It’s Here! “Around the World in Eighty Wines” Now Available

9781442257368I have been waiting for this day for a while! My new book Around the World in Eighty Wines is officially released today in hardback, e-book, and audio book formats.  If you pre-ordered your copy it should arrive very soon. Can’t wait to hear  what you think of it.

Actually, if you pre-ordered on Amazon.com you might already have your copy — those sneaky guys started shipping a few days ago. But the Kindle and audio versions are officially released today. Hooray!

A few early reviews have already appeared on Amazon and elsewhere. Many thanks to Tom Mullen for his favorable review on Forbes.com.  I think Tom really captured the spirit of the book and I appreciate his kind words.

Wine-Fueled Adventure

Sue and I have been on a wine-fueled adventure for the last several years, circling the globe to speak at wine industry conferences and to do research for The Wine Economist and my books. At times I guess we felt a little like Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, hurrying from one fascinating place to another.

And so, inspired by Jules Verne, I decided to collect our adventures in this new book. The book’s path and Jules Verne’s itinerary are a bit different, although they do intersect in several interesting places. Here’s a map of Phileas Fogg’s route in Around the World in Eighty Days, starting and ending in London.

80days

And this is the Around the World in Eighty Wines route. London is the start and finish line for this race, too.

As you can see, the wine route is much more complicated. That’s because Jules Verne was interested in speedy travel, so straight lines and direct routes were best, whereas I am intrigued by the stories that wine tell us, and I am willing to go to some trouble to track them down. So detours, interruptions and a bit of back-tracking are inevitable.

A Surprise Plot Twist?

globeFogg and I both face strict constraints, however. Eighty days. Eighty wines. And we both beat the odds to achieve our goals, albeit with the help of a last-minute plot twist that produces a surprise ending.

Surprise ending? Well, I told you I was inspired by Jules Verne, so I could not resist following his example to assure a happy ending for my readers just as he did for his. Can’t tell you what the plot twist is — it’s meant to be a surprise!

I hope you enjoy reading Around the World in Eighty Wines as much as Sue and I have enjoyed the journeys that produced it and the wonderful people we met along the way. Cheers to wine, travel, adventure, and Phileas Fogg!

amazon3Around the World in 80 Wines by Mike Veseth

Table of Contents

Part 1: From London to Beirut

1.      London: The Challenge is Made and the Journey Begins

2.      France: Which Bottle? Which Wine?

3.      Italy: Batali’s Impossibility Theorem

4.      Syria, Lebanon and Georgia: The Wine Wars

Part 2: Rounding the Cape

5.      Spain: El Clásico

6.      Any Porto in a Storm

7.      Out of Africa

8.      India and Beyond: New Latitudes, New Attitudes

Part 3: High and Low

9.      Shangri-La

10.  Australia: The Library and the Museum

11.  Tasmania: Cool is Hot

12.  Southern Cross

Part 4:  Sour Grapes?

13.  Napa Valley Wine Train

14.  A Riesling Rendezvous

15.  Cannonball Run

16.  Back to London: Victory or Defeat?

The Wine List

Book Reviews: Lewin on Modern Wine + Alexander’s Wine for Literature Lovers

lewinI want to draw your attention to two new wine books. They are as different as different can be, but both are valuable additions to your wine bookshelf.

Indispensable Guide to Modern Wine

The first book is Wine Myths & Reality by Benjamin Lewin MW and I think it is more than just valuable — indispensable would be a better word! Technically this is the second edition of a volume that originally appeared in 2010, but in fact the book is completely rewritten. Lewin says that he thought about re-naming it Modern Wine and I think that alt-title works.

I really admired the first edition of Wine Myths & Reality. When I started teaching a class called The Idea of Wine at the University of Puget Sound I struggled with readings for my students. I wanted something that would go beyond the usual facts and that would allow my students to really engage with what’s dynamic and conttroversial about wine today. Wine Myths & Reality was the perfect choice and it formed the basis of the class along with Tyler Colman’s Wine Politics and my own book, Wine Wars.

The new book (or edition) is even more appealing and compelling. The breadth of topics is amazing — it really is sort of a mini-Master of Wine course in a single volume. Interesting insights seem to jump off each page. Lewin gives us the facts, but they are always in the context of a question he is trying to answer or an argument that he wants to make, so that the book drives forward with great energy.

