Wine Travel Guides: An Extraordinary Resource

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
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We're so pleased to share an extraordinary find with you this week! Our Wine Editor, Wink Lorch, is also the publisher of Wine Travel Guides. Wine Travel Guides are extraordinary, downloadable travel guides to wine regions in Europe. I've not seen anything like it, and can't wait to get the chance to use them myself when we head to Europe. We were lucky enough to be able to sit down and talk with Wink about the Wine Travel Guides...here's what she had to say...

 

Wink Lorch - Wine Travel Guides

 

 

WE: Please tell us about your site, WineTravelGuides.com...

WL: Wine Travel Guides offers comprehensive on-line travel guides to wine regions so that independent travellers can plan their own wine tours. We started with 46 guides to France and have just added two guides to Tuscany; Rioja in Spain and Mosel in Germany are coming on-stream next and guides to other key wine regions in Europe are planned too. Each main wine region – Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Tuscany etc. is divided into bite-sized chunks that I call micro-regions - these might be focussed on an appellation, a geographic zone or a key tourist town.

Each guide features completely independent recommendations for wine producers to visit and places to stay, eat and shop; the guides also include key local tourist attractions, basic wine information and more, so that all the resources needed to plan a wine tour can be found in one place with the possibility of printing out just some of the PDF pages.

Everything can be viewed on-line to get the benefit of the links as well as the invaluable on-line mapping and tourist information from ViaMichelin. Access to the guides is by subscription only (apart from a free sample guide on registration). The site has no advertising on it, because I believe advertising is incompatible with the subscription model - this also leaves the writers of the guides absolutely free of any constraints, allowing them to be as objective as possible.

 

Wine Travel Guides

 

 

WE:  What was the genesis of your site?

WL: I’ve been a wine writer and educator for many years based between London and a beautiful village in the French Alps. Through my work, I’ve had the great privilege of travelling in wine regions all over the world. The idea for the site evolved after a sudden thought one evening whilst driving back to my home in France after a weekend in the rather obscure Jura wine region. I had been writing about this area for an annual wine guide (Tom Stevenson’s Wine Report) for about 5 years and realized that I had not only unearthed the best wine producers, but also the best places to stay and eat, as well as discovering delicious food shops and a very traditional, enchanting wine festival, La Fête du Biou in Arbois, which I had just attended. I wanted to share what I had learnt, preferably in a commercial way, but knew that Jura on its own wouldn’t be saleable. I had experience in book publishing and knew of several collaborative book publishing projects, so I knew that I could gather together colleagues with similar specialist knowledge of their particular regions. I had used the internet from its early days and felt strongly that, in particular, this was the ideal medium for keeping things up-to-date – it’s always been a frustration that guide books are always out of date the moment they are published. Then I saw various subscription models and the idea began to gel.

 

 

WE: Who are your writers? and typical subscribers?

WL: Most of the writers on www.winetravelguides.com are professional wine writers, specialists in their regions, though where possible I choose those who live all or part of the year in or close to the areas they are writing about. A few of them have also written about travel or food on a regular basis. I’m very honoured to have certain names on the list – some are very well-known wine authors and journalists who I’ve known personally for several years. This project has for many been their first foray into web publishing, and I think that they trusted that I would put together a good project.

As for my subscribers, at present there is no unique profile. I have subscribers from around 15 countries and they include a mixture of wine professionals, wine students, keen wine lovers as well as independent travellers who simply love wine. I believe that as visitor numbers to the site grow, the latter category will become the dominant one. Particularly for people travelling from outside Europe, many simply want to slot in a few days touring one or two wine regions as part of a bigger European trip, rather than a dedicated wine tour. Until my site came along, that was quite hard and time consuming to organise as you had to visit several different websites to gather the information together and much of that was out-of-date or simply giving one person’s opinion rather than professional advice.

 

 

WE: Wine travel is a big business - how do you choose the gems to recommend?

WL: It’s worth noting that with the exception of a region like Champagne, wine tourism in Europe is not nearly as sophisticated as, say, California. Although there are generic regional websites and brochures, they are rarely very informative or even accurate!

