10 Vacation Destinations For Wine (and) History Lovers
Nothing says vacation quite like serene landscapes, world-class wine, top-notch dining, and a good history. If you’re a wine history lover, you will want to add these vacation spots to your list. Many of these locations have hundreds of years of history to learn and sip with guided tours of wineries and the region. While there are so many wine regions to visit, we narrowed our choices down based on the area’s history, the quality of the wine, and the diverse locations to choose from.
Medieval villages, winding waterways, and some of the most renowned wineries in the world make Burgundy one of the best places to go for a wine vacation. It’s thought that wine has been produced in the area since 50 BC. Today the region is known as one of the best regions in the world for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Burgundy Wine History
Burgundy’s terroir was created millions of years ago when the land was covered by the sea, resulting in a limestone and marl soil that gives the wines of the area the prestigious mineral flavor it’s known for. Some historians think the Celts produced wine in Burgundy as far back as 50 BC when the Romans conquered them. Over a thousand years later, the Cistercian monks turned the land and the wine into what it would become today with their careful record-keeping and tireless efforts to cultivate the land.
Now the land is owned by private winemakers and produces some, if not the, most prestigious wines in the world.
You can learn more about the history of Burgundy here.
Burgundy Wine Tours
Enjoy a day exploring multiple vineyards in Burgundy and trying 15 to 20 wines with personalized English tours. Burgundy Discovery offers full-day guided tours where you’ll learn all about the beautiful area, ancient history, and domaines, from the basics to more detailed history and flavor profiles. You’ll even stop for lunch at an authentic Burgundian eatery. You can learn more about Burgundy Discovery tours here.
2. Willamette Valley
The rolling hills of the Willamette Valley are made even better by the breathtaking mountains that frame it and the creeks and rivers that weave throughout the valley. The area has been producing wine since the 1800s but didn’t receive recognition until 50 years ago. It’s now considered one of the premier Pinot Noir regions worldwide.
Willamette Valley Wine History
In 1847, Henderson Luelling, an Oregon Trail pioneer, brought the first grape planting to Oregon. Six years later, a French immigrant started the first winery in the Willamette Valley. The first award an Oregon wine received was in 1904. Unfortunately, Prohibition for almost 20 years damaged the wine industry in Willamette Valley.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that Oregon, and other wine regions in the US, started to get back into the craft. Pinot Noir began to take off at this time, and production expanded. In the 1980s, blind taste tests couldn’t distinguish between the Oregon and Burgundy Pinot Noirs, and blind raters preferred the Oregon wines to the Burgundy. After that, Oregon wines took off.
Today, Willamette Valley has over 700 wineries and is a wonderful destination for your next wine tour vacation.
Best Wine Tours in the Willamette Valley
If you’re looking for informative and tasty wine tours in the Willamette Valley, look no further than Willamette Valley Wine History Tours. Led by a graduate school professor and Pinot historian, you’ll get a personalized tour of the area’s wineries while learning all about the region’s history and its winemakers. Learn more about Willamette Valley wine tours here.
3. Napa Valley
The idyllic vineyards, world-class wines, Michelin-rated restaurants, and sunny days of Napa Valley make this location a favorite for wine-loving holidaymakers. Like many American wine regions, wines have been produced in the area since the mid-1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the art and science of winemaking in Napa Valley took off. Today, Napa Valley is arguably one of the best regions in the world to enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, as well as many other varieties.
Napa Valley Wine History
In 1861, the first commercial winery opened in Napa Valley. Over the next 30 years, more than 140 wineries opened in the region. Unfortunately, many Americans weren’t wine drinkers then, and most wineries couldn’t make it. During Prohibition, many vineyards were completely abandoned.
After 1933, winemaking slowly began to re-emerge in Napa Valley. In 1944, the Napa Valley Vintners was founded with seven members. Today there are over 539 wineries.
Robert Mondavi was a vintner and investor that put Napa on the map thanks to his marketing brain. The American public started drinking and appreciating wine. Then the Paris Tastings of 1976 brought Napa worldwide fame, skyrocketing the region’s wines to international settings.
Today, Napa Valley has over 400 wineries and is known around the world for its wines.
Best Napa Valley Wine Tours
There are many wine tours to choose from in Napa Valley, but if you’re looking for something a bit different, Visit Napa Valley has a list of some of the most unique wineries and wine tours. Visit some of the oldest, most picturesque wineries in the area with these tours. If you’re in Napa in August to October, you might get to participate in grape stomping activities too.
4. Tuscany, Italy
Tuscany’s beautiful countryside, ancient towns, and cuisine make it one of the most-visited places in the world. Their wine region produces Chianti, Brunello, and other famous Sangiovese-based dry red wines. It’s thought that the area has been producing wines for millennia. The limestone soil and the perfect combination of sun, rain, and temperature make it a prolific wine region. Today, Tuscany is known for its Chianti.
