A well-traveled wine marketing entrepreneur lists his favorite vineyard destinations to help plan your grape escape. Bottoms up!
For nearly the last two decades, my wife Nancy and I have traveled through wine country in many parts of the United States, France, Italy and Chile. Fans of wine, obviously, but what we try to look for are unique, memorable experiences that make the wine taste that much better.
Some may ask, “How can wine taste better because of the experience?” My answer is this:
When you’re passionate about something and meet others equally as passionate, the combination of hospitality, knowledge and enthusiasm take the experience to another level, making it that much more memorable.
Here are my top 10 wine tasting experiences that do just that- exceed expectations and make me want to go back for more.
Casablanca Region – Chile
Right after my wife and I arrived, so did a helicopter carrying someone from one of the magazines for a private tasting. Great wines and beautiful views. Directly in the middle of Santiago and Vina del Mar (the coast).
9. Dry Creek Vineyards
Great wines, property and experience. Truth is they should be charging more for these wines compared to the region and their neighbors but better for the customers. Grab some sandwiches from the local grocer just a 100 yards from the winery entrance. Then buy a bottle of wine from the tasting room and sit outside to enjoy. Wines and hospitality second to none.
8. Sokol Blosser Winery
Dundee Hills, OR
This is one of the greatest gems in Oregon. Located 30 to 40 minutes west of Portland, I have followed these guys for 8 years and they impress every time. First time my wife and I visited we brought my aunt and uncle along. Lee Medina, the Sales Director made us lunch and poured us everything he could find. My aunt isn’t much of a wine drinker but Lee was successful in finding something she liked. Great wines and hospitality.
7. Elizabeth Spencer
Napa Valley — Rutherford, CA
A quaint, small winery at the old Post Office in Rutherford. Wines are great, hospitality is excellent and its hidden from the busyness of the larger wineries in the area. Great wines, great experience and well priced wines in small lots. They occasionally have unique wine varietals in very small lots of production. If you taste something you like, buy it because odds are you will never have it again. Can’t be beat.
6. Moet Chandon
Champagne Region – Epernay, France – Home of Dom Perignon.
A brief train ride from downtown Paris to the Champagne region, the stop is in Epernay, where you walk to your hotel, drop off your luggage then stroll on over to the wineries tasting rooms. So you wanna see the vineyards? Jump on the tram and go for the great views and educational ride, viewing chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier vines. A must do if you want to experience some true champagne cave tours, where you see where the bottles are “riddled” and stored for future labeling and drinking.
5. Concha y Toro
Great tour and one on the more unique experiences in that it’s a winery with vineyards in the city of Santiago. Beautiful estate, great wines and a walk through the barrel room and “Diablo” cave Definitely a great experience.
4. Castello Banfi
Tuscany – Montalcino, Italy
My wife Nancy was able to book a 5 or 6 course meal there at the winery where each course was paired with a different wine. Wine, food and hospitality were top notch! Would do it again in a heartbeat.
3. St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery
Napa Valley- Rutherford, CA
This is one of my personal favorites and without a doubt, one of the best experiences in the Napa Valley. Whether you go to the winery and sip at the tasting bar, go upstairs to the private club lounge or take a trip out to their Dollarhide Ranch (this is a must do if you book in advance), every step of the way there is great wine, education and hospitality. Too many experiences to count and every one was excellent.
2. Louis Jadot
Burgundy Region – Beaune, France
My wife Nancy was able to get us a “nearly” private tasting where Anthony guided us through one of the most memorable tours of my life. We were able to taste over 9 different reds and whites, straight out of the barrel, along with a visit to the truly genuine “Library Wines Room” where we saw some of the very oldest wines I have ever been able to view. An incredible experience.
1. Not a winery but my top wine experience.
Napa Valley Wine Auction’s Friday Event (First weekend in June)
In the Napa Valley at a different winery every year. It’s a little spendy ($500 a ticket) but without question one of the best experiences you can have. Taste the top wines out of the barrel, then have the option to bid on a case of that same wine. All the top restaurants and caterers are there – the best food and wine you can consume in an afternoon. You may even see Oprah there, as Nancy and I did in 2008. As icing on the cake, the money goes to non-profit health, youth and affordable housing programs.
Mark Parton is the founder of Call for Wine, a provider of Direct to Consumer marketing services for wineries. Over the last decade CFW has sold over $40MM in wine for its clients. In 2010, he sold the company to WineDirect, where he holds the position of Vice President. You can find him on LinkedIn here.