Attention to detail is obvious throughout the book, but perhaps especially in the illustrations, which include photos, maps, and diagrams that raise the bar for books of this type.

Lewin has organized the book in a very interesting way. He begins, as you might expect, with growing grapes and making wine, but then he pivots to the business side — selling wine and the global markets. His discussion of wine regions is also distinctive — he begins with New World producers before circling back to the Old World, not the other way around as is the usual practice. A final set of chapters examine manipulation in wine in its many forms.

Wine doesn’t make itself, even though we like to think of it that way. Human intervention is always a factor. So what do we want wine to be? And  how can we get there? These are the bottom line questions that drive Wine Myths & Reality and make it an indispensable resource for wine enthusiasts everywhere.

Irresistible: Wine is for Booklovers

bookloverThe second new book is Patrick Alexander’s The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine: A Celebration of the History, Mysteries, and the Literary Pleasures of Drinking Wine. Every glass of wine tells a  story and so it is no surprise that people who love books and stories are drawn to wine. Patrick Alexander seems to be the perfect guide for booklovers who want to enjoy wine even more through story-telling.

Alexander is a literary guy (he has also written a book on Proust) who developed the wine appreciation curriculum at the University of Miami and eventually took his signature course to a local bookstore, where it has been a hit (and where Proust book sales coincidentally zoomed). Now his course is available to the rest of us through this book.

Two things set Booklovers’ Guide apart. The first, of course,  is the emphasis on story-telling. While the topics and organization are fairly conventional, the choice of stories to illustrate different points plus the wonderful writing really bring familiar topics to life. I have read dozens of wine guides over the years and I can’t think of one that is so much fun. Simply irresistible!

Alexander’s literary references are the second distinctive factor. His abundant quotes from famous authors are clever and really made me think. And the chapter on wine grape varieties — where grapes are compared to famous authors — is both fun and informative.

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So here are two valuable books — well written, informative, and utterly engaging. Lewin appeals more to the head (like Bordeaux, they say) and Alexander to the heart (like Burgundy?). Indispensable and irresistible: I like them both and recommend them to you with enthusiasm.

Economic Impact of California Wine Country Wildfires: Preliminary Analysis


wine-country-fireLike most of you I have been intently focused on the wildfires that have swept through the California North Coast wine region and their tragic human impact. It is difficult to accept that such loss of life and property is possible, but the fires and the winds that drive them have been relentless.

I started getting calls from reporters as soon as a wildfire emergency was declared and, like many others, I declined to comment on the economic impacts. Too soon to know, I said, and not the real story in any case. More important to tell the human story and help people come together and cope with loss.

Still Too Soon

It is still too soon to know the economic impacts. The fire danger continues and the fatality  and property damage reports are still coming in. But I have started to think about the nature of the potential losses to the wine industry. As Tom Wark wrote last week,  we need to think about what happens when the fires are finally out, even if that’s not the most important immediate concern.

Here is what I am thinking now. The direct impact of the wildfires on California wine will very unevenly distributed, because that’s how a wildfire works, but the indirect effects are likely to be even larger and widespread. It is important to get out the message that California wine is open for business.

Uneven Direct Impact

The North Coast region (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake counties) is very important in terms of the value of the wine it produces, but is dwarfed by Central Valley production in terms of volume. The huge quantities of California appellation wines that fill the nation’s retail shelves will not be much affected by the wildfires. This is important to realize since some press reports link the wildfires to the tight global wine market that has resulted from poor harvests in Europe this year, which risks giving a false impression about wine supplies in California.

While some North Coast vineyards and wineries lost everything, others suffered little or no direct damage to cellar, vineyard, or wine stocks. The floor of the Napa Valley, for example, is not much damaged so far. But that doesn’t mean that wineries without direct damage won’t suffer an economic loss.

Wine Tourism Losses

No way to put a dollar and cents  figure on the direct losses until individual assessments of winery destruction, vineyard damage, loss to stored wines, possible smoke taint issues, and so forth are made. But we can already see the indirect cost in one area: tourism.

napa1Wine tourism is incredibly important to Napa and Sonoma these days, both for the high-margin direct sales that wineries there increasingly rely upon to compensate for escalating grape costs and for the hospitality industry that has grown up to serve wine tourists.  The economic impact of wine tourism is very large for the region.