Tuscany Wine History
The ancient Etruscans settled in Tuscany in the 8th century and began cultivating the land with the grapes they had brought from Asia. That, or grapes were already growing wildly there, and the Etruscans then domesticated them. Tuscany and the surrounding area were called “the land of wine” Enotris when the Romans took over.
With the spread of Christianity, vineyards started to be systematically grown. In the 1700s, Tuscan wine was enjoyed outside of the region.
New laws in the 1960s and the Designation of Origin created a new interest in perfecting and protecting Tuscan wine. The wines of Tuscany, especially Chianti, became prestigious around the world.
Tuscany Wine Tours
Discover the wine, history, and people of Tuscan wine with a private or group tour with Montalcino Wine tours. The town of Montalcino is known for its history and wine, including Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino and you can explore it all with a tour of your choosing. Pick from several themes, including your favorite wine varieties or a truffle hunting tour with wine pairings. Learn more about Montalcino Wine tours here.
5. Douro Valley
If you’re looking for a vacation full of picturesque landscapes, savory food, and wine, all steeped in history, put the Douro Valley on your next place to visit for a wine vacation. Douro Valley was the first wine-growing region to have clearly delineated vineyards (aka be legally demarcated) in 1756 and much of it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s also the home of Port but is known for many other local grapes like Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesca, and more. The history of winemaking in the Douro Valley is over 2000 years old.
Douro Valley Wine History
The Douro Valley has been producing wine since the Romans realized it had ideal weather for growing grapes. It became the first recognized wine region in the world in 1756. When Portugal became a kingdom, wine exports were essential to the economy. But it wasn’t until the 1700s that Port came on the market. Starting as a dry wine with a bit of brandy added for transport, the wine evolved into the rich wine we know today.
If you’re not a port lover, the region has been producing unfortified red and white wines for even longer.
Douro Valley Wine Tours
Take a picturesque river cruise to the Douro Valley on a guided tour from Porto. You’ll be able to taste different wines and olive oils from the region and eat a traditional meal on the boat. You can learn more about the tour here.
6. Cape Winelands, South Africa
You’re missing out if you’ve never considered Cape Winelands, South Africa for your next wine vacation. The lush landscape framed by mountains that just happens to have the perfect climate for growing grapes is the ideal vacation spot for wine lovers. Founded when the Dutch settled in the region in the 1600s, the wines are referenced by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and were enjoyed by Napoleon Bonaparte and Louis XVI. Today the region grows a variety of wines, including cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, and more, and is split into three main areas: Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl.
Cape Winelands Wine History
The Dutch settled in South Africa in 1652 and wasted no time planting grapes in the area. In 1659, the first wine was made. It didn’t take long for South African wine to be exported to different colonies, catching the attention of Napoleon Bonaparte and Louis XVI with the Vin de Constance (the estate where it was made is still visitable, Groot Constantia).
Jane Austen wrote in Sense and Sensibility, “My dear,” said she, entering, “I have just recollected that I have some of the finest old Constantia wine in the house that ever was tasted, so I have brought a glass of it for your sister. My poor husband! how fond he was of it! Whenever he had a touch of his old colicky gout, he said it did him more good than anything else in the world. Do take it to your sister.”
Charles Dickens recorded in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, “As, whenever the Reverend Septimus fell a–musing, his good mother took it to be an infallible sign that he ‘wanted support,’ the blooming old lady made all haste to the dining–room closet, to produce from it the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a homemade biscuit.”
Cape Winelands Wine Tours
If you want to visit the winery that has gone down in history, Groot Constantia is the place to go. The winery offers guided tours that include visits to the original Dutch Manor House, the cellar where Grand Constance wine was born, the wine museum, and the vineyards. You can book your wine tasting at Groot Constantia here.
7. La Rioja, Spain
Ancient ruins and rolling hills of vineyards are set against the backdrop of rugged mountains in La Rioja, Spain. Best known for its wine with the same name, the region is the perfect blend of culture and gastronomy. The history of winemaking in the region dates back to the 11th century BC, with consistent production since then. Rioja wines are one of the most acclaimed in the world, and Tempranillo, Granche, Mazuelo, and Graciano are the most popular varieties grown here. While you might think of full-bodied red wines, the region has whites, roses, and even sparkling wines.
La Rioja Wine History
The earliest record of wine growing in Spain dates back to 1100 BC, but many archaeologists believe that grapes were being cultivated as far back as 4000 and 3000 BC. The records claim the Phoenicians started trading grapes when they arrived in the area. The Carthaginians then took over, followed by the Romans. wrote highly of some Spanish wines, but Ovid said some Spanish wines were only good for getting drunk.
One of Rioja wines’ best-unintended marketing tactics was the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrims would enjoy the wine given to them during their journey through Rioja and go back to talk about the delicious wine they had tasted.
It wasn’t until the railroad was completed in the 19th century that Rioja wine began to be easily exported, though. When phylloxera wiped out many French wines, winemakers moved to Rioja, bringing their experience. By the time phylloxera hit Spain, winemakers knew to graft vines onto American roots to prevent the spread.
