As I completed my latest press trip thanks to a kind invitation from Wines of Sicily, I thought it was about time to share with you the kind of experience you can expect on press trips, along with some key tips and advice for those new to this area.
During my last trip to Sicily it was the first time I was asked by one of the newcomers to the wine sector about what to expect during the next few days. I have enjoyed over 40 international wine press trips over the last six years and have a very good understanding of what to expect and what is expected of you – Both these factors are important in order to have a successful trip both for yourself and that of your host. At the end of the day, despite what people say from the outside, an invitation to a wine press trip is not a free holiday pass and instead will demand your complete and full commitment.
Wine Press Tours: These are very frequent in the wine sector and are a great way for wineries / wine regions to showcase all their qualities to a selected list of invitees giving them the opportunity to impress and gain positive PR. They are usually fully covered cost-wise from your travel (commencing at the airport / port / international train station) to your accommodation and food.
What is usually included:
Travel: Not including your costs to get to and back from an agreed departure point. Transfer from your arrival in the country you are visiting will be included as well as getting back to your departure point. Most times, from the moment you arrive in the country you are visiting you will be taken care of. I have flown business class once on a press tour to Latvia, though most times expect at the very best priority boarding via Ryanair / EasyJet!
Agenda: A pre-planned agenda will be in place which you will usually be briefed on prior to the trip. A series of visits to wineries and such will take place along with tourism hotspots.
Accommodation: All accommodation will be included and check-in is always a simple affair. The quality of accommodation can vary, though in most occasions you will find yourself staying at the better locations so as to give you the desired, positive experience from the trip. Sometimes accommodation can change during your press trip and especially if the area you are exploring is vast. There is a big difference between staying at one sole location to changing location each day as the latter is very tiring!
Meals: All meals will be included, including breakfast, so you will not find yourself going hungry!
Additional: Some attendees will also be paid, though this is infrequent and usually to tempt in senior wine professionals / leading MSN wine journalists etc.
How to get invited on to press tours: Most times your invitation will arrive by way of an email and an invitation that you will be required to reply to as soon as possible to express your interest. Such invites are managed by PR agencies on behalf of their client so you might already be on their (PR agency) database or (less likely) they have done a recent search online to see who is most active in the theme to which the press tour is concentrating on.
To increase your chances of being invited on to wine press tours you should have a decent profile online with plenty of content to your name. Having a website / blog will of course help, but important also are social media channels and keeping them up to date. You should also make a point to network online, especially via LinkedIn, to connect with key professionals in the wine PR sector.
“I have been on wine trips with Master of Wines and Master Sommeliers, though I have also been on trips where a known wine ligger* has managed to obtain an invitation. Wine press trips can hold some of the most magnificent moments you will enjoy whilst you work in the wine sector though also at times you can experience moments you wish will never be repeated. You can expect everything from tears of laughter to grumpy bursts, plenty of alcohol fuelled silliness to experiencing once in a lifetime wine moments. Above all, and most importantly, you will hold closer to your heart the wine regions, wineries and people you will have visited and met.”
Nothing stops you from presenting yourself directly to PR agencies and wine tourist boards / governing bodies and sharing your CV and interest in attending future press tours. Think about attending trade and press tastings also, at such events you can meet face-to-face the people who make decisions on who to (and who not to) invite on press tours.
What is expected of you in return for your invitation: It should really be the place of the person / company who invited you to let you know prior, though I find this is not always the case. Invitations can be quite strict in requirements, ie expecting of you articles / imagery / videos, or sometimes it is purely an invitation without attachments. Whatever way your invitation is made, I would suggest you at the very least take notes throughout your trip and importantly photography (and videos if you can). For every invitation I have received I will always at the very least provide multiple updates and tag in during the tour as well as a lengthy article upon my return and all my tasting notes of wines added to Vivino – I will then provide links to all my work done about the trip to the person / company who invited me and express my thanks.
How best to present yourself during your press tour: This would really depend on where you are positioned in the (wine) sector and if it is your first time or if you have plenty of experience.
