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Travel, the Ultimate Wine Education

I used to be totally intimidated by wine and had no idea what to buy. Walking into a wine store was worse than a library without a card catalog. Where do I start? There were always too many choices, so I just stuck with my tried and true: California and New Zealand. That all changed on my first trip to Burgundy. Hell, the whole world changed.

I got invited to a wedding in Nuits-Saint-Georges, and had NO IDEA where the place was. All I knew, as a complete wine novice in 2004, was that I had to get myself and my mother to France, to this place called Burgundy. She flew in from New Zealand, I flew in from LA. We picked up a car in Paris, I was driving in the days of no GPS, it was late at night, we were tired, it was pouring down rain, and we both had extremely limited language skills. Not my idea of a perfect vacation.

We did make it to Beaune about 24 hours later after getting lost and finding a scary-looking roadside motel to stay at. As awful as it sounds, that’s the beginning of the trip that totally changed me.

So, I went to that wedding in Burgundy, met a few winemakers, did a couple of cave tastings, and ended up driving through a field of sunflowers to escape the wedding — French receptions never end. All of it was beautiful, sure, but I didn’t think much of it while still abroad.

But the next time I walked back into my local wine store, it hit me. Pommard, Volnay, Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Beaune…these were all the little towns we’d visited! Wow, the light went on. I could actually picture where these wines came from! I’d walked on the soil, smelled the air and eaten the local cuisine that these wines are traditionally sipped with. Suddenly these weren’t just products on a shelf, but bottled artifacts of these little towns I’d experienced with all of my senses.

I remembered how the wines tasted on their home turf, and experiencing them again stateside caused a rush of associations. Incredible. I knew more than the guy who owns the store from just one trip!

Since then, I’ve been hooked on visiting wine regions. Tuscany, Napa, Rioja, Marlborough… there is nothing like traveling to the source to really get what wines are about. When I walk into a wine store now, it’s like going on a tour back to the places I’ve been. Like in a library, this time with references, I could spend hours pondering over the wines in different sections as my mind replays pictures of the places they are from, where I’ve been, people I’ve met. Every bottle takes me back to a memory.

I want to help you have the kind of life-changing moments I have, and with careful curation and planning, make it even better. Every time I talk to wineries, travel companies, restaurants and hotels, I’m asking them for the types of access that will get you behind the scenes, to meet the people behind the bottles that will help you gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the wines you love and the food that you adore. There really is no better education than this sort of travel, to Burgundy or elsewhere. Cheers!

Got travel tips to share? Tweet @MindyJoyce

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