Reds, whites and booze: Wine tours deliver rich cultural experiences

Last week’s column was devoted to the beer connoisseurs of the world.

Equal time demands that I devote at least as much attention to the wine lovers of the world.

Wine country tours have been incredibly popular over the past few years.

Whether by riverboat, barge or land tour, there are some great wine tours offered that can be very rich educational and cultural experiences while exposing you to some of the finest wines and winemakers in the world.

Sailing through French wine country on the scenic Saone and Rhône rivers, you can enjoy beautiful vineyards and panoramic views of the French countryside.

Recently, my daughter and I passed through the French countryside while driving from Barcelona, Spain, to Paris. I was amazed at how stunningly beautiful it is. Incredible vistas dotted with quaint towns and villages with castles that are centuries old standing regally on the banks of the great rivers. This is home to some of the world’s classic wines.

It gave me a new appreciation for the enthusiastic comments our clients have shared when returning from river cruises in that region. Sail from Chalon-sur-Saone to Avignon or take a scenic drive along France’s Burgundy wine route through Pommard, Volnay and Meursault. Arrive in Beaune, wine capital of Burgundy, and learn about local culture and enjoy wine-tasting at Beaune’s famous cellars.

From Avignon, take a tour to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, visiting the vineyards and tasting the world famous wines. For wine lovers, this is one of the outstanding itineraries of the world.

To be certain, there are great wine tours throughout the world with some really good ones right here in the United States and particularly, in the state of Washington.

Napa Valley in California offers a variety of classic wine tours through some of the best known wineries in the world.

Right here in our state, the number of Washington wineries has increased 400 percent in the past decade attracting 2 million annual visitors and creating a $2 million wine-tourism industry. Woodinville offers short afternoon trips.

The vineyards and wineries of the Yakima and Tri-Cities regions offer short trips of just a few days. Interestingly, located approximately on the same latitude (46 degrees North) as some of the great French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Washington state wine country includes nine federally recognized American Viticulture Areas (AVAs).

Wine tours can last from half a day to several weeks in length depending how much you want to see, spend and experience. Not everyone is looking for the same style of wine tour, so there is a wide range of wine-related tours to choose from to find one that suits you. Some of these are:

• If you are a wine collector or your prime interest is great wines, “reserve collection” tours with small groups looking at top-of-the-range wines in a seminar style are likely to appeal.

• If wine drinking is a voyage of discovery for you, and you’re looking for new countries and interesting regions on a longer tour, then a “classic wine journey” is likely to meet your need.

• If you want to get out into the vineyards and visit small quaint villages, and you enjoy some exercise between indulgences, a “vineyard walk” tour may be for you.

• Finally if a fully escorted tour is not for you and you are short on time, a regional “wine cities” tour, which are weekend breaks that pack a lot in, are perfect.

A Southern Hemisphere wine tour can give you long sunny days, most of which will be spent in beautiful vineyards enjoying lazy lunches washed down with a generous quantity of very drinkable, fine wine. It may sound like a long way to go to taste wine, but in fact a wine tour is a great way to explore any of these countries.

In New Zealand there are vineyards from near the top of North Island to near the bottom of South Island. In Australia, you’ll explore the rural heartland of the country and while you are not in the Outback, you’ll appreciate the shear vastness of the place.

Itineraries are planned to take in the wine regions of each country, but also to allow time for sightseeing. For instance, after staying in a Chilean Hacienda, you’ll enjoy the dramatic crossing of the Andes to Argentina. In South Africa, take time off to relax in Capetown, visit the Kirstenbosch gardens and the dramatic Cape of Good Hope. These regions are renowned for their developing wine production and quality wines. The winemakers know you have come a long way to see them on a specialized tour, so the welcome is second to none.

Many people have visited wineries while vacationing, and while this can be enjoyable, these kinds of visits are often not that interesting, with corporate videos, perfunctory tastings and uniformed junior staff who know less about wine and winemaking than the visitors do.

If you appreciate wine and want to make the most of your time, a specialized wine tour may be just for you.

Federal Way resident Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations. Contact:

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