I encourage my writers to provide a mix of wine producer recommendations, some of whom you visit for the experience and some for the sheer high quality of the wines, but many for both reasons. The producers in the guides range from large wineries that have proper tourist facilities, to little family owned wine farms, where an appointment is essential, but the welcome is truly sincere. For the latter, it helps, of course, if you can speak a little of their language, as by no means all speak decent English.

But, wine is a great leveller and once you show you are interested and enthusiastic, winery owners and winemakers tend to open up and share their passion with you even if it has to be by sign language. Also, wine producers are often a great source of information about the local places to stay as well as the nearby restaurants, so they will sometimes give us the leads to find the other hidden gems.

 

 

WE:  The research you do for your guides is exhaustive - is it interesting, finding new wine producers or restaurants ... What are the highlights of your business?

WL: On the one hand, there is nothing like eating in a fine restaurant in the heart of a wine region, especially on a terrace with a view to a vineyard, soaking up the atmosphere with delicious food from local produce and a bottle of wine that you know is made just down the road. But, the real highlight for me – and possibly all my wine writing colleagues and contributors - is meeting and chatting with the family-owned wine producers, especially if you and they have time to go out into the vineyards or perhaps down into the cellar to taste with them direct from barrel.

It may sound a little like something for wine geeks only, but discussing all the many aspects that go into making that great bottle of wine, from the ground up – how the vines are pruned, how they combat diseases (perhaps how they have converted to organic farming) and then why they choose a certain type of barrel or how they go about blending the wines, is to me fascinating and rewarding. And, any independent wine traveller who is simply an amateur wine lover can experience a little of this too if they visit on a day when the winemaker has time and is happy to share his knowledge.

 

 

WE:  Are you planning to expand the guides to beyond Europe?

WL: Personally, I’d like nothing better than to offer travel guides to all the wine regions of the world. I really want to cover South America – Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil - because this area is a particular passion of mine and it’s fascinating to watch these wine countries develop. The problem is the usual one of resources – both time and money. At present Wine Travel Guides is really just me at the helm, with the support of a great web designer (Charles Harford of www.ocean-design.co.uk) and, of course, my writers and the photographer Mick Rock of www.cephas.com who supplies nearly all the photos. I need to make the subscription model work, which I believe it will with time – then as the income increases, I can commission more guides and expand into other countries.

In the meantime, I’ve recently launched a blog for the site (http://blog.winetravelguides.com) on which I can include posts on any wine region in the world and from a range of writers including my contributors and the occasional guest. It’s not just another wine blog instead it features posts of wine tourism in a particular region, a spotlight on a producer, a wine bar or restaurant – everything to do with the world of wine and travel. The blog allows great flexibility. Eventually it would be wonderful to include guides for travellers to plan a private wine tour in any of the world’s major wine regions - and if that were the case in five years time, I’d be very proud indeed.

 

 

WE:  Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

WL: Well, I feel that in these recession-hit times for the keen traveller who doesn’t want to give it all up, independent travel is definitely the way forward to save money on their trip, and that includes visiting wine regions. If you are a confident independent traveller, then planning and conducting your own wine tour is considerably less expensive than hiring a wine guide (and it is difficult to find a good, independent guide in many places) and it is certainly a bargain compared with going with a specialized wine tour company. The other plus (but shhh … don’t tell anyone) is that you will often be able to taste wines in the company of the wine producer just on your own – much more rewarding than in a big group. You will need a car in most wine regions, so make sure you have a designated driver each day – the designated driver can still taste a few wines by learning the art of spitting. Spitting out the wine is not only quite acceptable in all wine regions, but you can appreciate more wines and you will enjoy drinking some wonderful wine at the end of the day with dinner.

I’m really looking forward to being part of your great team at Wandering Educators and to contributing regularly. Happy wine travels to all your readers!

WE: Thanks so much, Wink. Your Wine Travel Guides are an excellent guide  for any European traveler (or armchair traveler!)...

For more information and an Exclusive subscription offer for Wandering Educators, please see:
http://www.wanderingeducators.com/travel-guides/wine-travel-guides/wine-travel-guides.html

 

Wine Travel Guides

 

Photos courtesy and copyright of Cephas, except portrait by Jon Wyand

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