Travel Notebook

Wine Tourism is on the Rise: A Few of Our Favorite Vino Destinations

So many travelers these days are adding wineries to their itinerary that there’s a pet name for the boom: oeno-tourism. To woo this increased number of wine-loving guests, wineries aren’t just about the wine anymore. Vineyards have become art galleries, world-class dining destinations, concert venues and more … some even with their own luxury accommodations and spa facilities. For the curious oenophile, the trend toward immersive visitor experiences and behind-the-scenes tours is a satisfying one. Here, we offer a few favorite wineries, courtesy of Rebecca Recommends hotels and DMCs … places to enjoy fabulous scenery, learn the art of wine-making from the owners themselves and, of course, savor rare and delightful vintages.

New Zealand: Where the Wine Has a Story

Wine-loving guests of Blanket Bay will want to visit two wineries in the area: Wet Jacket and Domaine Thomson. Both of these must-see wineries dazzle not only with their wines, but with the stories behind each vintage, told by the owners and/or winemakers themselves and delivered in a most genuine and passionate manner, keeping you enthralled as the wines wow your palate and serenade your nose.

At Wet Jacket, wine tasting becomes an authentic “kiwi” experience as the winery is located inside an unassuming, historic woolshed. Meet Greg Hay (known as the Captain), the man behind Wet Jacket. Greg was one of the key figures (the other being his brother Rob) behind Peregrine, a name synonymous with Central Otago and Pinot Noir. Greg now focuses solely on Wet Jacket and his influence is apparent from the name of the winery itself: named after a favorite spot (Wet Jacket Arm) in Fiordland. 

Wet Jacket has quickly established itself as a favorite boutique winery with a great selection of wines available to taste, including Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and the very quaffable (and aptly named) The Pirate Reserve Pinot Noir.

Domaine Thompson vineyard
Domaine Thompson vineyard with a spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains. Photo credit :

Venturing down through Kawarau Gorge to Cromwell and more specifically to the sub-region of Lowburn, oenophiles will arrive at Domaine Thomson’s vineyard. This small family-owned vineyard, established in 2000, is steeped in plenty of history (and anecdotal stories) provided by owner David Hall-Jones, his lovely Singaporean-born wife, PM, or any of their team who welcome you on-site for a visit. The winery is named after David’s ancestor John Turnbull Thomson, who carried out a marathon reconnaissance survey of Otago, all while on horseback in a series of sweeps that took him as far west as the Waiau River and as far north as Mt. Cook. John was the man responsible for naming many areas and landmarks in Otago, including Mt. Aspiring and Mt. Earnslaw.   

Next for Domaine Thomson is the construction of an on-site cellar door, which will include a library and small gallery curating John and enabling them to host guests in a way unique to the environment and landscape, while highlighting the significance and history of Domaine Thomson’s wines and vineyard to the region.

Elephant Hill wine tasting
Sip on wines in the sleek and stylish terrace of Elephant Hill estate. Photo credit :

In addition to Wet Jacket and Domaine Thomson, Southern Crossings New Zealand can curate winery experiences from an afternoon in the vineyards to full end-to-end itineraries that will delight the most passionate of oenophiles. Active types may enjoy a scenic cycle ride through the Hawkes Bay vineyards, famous for their full-bodied reds and crisp Chardonnays. A full-day itinerary combines coastal scenery, local cheeses and tastings as you ride through vineyards and orchards, fields and farmlands. Sample from up to seven wineries en route, but don’t miss picturesque Black Barn Vineyard and its fabulous bistro food and sleek and stylish Elephant Hill for its spectacular Pacific views.

Alternatively, discover Waiheke’s wonderful wineries in a chauffeur-driven Tesla. A full-day tour takes in wine and olive tastings, art galleries and empty beaches. Stop at the family-run Poderi Crisci vineyard for lunch and don’t pass up the opportunity to sample fabulous flagship and single vineyard wines at the Man’o’War beachfront cellar door.

