Since we began our journey as Palate Club Ambassadors back in November, Aubrey and I have traveled all over California and made a quick stop in Washington. We leave in three days for two weeks in Australia, our first international wine destination. Our mission is to document different Australian wine regions through photo and video. Additionally, we’ll make connections with wineries to buy import wine from in the future. Needless to say, we’re experts on how to plan a trip to wine country and want to share our best tips with you.
Keep in mind, because we are traveling for Palate Club we do structure our trips heavily to make them as purposeful as possible. You don’t need to be quite as regimented, unless you want to be. But it will help you to have a plan so you make the most out of your trip. I have learned a HUGE amount while planning wine trips with Aubrey over the last few months. For the purpose of inspiring other wine professionals to learn through travel, I thought it would be helpful to share.
So, here’s how to plan a trip to wine country in any country!
Get the Basics Covered
To start, look at a map. Decide where you are going, which regions you want to see and what wineries/ restaurants/ destinations etc you want to visit while there. Next, determing your daily budget. Check to see if you need visa’s or other paperwork to enter the country. See what the average wait time (if any) and cost is for a visa if you are traveling internationally.
Next, draw a route map when determining how to plan a trip to wine country. Ask yourself, what is the best route to take between all of the places and regions I want to see? Plan it out. Think about travel times between regions. Be realistic with yourself about how much you try to fit in on your trip. It’s great to travel and hit as many destinations as you can, but it can also be exhausting and overwhelming. You will appreciate it more by being minimal and realistic about your time and energy.
Aubrey and I tend to over schedule ourselves with wine tasting appointments. I jokingly call it a wine death-march. On Palate Club trips we are traveling for business, so we push ourselves harder than we would if our trip was for pleasure. Damn, it is tiring. Squeezing in that sixth winery appointment may be possible and can seem like a good idea but keep it real. By tasting room number three we are usually ready for a nap or healthy serving of coffee. When I tell my non-wine-industry friends that tasting wine too much wine is exhausting they don’t feel bad for me (I don’t know why????) but trust me it can wipe you out.
Do some research on the regions you are visiting and reach out to the regional websites or regional wine associations. We have had some really helpful tips this way. Example: Wines of Yarra Valley. I recommend doing this at least two weeks in advance as response time varies by region.
Some of the smaller, off-the-beaten-path regions can be less responsive but the more populated regions will sometimes schedule you a full string of tastings and give you recommendations for food and drink. If you still don’t get a timely response go ahead and use the regional websites to see which wineries are a part of their association and reach out to the wineries. This route is sometimes more effective but also more time consuming.
Once you decide on your route, book your flights! If you are travelling to more than one destination within another country, book your local flights and trains. Another option is available in Europe is Blah Blah Car. Next, book those Air Bnb’s or hotels. The longer you wait to book your accommodations the less likely you are to find a good one. Trust me, we have seen some weird things when we waited until the last minute to book accommodations… I won’t go into detail. Your stay will always be better with hot running water, wifi, a good neighborhood and clean sheets. Oh and before you think about drinking and driving keep it real. You know you aren’t spitting out all that Champagne after visiting 5 different Grand Marque Champagne houses in Reims, just get a driver.
When You Get There
Get recommendations from locals. The locals may not be as knowledgeable as a sommelier on the world of wine at large but they probably know their town a lot better than you. Ask around and leave yourself free time to play and find fun hidden gems. Some of my favorite winery recommendations have come from locals pointing us in the right direction. Check the local event calendar too. Figure out if there is anything exciting going on while you are there such as festivals etc. These can be cool to see but also hold up your travels.
Plan your meals. Wine country can get… hella country. Find restaurants or pack your lunch if you are on a tight schedule. I don’t mean to sound like your mom but seriously getting hangry in the middle of nowhere isn’t cool especially after tasting wine all day. Some regions have weird shop hours, take 4 hours long mid-day siestas if it’s hot or close all their shops early on certain days. If you have dietary restrictions or allergies; super carefully plan your meals. They didn’t know what a vegetarian was in southern Italy and either i was bad at communicating or they didn’t care. I just gave up and pretended shrimp was a vegetable.
Check your gas tank. Oh yeah, running out of gas? Aubrey and I have already done that too much. Luckily, we have had nice people save our butts and been in good areas on main roads. This is not a stunt you want to pull on a back road in a rural town or in the middle of nowhere on a long road in the middle of a desert.
Take notes. Make sure to get a fresh notebook if you are there to study. I got into this habit when I was at RN74 because Raj Parr recommended it and it changed my life. Anytime I don’t take notes I kick myself because my memory is good but not infallible.
The Last Note on How to Plan a Trip to Wine Country
Don’t be that guy. They say that you can tell a lot about someone by traveling with them. There have been times when I’ve been a cranky beezy (sorry Aubrey!) when I should have just been enjoying the experience. Don’t get butt hurt if things don’t work out the way you planned. Keep moving and figure out how you can learn and enjoy the experience the most! Every international trip I’ve taken has changed my life in at least a small way and I have learned so much about wine and myself. There’s been more than a few times I had to let go of my plan and I never regret it. Like that one time I went horseback riding in Russia… in St. Petersburg… in St. Issac’s at 1am; that definitely wasn’t in the plan. Was it a good idea? No, probably not but I won’t ever forget that. Create your memories and if you are there to learn get out there and do it! I look forward to sharing our Australian adventures soon. – JE