On a typical day in 2016, according to the latest Napa tourism economic impact study, there were almost 17,000 tourist in the Napa Valley who spend more than $5 million. These are not typical days and the income and jobs those numbers represent are nowhere to be seen for now.

The wildfires have obviously interrupted wine tourism even for wineries that are not directly affected by the fires and it is not clear how soon anything like a normal tourist flow will return. This is complicated by a number of factors including the perception that the whole region is badly burnt and therefore closed for business, damage to transportation and hospitality infrastructure, and problems for the workers who support both the wine and hospitality industries.

It’s a People Business

Many of the workers who live in the region are dealing with personal losses or are busy helping those in need. The hundreds of workers who live outside the local area and commute to jobs in Napa face obviously obvious obstacles, too. In the short term I am told that it is actually the shortage of staff more than the direct impacts of the fires that limits winery operations in many cases.

The bottom line is that while the direct damage from the firestorm is large but unevenly distributed, the indirect costs are likely to be even bigger and affect almost everyone in the region, wine people and non-wine folks, too.  It is not entirely clear what normal will look like when the smoke clears and it will take some time to find out. But, as Tom Wark writes, Napa Stands Strong (and Sonoma, too) and it is important to press ahead.

Renewal and Rebirth

The videos I have seen of  the fire damage bring to mind scenes of burning Napa vineyards that appear in a wonderful 1942 book by Alice Tisdale Hobart called The Cup and the Sword (which was made into a terrible 1959 film called This Earth is Mine starring Rock Hudson and Jean Simmons and set in Napa and Sonoma).

Hobart’s novel is about the resilience of the strong women and men who built the California wine industry and the vineyard fire signifies rebirth from the ashes because, with some effort and care, the sturdy vines in the novel do come back to life. It is an image to keep in mind today when recovery, rebuilding, and rebirth are on our minds once again.

 

Publisher’s Weekly & Booklist Review “Around the World in Eighty Wines”

9781442257368Sue and I are back from Mendoza and gearing up for the release of my next book in a couple of weeks. Around the World in Eighty Wines draws its inspiration from the people we have met and the wines we’ve tasted as we have circled the globe in recent years. Can’t wait for my copy to arrive!

Publisher’s Weekly provides pre-publication reviews to alert bookstores and libraries about interesting and important new books they might want to purchase. I was pleased with the Publisher’s Weekly review of Eighty Wines, which seemed to capture the spirit of the book.  Here is an excerpt of the review:

Veseth chooses the wines he profiles based on the ability of each to excite the palate, and the imagination: “Each of [the] eighty wines must tell a story, [but they] must not just each tell their own story…. They must collectively form a picture and tell a story that reveals a greater truth,” he writes. As a result, reading his book is rather like attending a swanky cocktail party: it contains a vast and varied buffet, with loads of interesting conversational tidbits.

PW’s Daniel Lefferts was intrigued by the book review and asked for a Publisher’s Weekly interview about the book’s back-story. Here is my favorite Q&A from the interview:

What surprised you most while working on this book?
If you take this journey with me, you go to places where you expect to find wine, like France and Italy and California, and you go to places that you would never think could make wine, or where anybody would make wine. [You] see how wine inspires people to overcome such natural and political and human odds. … The power of wine … to transform how people think about food, how they think about themselves and the places that they live: it’s inspiring.

Booklist has also published a brief review, which captures the spirit of adventure that drives Eighty Wines and comes close to revealing the surprise ending. Surprise ending? Well, Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days has a plot twist in the final chapter and, inspired by Verne, my book does so, too. I think readers will smile when the twist is revealed — it makes me smile just thinking about it!

I hope my readers will be as inspired by Around the World in Eighty Wines and we were by the people, places and wines we encountered doing the research. November 1 is the official release date!

Wine Tourism in Mendoza: Rethinking Best-Practices with the UNWTO

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The Wine Economist will take a break for the next two weeks while Sue and I travel to Mendoza, Argentina for the second Global Wine Tourism conference organized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and hosted by the Argentina Ministry of Tourism. It will be great to return to Mendoza and to have a chance to discuss wine tourism strategies with both old friends and new ones.

Asking Questions, Rethinking Answers

Good conferences succeed because they work on several levels at once. Keynote speakers, for example, are most useful if they stimulate discussion among conference participants to allow them to shape and share their own thinking.

My keynote is about “Wine Tourism for Sustainable Development: Opportunities, Strategies, Pitfalls” and my goal is not to tell people what to think and do but instead challenge them ask new questions and rethink the answers to old ones.

