In our experience, one thing that holidaymakers enjoy doing again and again is visiting vineyards. People just can’t get enough of sampling Bordeaux in France, Riojas in Spain or a cheeky Friulano in Italy, not to mention learning about the ancient techniques and history of vintners. We often have guests who book a stay at our luxury holiday villas asking after the best local wine tours, which our helpful owners can almost always arrange.
And they might arrange them through Cellar Tours, a company specialising in bespoke wine tours throughout the world. We spoke to owner Genevieve McCarthy about what it’s like to run a tour company, her favourite wines and the best place to find fresh crab claws…
Tell us a little about Cellar Tours – who are you, and what do you do?
I’m a native Californian, based in Europe for the last 19 years and spending my time between Spain, Ireland and Italy. I worked in wine importing before founding a luxury tour operator specialized in wine tourism with an emphasis on food as well as how food and wine can go hand in hand! We now work in Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Ireland (for gourmet, not wine tours) and Chile. We plan to expand into South Africa and other parts of Europe in the coming years.
Your tours are bespoke – so what’s the oddest request you’ve ever had from a customer?
We have had all kinds of requests over the years, and based on them we have organized everything from marriage proposals among the vines, to helicopter tours with winery owners over their vineyards, to “be a winemaker for a day” blending classes. Funnily enough, we have also organized wine tours for guests who don’t drink wine but enjoy the atmosphere of the vineyards and historic chateaux.
How do you decide on the route and content of your tours?
We send our guests a custom designed questionnaire where they can tell us their preferred dates, their desired destinations, their main interests and special requests. We then tailor a luxury program for them with our favorite suppliers (wine estates, hotels, chefs, etc). From there, clients might like to modify the itinerary and sometimes we do up to 8 versions of the tour until they are happy with it. Our service is very personalized!
Tell us about some of the wines people will sample on your tours – what makes them special? What are your favourites?
In Spain, we are major Rioja/Ribera del Duero and Priorat fans. Guests often get to meet the owners and winemakers as a special treat, and they always taste the top wines at each estate, and we include a special wine (like an older vintage) where possible. The wine tours are private, just for our guests and they enjoy relaxed and intimate tours, sometimes going on for up to 3 hours. Where possible, we send our clients on adventures like taking a 4X4 trip through the vines. It’s a neat way to start the tour! Some of our fave cellars would include Benjamin Romeo, Roda, Remirez de Ganuza, Condado de Haza, Clos de l´Obac and Mas Doix to name but a few of the outstanding properties that are just in Northern Spain…
Tell us the best wine or gastronomic experience you’ve ever had.
I have the luxury of owning a gourmet tour company and honestly have had so many special and unforgettable foodie experiences over the years! Some great recent memories include the roast fish at Elkano in Getaria, fresh shaved white truffle at Piazza Duomo in Piedmont, delish local charcuterie and Cava for breakfast after a hot air balloon experience in Costa Brava, and super fresh crab claws and baby mussels at Max´s seafood bar in Kinsale, Ireland ….
What’s your own particular favourite tour (or part of a tour), and why?
There are too many great destinations to pick a fave, it´s like picking a preferred child!. But I suppose regions I supremely enjoy that offer great food and wine experiences would include Dordogne and Burgundy in France, West Cork and Kerry in Ireland, Porto and Douro in Portugal, Basque Country and Catalunya in Spain and Sicily and Friuli in Italy….
What would you say would be the ultimate wine experience?
Now, that depends on your budget! No seriously, a few great experiences would be the vertical tasting of Super Tuscans at Ornellaia in Maremma; the wine blending experience at Chateau Lagrange in St Julien; the private owner hosted lunch and wine tasting we offer at Chateau Kirwan in Margaux; the Cava Connoisseurs experience at Pares Balta in Penedes; a private Rabelo boat in the Douro stopping in to mythical wine properties… I could go on!
What’s the best part of your job?
I love that each tour is completely unique and creative, and of course I love the development of the tours, the site inspections to top vineyards restaurants and luxury hotels. It´s rewarding and fun!
What should our readers look for when deciding on a wine tour?
Legitimate tour operators or agencies to begin as there are a lot of sketchy cowboys out there; licensed and insured professional chauffeurs; and customer references. We are always very happy to provide these as people need to be reassured and feel secure before parting with their hard earned cash to a company abroad.
And finally, have you got any insider travel tips you can pass on to our readers?
Leave room in your suitcase for shopping. No matter how many times we advise it, most guests overpack! And if you plan on buying wine, come prepared with specialized luggage. A really great wine suitcase is this one.