Sarah Phillips recommends some of her favorite unique wine experiences and asks other #Winetravelers to share theirs. Let us know the most interesting moments you’ve encountered at wineries in the comment section at the end of this article.
There are plenty of good reasons to love wine travel: Beautiful landscapes, interesting people and – of course – copious wine tastings. Several destinations also offer something a little more unusual. Think llama trekking and Merlot; nuclear bunkers and Cabernet Sauvignon; meteoric craters and Mourvedre…
Tour a Nuclear Bunker at Chateau Siran, Bordeaux
The wine at Chateau Siran is classic, but the tourism experience is quite unusual. You’ll start with a walk-around of historic artifacts. These range from 2,500-year-old amphoras to an eclectic range of Toby Jugs and tonnelets (small pottery barrels) historically used to serve wine.
Next up is the nuclear bunker, which was installed to protect the wine library – and family – during the cold war, opening (and shutting) its door for the first time in 1980. Visitors enter the bunker through a nuke-proof door made in Switzerland before descending into the 30,000-strong wine cellar. Bottles date back to 1912, so if disaster strikes while you’re in the area, you might have quite a party.
On sunny days, you can enjoy a light lunch and bottle of wine on the winery roof, surrounded by vineyards.
RELATED: 30 Top Wineries To Visit For Wine Tasting in Bordeaux: From Famous to Boutique
Go Llama Trekking at Divine Llama Winery, North Carolina
A two-mile trek with llamas, followed by a wine tasting, might not be the most obvious way to spend a day off, but it is memorable.
“It was an unexpected day of fun”, says Zippy Sandler of Champagne Living Media.
Divine Llama winery is home to the largest llama farm in the Southeast United States. It also has a winery.
“It’s nice having a furry companion to keep you company as you walk the beautiful property. Be sure to head to the tasting room for some of the area’s best wines. We were lucky enough to see some baby llamas in the barn. The wide-eyed faces are indelible in my memory,” Zippy says.
Roam Among Giant Sculptures at Donum Winery, Sonoma
Are you a big fan of art? Or a fan of big art? In either case, you might enjoy a trip to Donum Winery in Sonoma, California.
“There are over 40 giant sculptures placed around the estate by artists including Keith Haring, Tracey Emin and Louise Bourgeois,” says Wine Communicator Charlotte Kristensen, who describes the estate’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as “top-class.”
Kristensen recommends booking in advance and checking the website to plan which sculptures you’d like to see. “Make sure you get a selfie with Richard Hudson’s ‘Love Me’ 2016, a sculpture of a giant polished steel heart,” she adds.
RELATED: Scenic Sonoma Itinerary: Everything You Need To Know For a 3 Day Trip
Dine-in a Crater at Domaine du Meteore, South of France
10,000 years ago, a meteor landed in Faugères in the South of France. It left a large crater. Today, that crater is filled with vines.
Domaine du Meteore now offers dinners (Wednesday – Saturday evenings) under the stars, deep inside the crater. At lunch, you can collect a picnic and make your way down. Produce is local and fresh, and portion sizes are large. The estate’s refreshing white wines are an ideal accompaniment on a warm day.
Sleep in Wine Barrels at Quinta da Pacheca, Portugal
If you really want to live, eat, and even sleep wine for a couple of days, consider Quinta da Pacheca in the Douro Valley. Ten converted wine barrels are available as hotel rooms. Each sleeps two.
“Sleeping in the barrel was quite special, especially when you realize that the bung hole is a skylight over the bed, allowing you to look up at the stars as you fall asleep,” says wine enthusiast John Masserini who visited from Miami.
But the wine cellar is even better: “It has an amazing vintage cellar, with a stunning library of single harvest tawny colheitas going back to the ‘60s. The table wines are also fantastic, so join the tasting that includes those,” he suggests.
Guests who arrive around harvest can participate – including grape-trodding.
“Plan your trip WAY in advance,” Masserini suggests. “There are only 10 barrel rooms and they book up quickly – especially around harvest.”
RELATED: 11 Delicious Facts About Port and Fortified Wine
Reach New Heights at Bodega Colome, Argentina
With vines planted at up to 3,111 meters above sea level, Bodega Colome in Salta, Argentina, boasts some of the highest vineyards in the world.
Wine writer Jacqueline Coleman calls it a “must-see” for adventurous Winetravelers, but notes that getting there isn’t easy: “To get to the property, you have to drive miles up the mountain on a dirt road after you leave the tiny town of Molinos. You’ll need a good car, lots of water, and perhaps a satellite phone if you want to communicate with the outside world.”
But it’s worth the journey. “Driving through Salta is one of the most incredible road trips you can take,” she says.
Plus, as well as tasting wine and seeing those high-altitude vineyards, you can visit the James Turrell Museum – the only museum in the world dedicated to the American artist.
RELATED: 5 Special Wineries in Argentina You Must Visit
Taste in a Persian Palace at Darioush, Napa
One minute you’re driving down the Silverado trail, surrounded by famous vineyards. The next, you’re stepping into a large Persian palace; cavernous inside, with pillars inside and out. The wines are impressive, too. They will please fans of serious Napa wine.
Visit Darioush at sunset and you’ll be rewarded with a silhouette of pillars against a magnificent color palette.
RELATED: 10 Boutique & Unique Wineries To Visit in Napa California
Go Truffle Hunting at Tenuta Santa Maria Valverde, Valpolicella
This experience in Valpolicella, Italy, combines food, wine, and adventure. You’ll start by following a truffle dog through the forests in search of the region’s famous black truffles.
“The hosts are very knowledgeable and welcoming, and the scenery is breathtaking. In early autumn, the colors of nature are amazing”, says Chiara Gomiero of handywineguide.com.
After hunting for truffles, you won’t have to hunt for your lunch, which will be served alongside Tenuta Santa Maria Valverde’s Amarone wine.
Experience History at Lopez de Heredia in Rioja, Spain
Lopez de Heredia, one of Rioja’s oldest wineries, is responsible for making some of the region’s most traditional (and delicious) wines.
A visit to the estate is worthwhile, too, according to Master of Wine student Jo Lory. “The guides are brilliant, and the whole experience, from the founding story to the cobweb and penicillin mold festooned cellars is fascinating and unique.”
She says that the El Calado Cellar was a highlight: “It was excavated by hand out of the ground rock in the 1890s. The longest tunnel stretches over 200m out to the Ebro river, where you pop out of the dark to a view of their Gravonia vineyard.”
RELATED: 22 Top Rioja Wineries To Visit on Your Next Trip To Spain
Taste the ‘Real American Grape’ at Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia
Norton is among a minority of grape varieties used to make wine that is indigenous to North America. This is why Jennifer McCloud, owner of Chrysalis Vineyards in Virginia and the world’s largest plantings of Norton, calls it “the real American grape.”
At Chrysalis, you can taste it in its many guises: carbonic, off-dry, light, full-bodied and age-worthy – and even a pet-nat (don’t miss that one).
The property also makes its own cheese and has a large pizza oven. So you won’t go hungry during your visit, either.
RELATED: Visit Virginia’s Wine Country: 10 Top Wineries Near Washington DC
If you enjoyed this guide, consider joining the Winetraveler Facebook Group to connect with other Winetravelers and for additional travel inspiration around the world. We also highly recommend taking a look at this article if you’re curious about more unique wineries around the world, this time focusing on North America.
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