The UNWTO welcomes this kind of thinking and rethinking. The organization recently adopted the UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, for example., reflecting the fact that global tourism is now big business and its significant economic, social and cultural impacts must be fully considered.

Thinking and then acting — that’s what it’s about. Other speakers will share their experiences from around the world, giving us all a lot to think about!

The UNWTO has developed a wine tourism framework or prototype. Yolanda Perdomo, Director of the UNWTO Affiliate Members Program, will present the prototype and Gabriela Testa, President of Ente Mendoza Turismo, will discuss how it is being implemented in the Mendoza region.

Mendoza has enormous potential for wine tourism as I explained in my 2013 book Extreme Wine. I highlighted two very different wineries for their tourist experience: Tempus Alba and Salentein.

Situated close to Mendoza city, Tempus Alba hosts many young wine tourists who visit on bicycle. They enjoy the wines and food at the restaurant, of course, and receive an education about Malbec and the vineyard.  The vibe is casual and fun, but the approach is seriously thoughtful. I’m a big fan of what Aldo Biondolillo and his family are doing at Tempus Alba.

11120_killkaBodegas Salentein is located high in the Uco Valley and I don’t think many people bike there from Mendoza. It was the first destination winery in this now-booming wine region and features an art gallery, a stunning barrel room dubbed the “wine cathedral” and fine dining, too. As is the case of many Mendoza wineries, the architecture rivals and reinforces the dramatic Andes mountain scenery. Fantastic.

Theory and Practice

The UNWTO conference balances the theory and practice by including a number of local wine tourist experiences in the afternoon sessions. These winery visits will be a lot of fun, of course, but they will be most useful if participants give serious and critical consideration to what works (and why) and what could work better (and how can this be achieved). And then the trick is try to apply those sharpened critical skills to wine tourism offerings, strategies, and policies back home.

I will paste below the tentative list of wineries and experiences that will be available to the UNWTO conference participants and, by the way, to adventurous wine tourists generally when they visit Mendoza. The list gives a concrete sense of the diversity of wine tourism offerings available in this beautiful part of the world.

Come back in two weeks for more Wine Economist! Cheers (and adios!).

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  • Bodega Norton: Restaurant La Vid, Chef Patricia Suárez Roggerone Experience: Winery bicycle tour
  • Bodega Renacer: Restaurant Renacer, Chef Sebastian Weingand Experience: Virtual reality and winery visit by an oenologist, The Appassimento
  • Susana Balbo Wines: Restaurant Osadía de Crear, Chef Marianela Pizzonia Experience: Blending competitions
  • Bodega Terraza de los Andes: Restaurant Residencia Terrazas de los Andes, Chef Noelia Scquizziatto Experience: Tasting from barrels and cooking class, deserts
  • Bodega Lagarde: Restaurant El Fogón, Chef Lucas Olcese Experience: Historic winery tour, which is DOC MALBEC certified and was the first denomination controlled by
    America
  • Entrecielos Luxury Wines & Spa: Restaurant Katharina, Chef Federico Castro Experience: Limited Edition Vineyard Loft & Spa Hammam, traditional Turkish relaxation and leansing methods
  • Bodega Trivento: Restaurant Espacio de Arte, Chef Sebastián Flores Experience: Art & Wine; Delhez family wine exposition; Bicycle tasting tour in Finca Los Vientos through its sustainable irrigation system
  • Bodega Trapiche Restaurant Espacio Trapiche, Chef Lucas Busto Historic winery and the arrival of the railway. Re-creation of two programs that are part of the Wine Tourism Events Calendar: “Wine and Cinema” and “Tango in the Vineyards”
  • Casa Vigil: Restaurant Casa Vigil, Chefs Santiago Maestre and Federico Petit Experience: Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy in the heart of Chachingo, The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso from Alejandro Vigil’s point of view
  • Bodega Vistalba: Restaurant Vistalba, Chef Jesus Cahiza Experience: Royal Staircase to Calicata and tasting of exotic varieties
  • Bodega A16: Restaurant Finca Papa Francisco, Chef Felipe Bakos Experience: Art exposition at Plaza de Esculturas, “Augure Stone” by local artist Alfredo Ceverino and Cooking Class, Regional Argentinian Cuisine
  • Bodega Chandon: Bistró Chandon, Chef Maitas Gil Experience: Travel through the paths of Chandon, the first subsidiary of Moet Chandon outside of France
  • Bodega Ruca Malen: Restaurant Ruca Malen, Chef Juan Garcia Ventureyra Experience: Brush & Bottle, Wine Cathedral
  • Bodega Nieto Senetiner: Restaurant Nieto Senetiner, Chefs Daiana Farías, Jorge Cardozo and Gabriela Barrientos Experience: Wine scents experience
  • Bodega Tierras Altas: Restaurant Juana María, Chefs Blanca Espinosa and Lucca Evangelista Experience: Malbec blind tasting
  • Bodega Los Toneles, an urban heritage winery.
  • Bodega Monteviejo: Restaurant Monteviejo, Chef Nadia Haron
  • Bodega Solo Contigo: Wine village, visit Solo Contigo WTC
  • Bodega Corazón del Sol: Wine village, visit ¨Tasting the Willows¨, wines of the Revana family
  • Salentein: Restaurant Killka, the Wine Cathedral
  • Bodega Andeluna: Restaurant Andeluna, High altitude wines from Valle de Uco
  • Bodega Piedra Infinita: Restaurant Piedra Infinita

