How to plan an itinerary for a winery tour
Even thinking about planning an itinerary can be daunting to say the least, where do you even begin? Plotting your course is time consuming, especially if you are a visitor to the region or you may even live in the area but know nothing about wineries and their wine.
So let's start with a 'do's and 'don'ts' list to simplify the process based on our well travelled guides experiences on many a tour around the world. Ok, so firstly we know the region we are going to visit, which is our local Hunter Valley in NSW, on the East coast of Australia. The next step is to work out which wineries in this region to visit based on few simple questions so you can work out your personal preferences.
Are you going with a group or with significant other or spouse? How many of you going on this tour, this will determine how many you can fit in the tour operators vehicle/s. Then we all have different tastes to consider. Ask everyone that is going, the basic of questions first of all. What do you like drinking at home or when you go out? White, red, beer, bubbles? Then based on the reply narrow the question down even further by asking what type of white/grape? Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Verdelho, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio and blends. Same question applies for the red, the beers and the bubbles. Then you can make a list of the types of wines, beers and bubbles everyone going on the tour are interested in.
Another thing you can keep in mind is whether you want to do a 'wine tour' or a wine tasting' tour or a bit of both? So what is the difference between a wine tour vs. a wine tasting.
Wine Tours: This is a guided tour by a winery employee or the owner who takes you through their grounds and or vineyard property and then you would taste the wines at the end of the tour. This tour is a totally submersive experience and you dive deeply into the whole wine making process of the Viticulturist.
Wine Tasting: This is the typical, turn up at the cellar door, line up at the bar, and you are poured a sample of the various styles of wine the winery produces. Some cellar doors are better than others and is dependent on the staff or you may be very lucky and get the owner of the winery...jackpot!
Now if the tour company is flexible you can have both. You could ask to have a wine tour booked at your favourite winery, (that is if they offer them of course as not all do) and then have wine tastings at the others you would like to visit. The older more established wineries tend to have the wine tours of the cellar and grounds. Also on a side note, keep in mind that not all wineries are beautiful with stunning scenery. Your tour operator will be able to suggest the most beautiful wineries to go to.
Now obviously when you are tasting all those lovely wines you will want to be taken around the vineyards by a designated driver, which offers more flexibility and less worry. Having said that there is a big difference between the type of tours on offer and the type of vehicle you will be transported in, how you want to get around is critical to your perfect trip.
Most tours operate a bus or a large 'people mover' vehicle that can pick up people on a round trip. This means that if you are the first to get picked up, you will be the last to get dropped off! This has happened to us on many tours we have done around the world, the last tour we did, we were picked up by a bus, it was a very hot day and the air conditioner didn't work, no water was supplied and to top it off, when we got to most of the stops the people weren't waiting so the driver had to go and look for them! So we were on the bus for over an hour even before we started the tour. That meant that we were going to waste 2 hours of the day, not happy!! Just remember you are sacrificing your freedom!
You can book a private, luxurious vehicle with a chauffeur but these tend to be on the pricey side and they usually have a pre-set itinerary that they follow so there is no flexibility. This may suit however if you are just wanting to spoil yourselves for a special occasion. If you can, find a tour company that will be flexible with the wineries, restaurants, produce outlets etc. so you visit the places you want to, after all it is your tour.
Another stop you will want on your tour will be food! Best to have something to soak up all that tasting! Now if you have a flexible tour company they will arrange your itinerary around your lunch booking at your chosen restaurant. If you decide to go with the bus option, they will have a pre-designated place they always take their guests to (they may even have a 'kick back' with the restaurant).
The Hunter Valley has a huge array of local producers of olives, oils, chocolate, fudge and cheese. Personally, I would choose a tour operator that is flexible enough to incorporate one or more stops if they can fit them in, depending on if you are a foodie/wine lover or a bit of both so why not have the best of both worlds.
Hopefully this guide will help you determine what type of tour you will be happy with. One that is predetermined by someone else and that you don't mind losing your freedom. Or a tour that is extravagant, luxurious, expensive and for a special occasion. Or a tour that is totally flexible and is all about you for a reasonable cost.