Touring and tasting your way through the vineyards of Europe is one of the highlights for any visitor to the continent. You only need to glance through the top ranked activities on TripAdvisor or Winerist to realise just how potent a tourist magnet anything wine or vineyard related is! After all, a glass of wine screams holiday and relaxation, especially in the picture perfect settings some European vineyards call home.
Yet, thanks to the rise of the budget airline (and those sneaky extra fees incurred for checked luggage), along with a wad of misinformation about just how much wine you can take home with you on a plane, it’s perhaps more rare that any wine is purchased directly at the vineyard. Which is a real shame, since there is more than one good reason to buy more at the cellar door. In fact, here at Lazenne we’ve come up with the five best!
Access to hard to find wines
In France alone there are over 300 AOC’s (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or Controlled Designation of Origin), some counting just one or two producers (Palette in Provence) to hundreds (the simple Bordeaux AOC). Considering the scope, it’s easy to imagine how many of these wines don’t leave their region of origin. I lead wine tours through the Bellet AOC in the hills of Nice, one of France’s oldest and smallest appellations, boasting only eleven vineyards. With such a small production, the wineries can little keep up with the local demand, let alone consider opening up export markets. For most people, therefore, purchasing direct is the only access they have to wines which are simply not available in their home country.
Access to a guaranteed provenance
There are so many factors which can have a negative effect on wine as it’s shipped around the world. Correct storage conditions? Exposure to sun and heat will give a wine that highly desirable ‘stale’ taste, just one of a whole load of problems which can affect the bottle of wine between leaving a vineyard in, say, Italy and landing on your table in, say, Arizona. Yet, if you were to buy direct at said vineyard in Italy, you’ve seen firsthand the exact storage conditions of the wine. You can’t beat that when it comes to provenance.
Access to special vintages or limited wines
Often when you visit a vineyard you’ll be treated to a taste of their special cuvées which are typically available in such small quantities that even their distribution network doesn’t have access to it … but you do! And, if you like the wines you taste, it never hurts to ask if the vineyard has any ‘library’ vintages they are selling at the cellar door. These older vintages will have been cellared in perfect conditions (see above) and often the prices haven’t been adjusted to reflect actual market values. What’s not to love?
Avoiding the middle man (or men)
The USA is renowned for its complicated three tier system when it comes to importing wine. By that, it means your wine passes through three behind the scenes levels before it even reaches you, the consumer. Each of these tiers – the producers, the wholesalers and the retailers – obviously make a cut as they sell the wine on, this isn’t a non-profit industry after all! By buying direct at the source, you’re cutting out the middle men, especially when the Euro – Dollar / Pound exchange rate is so favourable!
Avoiding import taxes
Like tobacco, alcohol is one consumable that governments love to tax. Some countries pay almost the price of the bottle again in import taxes and duties, if not more. Never fear! For many countries, you have a more generous allowance than you think to bring back wine on the plane or train for personal consumption, and even if, at worse, you have some duty to pay to your friendly customs officer at the airport consider it a well worth expense. To put it another way, if you are buying a bottle of French or Italian wine form a store in you home country, the same duty and taxes are already part of the cost of that bottle. We all wish we could live in a land where wine is cheaper than water, but unfortunately that's not the case for most of us.
If you are considering taking some wine back with you on the airplane from your next wine trip our wine check luggage and other wine travel products come in oh so handy!
Learn more with our Flying with Wine and Alcohol 101 guide!
Chrissie McClatchie is an Australian freelance writer and wine specialist who has been living in France since 2008. You can follow her on Twitter @RivieraGrape as she explores the wines of the French Riviera and Italy's Liguria.