50, 83, 41, 44: There’s a Lot to Celebrate This Year at Chateau Ste Michelle

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Washington State’s Chateau Ste Michelle is celebrating its birthday this year and there is a lot to celebrate, as I will explain below, even if the exact number of candles on the cake is open to debate.

Happy Birthday to The Chateau

The Chateau, as we call Chateau Ste Michelle in these parts, goes for 50 candles — and I think that’s fine. It was 50 years ago, in 1967, that the first varietal wines were released by a little-bitty operation called Ste Michelle Vineyards. The Chateau has released special edition wines that pay tribute to that first label.

The wines, sourced from Yakima vineyards according to the original label, were apparently very good. Howard Simon made them with help from California wine legend André Tchelistcheff, an early proponent of Washington’s wine potential.

Fifty is a good round number, but there are other birthdays we might also celebrate, as I learned by consulting 51na5ps55pl-_sx312_bo1204203200_The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History by Ronald Irvine with Walter J. Clore (Sketch Publications, 1977).

A Lot of Candles!

Eighty-three candles are hard to blow out in one breath, but that’s the number you would need if you go all the way back to 1934. The end of Prohibition in the United States encouraged the National Wine Company (Nawico) and Pommerelle winery to start up in Washington State. They made mainly sweet wines, as was common in the United States on up into the 1960s.

The two companies merged in 1954 to form the American Wine Company, which eventually created the Ste Michelle Vineyards label for varietal wines as a supplement to the main sweet wine business.

Woodinville Wine Cluster

A Seattle financial executive named Wally Opdycke became very interested in the opportunities that dry wines presented in Washington State and eventually Opdycke and his partners purchased American Wine Company in 1972 and set out to take wine in a new path (even, according to Irvine, as they worked to sell off the sweet wine inventory that they had inherited from the previous owners).

ste-michelle-vineyards-50th-anniversary-columbia-cabernet__31896-1307476275-1280-1280Opdycke and company needed capital for the vineyards and winery facilities they envisioned and in due course two interested parties appeared. The first was Labatt’s Brewery from Toronto, who recognized the potential that the region’s wines presented. The second was a U.S. company — U.S. Tobacco of Connecticut.

The offers were much the same financially, according to Irvine, but Opdycke and partners opted for the UST deal (Altria subsequently acquired UST and is now The Chateau’s owner).

U.S. Tobacco provided the investment capital that was needed and in the process attracted talented viticulturalists and noteworthy winemakers who eventually left The Chateau to work on their own projects. Local farmers planted vineyards to help fill the tanks of The Chateau and then the many other wineries that followed. Thus was the Washington wine industry that we know today born and The Chateau played a leading role.

One of the biggest investments came online 41 years ago — the imposing winery in Woodinville, Washington just a short drive from Seattle. The winery, styled after a French chateau, sits on the beautiful grounds of the Stimson estate and draws so many visitors to the neighborhood that dozens of other wineries and tasting rooms have joined it in Woodinville, creating a dynamic wine cluster.

Where Are the Grapes?

This is a bit of a puzzle to some visitors because the only grape vines they see are mainly for atmosphere, not production.  The gapes come from the east side of the Cascades several hours away. The Chateau’s strategy was to locate the show winery near to the market, not the vines (white wines are made in Woodinville, but red wines are made in Eastern Washington).

