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How to experience the wine harvest in Europe

We round up six of the best wineries in Europe to visit this autumn, to coincide with the upcoming harvest.

Published 15 Sept 2021, 06:07 BST, Updated 16 Sept 2021, 10:02 BST
Head to the fabled Douro region in northern Portugal to sample some of the best unfortified Douro red ...

Head to the fabled Douro region in northern Portugal, to sample some of the finest unfortified Douro red wines and witness rows of vertiginous vineyards. 

Photograph by GETTY Images

Harvest is the perfect time to visit vineyards, and you don’t actually have to go far to do so: in Kent or Sussex, Jamie and Steph, of Vine and Country Tours, will pick you up from your accommodation (or from the train station) and will show you the vineyards on a bespoke tour, pausing for a delicious feast they make themselves from local ingredients (both used to work in catering). They work with some of England’s best wine producers, including Gusbourne, Wiston Estate and Simpsons, so this is a lovely way to discover our increasingly impressive wines. 

Cross the Channel, and you’ll encounter some of the world’s best-known vineyards, but there’s a lot more to French wine beyond Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne. Corsica has been part of France since the 18th century but it’s much closer geographically to Italy, and is better known for its beautiful beaches than its wines, which is a pity; the island has been making wine for over 2,000 years, and the vineyards are startlingly beautiful. Wine Paths can organise tours to meet the winemakers and taste their output. The most spectacular, by far, includes a private plane flight over vineyards set on high slopes (the island has more than 20 peaks over 2,000 metres). 

Another undeservedly lesser-known option is Switzerland, which is very much the best place to try Swiss wine, not least because the Swiss drink most of it — very little gets exported. But their vineyards, on steep hillsides, are also exceptionally beautiful. Hire bikes in Chippis and cycle along the Rhône, stopping to taste wines as you go. There’s also the Valais Wine Museum, which is in two parts: one in Sierre the other in Salgesch, but just 15 minutes apart by bike. Also nearby is Caveau de Saillon, a restaurant with a wide selection of the region’s wines, including Fendant, made from the Chasselas grapes you’ll see as you cycle around.

Vienna is a great option for wine-lovers who don’t want to do too much travelling; there are vineyards just outside the city with efficient public transport to get to them. 

Photograph by Alamy

From the city of Porto, in northern Portugal, meanwhile, it’s a couple of hours by car or train along the Douro River into the Douro region itself (you can take a boat, too) and the view, with river on one side and vertiginous vineyards on the other, is incredible. This has long been the place where port was made, but these days there are really good unfortified Douro red wines, too. The easiest and most pleasurable way to visit the more interesting vineyards is to stay in the region — the Six Senses Douro Valley hotel can organise visits to the best-known quintas (estates) or a tour of lesser-known, small wineries.

Alternatively, Vienna is a great option for wine-lovers who don’t want to do too much travelling; you don’t actually need a tour, since there are vineyards just outside the city and efficient transport (trains, trams or taxis) to get to them. Better still, there are heurigen, Austria's old-fashioned taverns (now UNESCO-listed for their cultural importance) in which to try the wines and accompanying hearty food. Once in the northern suburbs of Strebersdorf or Stammersdorf, take the ‘little train’, the Heurigen Express, which is actually a train-shaped vehicle that stops at lots of wine-focused spots, as well as the Beethoven Museum, two minutes from Mayer am Pfarrplatz — the composer’s former house, which is, incidentally, also a heurige

And on Europe’s easternmost edge there’s Georgia, which claims to be the cradle of winemaking. It’s the original home of qvevri (giant oval clay jars), which are, to this day, still filled with wine and buried up to their necks in the ground, to allow the wine to mature — often with impressive results. Taste Georgia offers a day’s tour of the Kakheti wine region’s vineyards, including a visit to one of the last remaining artisanal qvevri-makers, lunch at a vineyard and tastings. Guests are picked up and returned to their accommodation in the capital, Tbilisi. 

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