We can sit and talk about spirits and wines all day long, and into the night, without ever really getting to the heart of the matter. There really is only one way to fully discover what a beverage is all about: visit the distillery or the winery.
We are just about at the end of the summer travel season but visiting a winery or distillery is really not about a usual tourist season. Of course, visiting an adult beverage manufacturing destination is not of great interest to kids, so the school year is incidental.
What is notably important at this time of year when it comes to winery visits is harvest. Right now, throughout the Northern Hemisphere, wineries are either in the initial phases of bringing fruit in from the vineyards, or are preparing for the most important couple of months on their calendar. The ripeness of the fruit determines the dates of harvest and when that happens, it’s all hands on deck.
So when it comes to tourism to an area, what are you seeking? A few items that need to be considered:
Most wines are rated by, and most spirits denote, the location of the “home office.” Oftentimes where a beverage originate determines its value.
One of the best lessons I have learned about wine tourism is that grapes like pretty places. I have never been to an ugly area that grows grapes. For the most part the vistas are breathtaking. Even if you do nothing else but roam around the countryside, there are no downsides. The vineyards, the grapes, the wineries are lagniappe to the pristine beauty of the place.
And knowing the region will tell you a lot about the wines. What kind of a place is it? Is is flat or on a slope? How close is it to the ocean? Do hills block winds or snows? The next time you drink the wine from the region your mind’s eye will retrieve the image from your memory bank. That adds to the enjoyment for the rest of your days.
The People and Their Lifestyle
Who are these families that make your favorite beverage? What kind of houses do they have? What do they eat? Most folks in this business are great people, very sociable and quite bright. I have met a few curmudgeons but I could count those on one hand in all the years I have been enjoying beverage tourism.
The Manufacturing Facility
Is the beverage made in an historic building using equipment that was new long ago? Or is the winery or distillery shiny and of the latest technology? The truth about all distilleries and wineries is that, at their core, there is no difference. The chemistry of making the product is what it is, across the board. There may be, from place to place, some differences in bringing more oak to the party, or distilling three times instead of two, or using gravity to move the liquid rather than pumps. But, for the most part, the way liquids react to processes and to air on Planet Earth is the same everywhere.
You may want to pay attention to where the liquid goes after it ferments or is distilled. What kind of oak barrel is used, namely where is the oak from originally? How many new barrels are used? How long does the liquid reside in the oak barrel? Is stainless steel an important part of the process. All of these details are not just fun to know, they are an important part of what ends up in the bottle you purchase.
Being a Good Visitor
Your responsibilities do not end and begin with your travel from home and then back again. You have to act like a good guest would act. Be curious. Be gracious. Be appreciative. No one actually owes you anything, so whatever comes your way in the form of a taste or a gift, accept, and then upon return home, drop whomever took the time to escort you around a thank-you note. It can be an e-mail, but acknowledge time spent with you and information shared.
It’s a very good idea to always have an itinerary and an appointment wherever you wish to go. Then it is essential that you keep the appointment at the correct time. If you cannot make it, call and tell them you can’t make the appointment, or are running late. You would be surprised how many travelers forget their manners in this regard. Within your itinerary, leave free time for exploration and extra stops. Those always happen.
All in all, traveling to the area where a favorite beverage is made is a lot of fun, and it creates for you an image which you will carry around for the rest of your life. Plus, you have a better understanding about why you like what you like, not to mention the new friends you will make at every turn.
I can’t tell you how many discoveries I have made simply by visiting a favorite place and then asking those folks, “Who else around here is doing excellent work like you?”
The folks at the winery or the distillery love to share. We should give them the chance to do what they love.
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com. Also check out Last Call, Tim’s photo feature every month in New Orleans Magazine.