you can learn about wines merely by interacting and talking during tastings. A simple question to the winemaker — what are your favorite wines from the region — might give you access to the best of the best.
At the winery, be prepared to answer questions as well
Perhaps the most common question you will be asked at a tasting is: what wines do you like. Do not just say white or red etc. Mention grapes, mention styles; be a little specific. If it is white wine, what kind? Fruit-forward Sauvignon Blancs or aromatic wines like Rieslings or heavier whites like Chardonnays? If its red, light and fruity reds, oak-dominated reds and so on.
Tasting vs drinking
The objective at a tasting is to sample and understand the wines. Most wineries will offer a tasting flight of their wines after which you should buy the wines you like and drink as much instead of asking for another pour of a wine during the tasting. Consuming a lot of wines at a winery also means you will soon be high and won’t remember much of what you experience at the next winery. So, pace yourself.
Hotels and transportation
My best hotel experiences have been during wine trips. In India, hotels in wine regions are just picking up. Sula does a brilliant job with its property called Beyond. Abroad, you can find anything from humble bed-and-breakfasts to luxury hotels with decanter-shaped swimming pools. A lot of wineries offer accommodation and those usually turn out to be the best option. Imagine waking up in the morning and heading straight to the tasting room! Driving is easily the best ways to explore wine country, but ensure you have a designated driver. If travelling with a bunch of friends, hiring a mini bus might be a good idea. I have done several trips to Nashik where we have hired a mini bus. It’s an excellent idea as everyone can drink. (And nothing starts off a wine trip better than an 8am gin-and-tonic).
Leave those children alone
The only thing more annoying than a drunk at a wine tasting is children running around poking everything (or worse yet, drunk children). Please don’t bring them to wineries. If you must, find out if the winery has activities for kids. Some wineries have been very smart about children and offer grape juice tastings.
There you go. Our top suggestions t prepare you for a winery visit. Lookout for another article where we review some of the best places to go for tasting wine in India.