Today La Rioja wines are known worldwide for their exceptional flavor at an affordable price point.
La Rioja Wine Tours
Experience the diversity of Rioja with Rioja Wine Trip tours that are off the beaten track. Create your own tour that includes meeting the winemakers, architecture, hidden non-touristy spots, and many more options. All tours include transportation, lunch, a local host, and wine tastings. Learn more about Rioja Wine Tours options here.
8. Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
The welcoming landscape, weather, and wine of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, make this region a must-visit destination for wine lovers. When you’re not enjoying Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, or Chardonnay, you can explore the numerous beaches and waterways throughout the almost Mediterranean-feeling area. While the region isn’t as prolific as nearby Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay is the birthplace of New Zealand wine.
Hawke’s Bay Wine History
The first wineries were founded in New Zealand by French missionaries in the 1800s. In 1851, the first winery was established in Hawke’s Bay, the still-standing Mission Estate, which was run by Catholic missionaries. The wine was mainly used for religious purposes, but in 1870, one of the monks sold the first wine in New Zealand. Other wineries began popping up in the 1920s, and most of them are still standing today.
Hawke’s Bay Wine Tours
Discover Hawke’s Bay like a local with personalized tours of boutiques and historic wineries of the region. You can design your own tour or pick from half-day, full-day, and cruise wine tour experiences. Learn more about Wine Tours Hawke’s Bay here.
9. Parras Valley, Mexico
Nestled in the Mexican state of Coahuila, underneath Texas, sits the oldest winemaking region in the New World, Parras Valley. If you’ve never heard of this region, you’re not alone. Few oenophiles and Mexicans know about the Parras Valley, but the sprawling wineries, historical architecture, and ancient trees make this region a gorgeous destination for wine and history lovers alike. Although this region doesn’t produce a lot of wine, it has a long history and exports to 27 countries — Parras Valley has withstood the test of time. You’ll enjoy blends and Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, and Tempranillo in this high altitude, low humidity valley in Coahuila, Mexico. Many of the grapes are also turned into brandy.
Parras Valley, Coahuila Wine History
When the Spanish began colonizing Mexico, they tried to plant vineyards. In fact, legend says that Hernan Cortez, the governor of New Spain, ordered that for every 100 native employees, one thousand grapevines should be planted.
The grapes died in the tropical regions of Mexico and South America. It wasn’t until they discovered the Parras Valley that the first vineyards took root in the Americas. The year was 1597 — almost 80 years after the Spanish started planting grapes.
Wine regions spread throughout Mexico, even after the King of Spain forbade all wine production except for Catholic missionaries. Now Mexico has many prosperous wine regions, but none as old as the Parras Valley.
Today, you can enjoy traditional wines, some that are directly descended from 15th-century Spanish varieties as well innovative new blends.
Parras Valley Wine Tours
You’ll want to visit the oldest winery in the Americas when you’re in Parras Valley. Casa Madero is about a two-hour drive from the closest airport, Monterrey. It’s best to visit during harvest festivities in August, where you can stomp on grapes with locals in the facilities. Stay late and enjoy a traditional dinner aftward, paired with your choice of 20 different varieties of wine.
10. Moselle Valley, Germany
If romantic wine regions don’t come to mind when you think of Germany, you haven’t visited the Moselle Valley. The steeply terraced vineyards on either side of the winding river traverse through historic towns and castles in Germany’s most prestigious wine region. The history of winemaking in the area dates to the Romans. Today Moselle Valley is a premier location for a wine-lovers vacation, with various Rieslings, Spätburgunder, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc, and more.
Moselle Valley Wine History
The Romans likely planted the first vineyards in Moselle Valley in the 2nd century. The Roman poet Ausonius mentioned the region in the 4th century: “Here one sees the sky without branches twined together, green and dark, buried in fog, here the brightness of daylight never hides. I saw this land of well-tended fields and estates set on hills and cliffs green with vines and hedges running across the slopes like schoolboys at play and murmuring below in the valley, the Moselle, my new-found river hurried along. The pleasant scene recalled to me my distant home, Bordeaux. May I pay my respects to the river praised by every man working in his field? You bring the honor of empire to Trier.”
The Riesling of the area was first mentioned in 1435. The fame of the region followed wine-drinkers love of Riesling. In the 1700s, Riesling became the wine of choice for the king of Saxony, and the Moselle Valley became more popular.
Today you can tour old Roman buildings, medieval castles, and wineries dating from over a thousand years ago.
Moselle Valley Wine History Tours
Moselle Valley wineries are best discovered on foot, and there are several hiking tours in the area. You can book a guided tour in the Moselle Valley with a wine and culture expert. How do you book a Mosel Valley tour? You must contact an expert individually to ask for their availability, or you can do self-guided tours following these trails. Don’t forget to visit Staffelter Hof — the oldest winery in Germany.