Wine Book Review: On the Wine Trail with Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet Wine Trails 2 (Lonely Planet Food, 2023).

The Lonely Planet Guide folks have released a new guide to global wine trails. The big book (320 pages, 2.4 pounds) lays out itineraries for 52 potential weekend wine country visits. It is a colorful book, full of maps and photos, and worthy of consideration if you are planning trips, interested in how wine tourism has developed, or just want to make imaginary vineyard visits.

Each chapter is organized according to a set structure, starting with an overview and map followed by brief profiles of six or seven wineries (a reasonable number to think about for a weekend trip). Accommodations?  A couple of options are provided along with three dining choices and some ideas for non-wine things to do. Just enough to get you started.

Sue and I have visited many of these regions and, in general, I’d give the Lonely Planet itineraries solid marks. They might not always be the wineries we would choose to visit or the hotels and restaurants we’d pick, but they would certainly steer a first-time visitor in good directions. This is not a surprise, since the wine tourism chapters were written by an international team of experts.

Creating a big book like this is an exercise in choice. What do you put in? What do you leave out? You can’t possibly include everything in 300+ pages. Something has to give! This fact became apparently to me some years ago when I was asked to edit a book for a New York Times series. I was given the entire 20th century of New York Times content (all 100 years) and tasked with telling the story of globalization. What I learned was that you have to begin with a story and build around that, which is sort of a top-down approach that prioritizes the narrative. A bottom-up approach, which relies upon the facts to form their own images, is fiendishly difficult to pull off.

The decisions when looking at wine tourism begin with the question of what regions to include. Fifty-two is a big number, but there are many more wine trails around the world. When a French wine periodical published a list of the 35 best wine tourism destinations back in 2012, they found that 29 of them were in France. Zut alors! That’s not much for the rest of the wine world.

The Lonely Planet guide lists eight French itineraries including the “greatest hits” of Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne. Italy and Spain get seven entries each, including the most famous and most-visited regions.  So far just as you might expect. But while Australia has seven entries, big-name Barrossa is not one of them. And Napa is not anywhere on the USA list, which takes you from the Finger Lakes of New York, through Pennsylvania wine country, to Grand Valley, Colorado, and on to Walla Walla, the Willamette Valley, Sonoma, and Santa Ynez.

Other parts of the wine world receive less space. Argentina, Canada, Chile, England, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Portugal, Romania, and Slovenia get one entry each. New Zealand and South Africa get two entries each.

At first this inconsistent treatment of famous regions versus the rest bothered me, but I’ve decided that it is probably OK within the context of this book. Reading about the charms of Colorado wine country, for example, might encourage someone to look beyond the big name appellations when visiting France or Italy. And that would be a good thing.

This method of mixing the famous with the lesser-known continues within the chapters in terms of the winery choices presented, accommodation options, and dining recommendations. Some of the choices left me scratching my head (why list hotels and restaurants in Portland, for example, when there are so many good choices in the Willamette Valley wine country itself?), but in general I’ve decided that the Lonely Planet guide is quite useful. It gives readers the basics and invites them to explore.

Readers who don’t go beyond the recommendations here will have a good time. Curious types who use this as a springboard to dive deeper into the wine tourism pool will have even more fun because when it comes to wine the wines, wineries, restaurants, etc. that  you discover yourself are often the most satisfying.

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