Would you spend $40,000 on a single wine tour? What if the winery offered you the chance to craft your own blend, sending you home with customized, engraved bottles? Chateau Duval-Leroy is offering just such a package for its VIP customers, and it’s just one of dozens of ultra-lavish tours being offered this year. VIP wine tours are gaining popularity, as we have seen with estates like Castello di Amorosa, which offers a $20,000 tour. When you pay for a ticket, you go home with an engraved barrel head, an album of photos from your trip shot by a professional photographer, an entire barrel of customized wine, a set of cigars, and your own wine label design. But are these perks worth the steep price tag?
Lavish Tours Might Be More Gimmick Than Substance
A standard wine tour is typically hosted by the winery or a third party company, which takes participants through a series of wine tastings where they get a scenic view of the vineyards along the way. A luxury wine tour goes above and beyond, offering personalized gifts or one-of-a-kind experiences not included on a standard tour. There are so many tours to choose from on today’s wine market that wineries need to stand out from the crowd, which is why many have taken to hosting unusual, luxury tastings to attract customers. A winery in South Africa takes customers on an ocean safari, submerging them in a metal cage surrounded by sharks. Afterward, they sample wines on a nearby island. A winery in San Francisco serves wine on an active submarine. One tour in Bordeaux’s Medoc sponsors a marathon, serving wine to runners at “pit stops.”
These certainly make for interesting stories to tell, but as a collector, you need to decide whether these tours will add something to your cellar, or if they’re banking purely on gimmick. First, ask whether you will actually get wine out of the experience, or if you’ll only get to sample wine; if a tour is charging hundreds or even thousands of dollars, you should at least get a few bottles to take home. Gimmicks can be worth it when you also get quality wine for a steal. For instance, Duval-Leroy’s $40,000 tour includes 1,000 of your own personalized bottles. Champagne can cost thousands of dollars, so paying $40 each for these bottles is perfectly reasonable. However, you’ll also want to consider secondary market prices; personalized bottles likely won’t sell for as much on the secondary market as normal bottles, so you will always want to check current market prices online before you buy.
Tours Reflect the Market
Luxury tours are the sign of a changing wine market. You might be aware that Oregon Pinot Noir is on-trend this year, and this fact is reflected in the types of tours offered in Oregon today. Oregon’s Willamette Valley just opened its first four-star resort in response to increased tourism in the state. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of Willamette winery visitors increased by 4.5 percent, and in 2013 alone, the region earned $207.5 million in tourism-related sales. Oregon winemaker Clare Carver says, “I am seeing visitors in Oregon that I never saw nine years ago. We definitely get a lot of tourists coming here who are very wine savvy. They’ve been there, done that, and now they want to branch out.” It would be smart to plan a tour in this state if you want to take advantage of the market boom. Tours like these can introduce you to the iconic labels of the region, giving you a leg up on the market, and their focus is on the wine first, not gimmicks. That’s because Oregon is relatively new to the fine wine tourism world, relying on the quality of the wine itself to attract visitors.
How to Choose the Right VIP Wine Tour
The first step to finding the best wine tour for your needs is to pick the right timeframe. Heading to Napa Valley in the summer is usually a nightmare, as the area is packed with vacationing crowds. The best time to visit just about any winery is in the fall, after the grapes have been harvested and are beginning the fermentation process. You can ask the winemakers how the grapes are holding up, and they should have an insightful answer for you that will tell you a great deal about the upcoming vintage and its potential worth. Book your tour through the winery itself, wherever possible, so that you can negotiate a great deal and book enough time to see everything you want to see. Large, third party group tours sometimes take you through the wines at breakneck speed, making it difficult to slow down and savor the experience.
As for choosing which winery to visit, stick with popular, high-quality wineries if you want to buy investment bottles. However, if you’re looking for wines to enjoy, and have no plans on reselling them, visit lesser-known estates that are out of your comfort zone instead. Writers Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher explain, “To feel the passion of wine and winemaking, it’s important to seek out the smaller places where you can really spend some quality time with the people behind the bar.” When you go with smaller estates, you build a network that might offer you the best prices down the road. You will also get exposed to wines you might have otherwise ignored online.
It’s important to have a plan in place before you go on a standard or VIP wine tour. Wineries are full of wonderful sights and smells, which can distract you from your goals. Remember that you are touring the winery for a reason. It’s ok to be a little spontaneous, but if you were looking forward to trying the winery’s Chardonnay, make sure this happens first.
While you’re at the winery–especially if it isn’t one that you’re already very familiar with–talk with the owners and winemakers to get an idea of whether their wine might make a good addition to your cellar. Ask where the grapes were grown, as this will give you insight into the quality of the vines. Next, ask the host whether this year’s wine is expected to good, and why. This will tell you whether you should come back to the winery again next year, or pay closer attention to the winery in the future. Finally, you should ask how long the host expects the wines you sample to cellar. You don’t want to buy up a case of wine that will spoil before the year is out.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.