Craggy-Range Hawkes Bay vineyard
Enjoy a scenic cycle ride through the Craggy Range vineyards in Hawkes Bay

Australia: Land of Wine

With more than 60 wine regions across Australia, there are thousands of fabulous wineries to explore and it is near impossible to single out just a few. Southern Crossings Australia does, however, have a few up their sleeve:

The Barossa is perhaps a great place to start – a visit here offers the opportunity to taste some of Australia’s most celebrated wine labels with a local wine expert. Enjoy a private tasting of wines from your birth year straight from the barrel at Seppeltsfield Centennary Collection (with an unbroken lineage of single vintage wines from 1878). Sample past, present and future wines at St. Hugos Winery. And visit Penfolds Magill Estate, home of the hallowed “Grange” wines, where you can tour the underground tunnels and heritage bluestone cellars and taste rare and revered wines.

Darenberg Cube Winery
Get a taste of art and architecture along with award-winning Australian wines at D’Arenberg Cube

There are destination dining vineyards, such as Pt. Leo Estate on the Mornington Peninsula (recent winner of Australia’s Best Regional Restaurant) and instagramnmable wineries such as Josef Chromy in Tasmania’s Tamar valley. D’Arenberg Cube in South Australia’s McLaren Vale and Moorilla at MONA in Hobart push the creative boundaries to deliver big on art and flavor with thought-provoking art installations, mouth-watering restaurant offerings and award-winning Australian wines.

New York: From Brooklyn to the Hamptons

Visit a winery within view of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty: Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, a favorite of the experts at Beyond Times Square. In fact, they can arrange a behind-the-scenes tasting (including private barrel tastings) of New York’s premier wines. All of the Red Hook wine is made on site, including crushing the grapes to bottling right on Pier 41. The Tasting Room faces the East River, promising incredible city views. Relax, have a glass of wine and order some fine cheeses from the menu.

Red Hook winery
Private Barrel tastings at Red Hook Winery. Photo credit :

For those heading to the Hamptons, add to the bucket list Wölffer Estate Vineyard. For over 30 years, the vineyard has been producing award-winning wines and offers one of the most popular tasting rooms in the area. Sip by the glass, bottle, flight or through a special tasting and relax in a peaceful Hamptons setting.

United Kingdom: Vineyards & Wine Experiences in the British Countryside

Original Travel UK is on top of the latest wineries in the region and available to arrange private tours and tastings at these locations. Chapel Down describes itself as England’s “leading winemaker,” producing a world-class range of both sparkling and “still” wines (as well as a range of beers and ciders). Tour this picturesque winery in the Kent countryside (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), set amongst 22 acres of vineyards. Taste their fantastic wines, mainly focused on Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Bacchus. Chapel Down supplies Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver with wine, as well as institutions such as The Royal Opera House and No. 10 Downing Street.

Chapel Down’s 22 acres of vineyards in the Kent countryside. Photo credit :

Believing that “to create a great wine is part art, part science,” Nyetimber (a Rebecca personal favorite), spreading across the counties of Sussex, Hampshire and Kent, features in the Domesday Book (the first vines were planted here in 1988). They specialize in English sparkling wine and appear on the menu at London restaurants as Claud Bosi at Bibendum.

India: An Up-and-Coming Wine Destination

Surprising, perhaps, yet India’s western coast is a refreshing new oenophile travel destination – and has made its mark on the winemakers’ map in just two decades. Head to Nashik, on the banks of the Godavari River, to sample vintages from approximately 30 wineries. The top names include Sula Vineyards, York Winery and Reveilo Wines. In addition to the French, Italian and other varietals, expect tasting rooms, tours, delicious dining options and accommodations options – all of which can be arranged through Ventours.

Sula Vineyards in Nashik, India

France: The Caves of Champagne

In addition to crafting wine tours throughout France, Découvertes can arrange a visit to Ruinart (Rebecca’s favorite champagne). Just 45 minutes from Paris by train, this epic Champagne house was founded in 1729 and is home to renowned, moody chalk caves that date back to the Early Middle Ages – and where Nicolas Ruinart first aged his champagne. The cathedral-like crayeres have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and while this has given tourism to the area a boost, the bottles produced here are as outstanding as ever. Make plans at least three weeks in advance for one of the four scheduled tastings a day (the caves are closed mid-November to mid-March).

Inside the crayeres of Maison Ruinart. Photo credit : Winniepix via Flickr

For wine-centric ideas and itineraries at these and any of our Rebecca Recommends partners, please be in touch. We love to hear from you.