The separation works and you can see tanker trucks full of freshly pressed juice arrive at The Chateau during crush along with refrigerated trucks hauling bins of fresh-picked fruit to some of the dozens of other wineries in the neighborhood.

Whichever birthday you choose, The Chateau is worth celebrating.  Under the leadership of Allen Shoup and now Ted Baseler it grew from modest origins to become by far the largest winery in Washington State and an important force in national and even international markets.

But Wait … There’s More

Chateau Michelle Wine Estates is the umbrella organization that brings together The Chateau and the wineries and partnerships that have grown from it. So here’s a final number to celebrate: 44 (and counting). That’s what you get when you add together 18 brands that Chateau Michelle Wine Estates currently operates in the Pacific Northwest, seven more in California, and 19 international partnerships (CMSE is the exclusive importer of Antinori wines, Torres wines from both Spain and Chile, Nicholas Feuillatte Champagne and Villa Maria among others).

The Chateau and the Antinori family are partners in two notable ventures: Col Solare on Red Mountain in Washington and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley. And I cannot forget Eroica, the partnership between The Chateau and Ernest Loosen of the famous Mosel Valley wine family.

The Chateau as it has evolved has somehow managed to be both big and small. Taken together these wineries form the eight largest wine company in the U.S. according to Wine Business Monthly’s annual survey. Yet the individual producers retain a good deal of autonomy, part of the company’s “string of pearls” philosophy.

There is another dichotomy that The Chateau has somehow managed to navigate. Although it has corporate ownership and necessarily is influenced by that, it seems to behave in many ways more like a family winery. This accounts in part for its ability to partner with famous wine families like Antinori, Torres, and family-owned Villa Maria.

The Chateau deserves a lot of credit and respect for what it has done to build its own business, to build a Washington wine industry, and to promote American wine at home and abroad.

Happy Birthday to The Chateau and everyone who contributed to its remarkable rise!

Flashback Friday: Can Wine Tourism Take Center Stage in Valpolicella?

Sue and I have wine tourism on our minds these days because we are getting ready for the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s global wine tourism conference in Mendoza, Argentina later this month.

We were in the Veneto at this time three years ago and wine tourism was on our minds there, too. Here is a Flashback Friday column from 2014 about wine tourism in Valpolicella.

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Valpolicella is well known for its great wines — Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso della Valpolicella and of course Amarone. (It should also be known for its sweet wine, Recioto della Valpolicella, but that’s another story.)

But what about wine tourism? Sue and I were guests of the Valpolicella Consorzio earlier this month and one of our tasks was get a sense of Valpolicella as a wine tourist destination using a new wine tourism app (available as free download for Android and Apple mobile devices).  Here is a brief report.

There’s an App for That!

Whenever I asked the winemakers we met if wine tourism was an important part of their business the answer was “yes!” but I think it is fair to say that for many of the actual tourists wine is at best a secondary reason for their visit.

The fact is that most tourists come to this part of Italy for non-wine reasons — for the history, culture and opera of Verona to the east, for example, or the resorts of Lake Garda to the west. Lying between these two attractive poles, Valpolicella is the perfect “day out” diversion (especially if it is a rainy day as has too often been the case in 2014) but not always the primary destination.

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Come for Opera, Stay for Wine

Come for the beach or opera, stay for the wine! That could be Valpolicella’s wine tourism motto, but it would be selling the region short. What do dedicated wine tourists look for? Well, these days they want the complete experience — the wine and wineries, of course, plus beautiful scenery, great food, comfortable lodgings and that something extra to tell their friends back home about. Valpolicella would seem to tick each of these boxes.

The vineyard scenery is certainly spectacular — I really wasn’t prepared for the beautiful vistas.  What a stunning setting! A great opportunity for fit cyclists with a nose for good wine or anyone willing to pull off the road and take in the panorama.

The wineries we visited using the Consorzio’s app showed the great variety of experiences available, which ranged from the super-modern architecture at Monteci to the classic and traditional at Valentina Cubi (one of our favorite stops).  The sense of history was particularly strong at Santa Sofia, which is located in a villa designed by Andrea Palladio in the 16th century.  You cannot dig much deeper into the soul of the Venteo than that!

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Zymé, Celestino Gaspari’s  ambitious winery in Pietro in Carlano  deftly balanced the very old and the very new. The winery building features cutting edge architecture — see the photo taken looking out from the structure towards the nearby hillside vineyards. Wow!

The Zymé  cellar and caves are carved into the hillside and touring them gives a sense of both history and nature. One of the best surprises was in the cavern than has become the working part of the winery. A spring that was discovered during construction was incorporated into the design and you can actually look down dozens of feet into the crevasse that the water has carved out over the years. A stunning sensory experience (and great for the humidity needed for barrel storage).

Beyond the Wine

Wine tourists need a place to stay and there seem to be many attractive options (this part of the Consorzio  app is still under development). Although we stayed in a basic business hotel on this trip, we encountered a number of options, including very appealing apartments at Valentina Cubi.

If you want luxury, well there seem to be a number of five star experiences available. SalvaTerra’s beautiful estate includes vineyards, the winery, a small hotel and what must be a fine restaurant (judging from the number of chefs we saw working the kitchen as we passed by).

We have no doubt about the food at Villa Cordevigo  since we were fortunate to have dinner at this estate that includes the Villabella winery, its vineyards, a fantastic hotel and spa and the sorts of amenities that make you want to linger forever. Or at least that’s how it seemed to us as we looked out over a garden to the pool and the vineyards jvust beyond with a full moon in the distance.

It’s the Food, Dummy

People talk about coming to Italy for the art and architecture, but let me tell you the truth. It’s the food! And we were fortunate to sample many typical dishes of the regional cuisine and they are worth the effort to seek out. Typical is an interesting word in this context — you see it everywhere in Italy and that’s a good thing. Here in the U.S. “typical” is sometimes a term of derision — Big Macs are “typical” fast food, for example. Ordinary. Unexceptional. Nothing to write home about. That’s typical for us.

In Italy, however, typical means “true to type” or authentic. And that’s why we Americans go gaga over Italian food — the authenticity just blows us away. And the authentic or typical dishes of Valpolicella, many prepared with the wines themselves, are enough to make any foodie go gaga. We enjoyed great meals at the Villa Cordevigo,  Ristorante La Divina  (overlooking Garda from high on a hill), Locanda 800 and the Enoteca Della Valpolicella.

We also appreciated the lunches that several wineries put together for us including a wonderful (typical!) meal of local meats and cheeses with polenta  at Scriani, a satisfying buffet at Santa Sofia and a rather elaborate multi-course feast of typical dishes at the Cantina Valpolicella Negrar.  All the food was wonderful — the meats and cheeses at Cesari  and the completely addictive “crumb cake” we had with Recioto at Secondo Marco. Foodie paradise? You be the judge. And great wines, too.

That Something Extra

Valpolicella seems to have all the elements of a great wine tourism experience and I think the Consorzio’s  app ties things together into a functional package.  It will be even more useful when it has time to fill out with more wineries, restaurants and hotels.

Is the app alone enough to bring Valpolicella to center stage? Of course not. Some of the wineries obviously embrace wine tourism more completely than others, for example. It is important that three or four true “destination” wineries emerge that will make it easy for wine tourists to see that a two-day or longer visit can be fashioned that will sustain their interest and enthusiasm —  with dozens of other wineries providing rich diversity (and reasons to return again and again) as happens in Napa, for example. And finally there must be even closer ties among the elements of the hospitality sector — wine, food, tourism and lodgings — which is not always easy to achieve.

It takes a village to build a wine route. But all the pieces are there and the app is a good way to bring them together.

But what about that “something extra” I mentioned earlier.  What does Valpolicella offer that will push it over the top? Well, the towns and villages have the churches, squares, museums and villas that Italian wine tourists expect — it takes only a little effort to seek them out and I must confess that I actually enjoy the “small moments”  more than the three-star attractions, so this suits me very well.

But maybe I am making this too hard. What’s that something special? Maybe it’s the chance to tack an evening in Verona or a day on Lake Garda on to your Valpolicella wine tour experience?  Perhaps its time for the wine tail to wag the Veneto  tourist dog and not the other way around! (Gosh, I wonder how that will sound in Italian?) Food for thought!

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Here’s a musical tribute to the merry band of wine bloggers on our Valpolicella tour.

Mauro Fermariello has created a beautiful video of our Valpolicella wine blogger tour, which can be found in his website, www.winestories.it .