“Wine press tours are not easy to manage as you are thrown in with multiple adults and you have minimal time to get to know each other and work out your position amongst them. Do not forget that you will be in their company more or less from the first thing in the morning to the early hours of the following morning each day – only a few hours will you grab to yourself as your head hits the pillow in anticipation of your alarm set for only a few hours time… and repeat! Egos and personalities need to work in harmony (this is usually down to your host to manage) with plenty of additional patience being ever so demanded of everyone so that ‘someone stepping in front of you to grab a photo’ or ‘a delay to tasting the wines occurs because someone is asking questions of the winemaker’ does not ignite frustration. As the years have passed by, I always prefer to be placid on wine tours and I am very used to waiting on others so that they can grab the content they require and I simply follow on in a slow fashion behind them once the frenzy of activity has died down.”
You really want to make a good impression both on your hosts and your fellow invitees. Be approachable, be helpful and most certainly recognise and respect those with senior wine knowledge. Try not to overdo it on the first evening as this is usually reserved for the initial ‘get to know each other’ drinks and dinner, I have seen people quite blotto at them and certainly regretting it the morning after and even one person going off sick because of a hangover, such a big negative to your name if that’s you!
If you make a good impression then it is likely you will get invited for future tours. I once was part of a small invited team of wine journalists to Latvia and we were that good as a team altogether that the following year we were all invited to Georgia.
Be prepared and by this, I mean having good knowledge of the country you are visiting and the destinations you will be going to during your tour. Most times, your host will provide a WhatsApp / Telegram group for the tour where all attendees can get to know each other, ask questions and have post tour communications.
Research who you will be going with and I usually connect with them via social media, especially Instagram and LinkedIn. If you know each person’s name and face then it gives you the edge and especially if you can say hello to someone at the airport waiting lounge following you recognising them!
Bring relevant clothing and be prepared for both warm and cold weather as well as rain!
Take some wellies, especially if you are visiting vineyards, or older shoes you do not mind getting muddy.
Take swimming trunks / costumes with you as you never know what facilities your hotel might hold or the destinations you will visit.
Take plasters / mini first aid kit / paracetamol.
Take all data leads / charger leads and any spare batteries and memory cards. Also plug converters!
If you are particular to your own coffee / tea brand in the morning then take some with you as breakfast styles change internationally and especially if you are a breakfast tea type of person like myself, then you will be very happy you brought some PG Tips with you!
Take solid luggage (plastic at least over material) and leave space for gifts you might bring back with you, also consider that some wineries offer sample wines for you to take back which would then need you to check in your luggage and not take on board with you.
If you are posting social media updates during your time abroad then think about tagging in your fellow guests and the destinations such as the wineries you visited – Is there a designated hashtag being used for your tour?
A typical day on a wine press tour:
8:00am – Breakfast and the “good mornings” echo amongst the attendees and those who are slightly rough from the wines the night before will easily be spotted!
9:00am – Be ready outside the hotel to board the mini bus / coach for your first visit which is likely to be a one hour road trip to a winery.
10:00am – Arrival at first destination with a wine tasting, vineyard and cellar tour.
11:00am – Depart for the next destination.
11:30am – Arrival at winery for wine tasting, vineyard and cellar tour. Lunch could be onsite or:
12:30pm – Depart for lunch destination.
1:00pm – Arrival at lunch destination which will include wine tastings / food pairings.
2:30pm – Depart for local tourism destination.
3:00pm – Arrival at tourism destination for a walk around via guided tour.
4:00pm – Depart for final destination.
4:30pm – Arrival at final winery destination with a wine tasting, vineyard & cellar tour.
5:30pm – Depart for hotel.
6:15pm – Arrival at hotel and free time until 7:30pm to freshen up / relax.
7:30pm – Depart for restaurant / evening dinner.
8:00pm – Arrival at restaurant for evening dinner and most certainly wine tasting.
11:00pm – Depart for hotel.
11:30pm – Arrival at hotel for bed.
Amongst all the travelling and destination visits you will be endlessly taking tasting notes, taking photographs, recording videos, carrying out interviews and more so please understand that you are likely to be constantly on the go with little relaxation time. You will most certainly be looking forward to arriving back at the hotel and getting into your bedroom plus please consider that 11:30pm arrival time is relatively modest as I have been on tours where the dinners and drinks go on to the early hours of the morning!
What experiences should you expect? The wonderful thing about international wine press tours is that they can be quite varied in what you experience during your time abroad. Though many organisers will stick to a very general theme, you must also be prepared for many out of this world experiences. The likes of luxury boat rides, grape picking under the moonlight, Turkish baths, massages, crushing grapes by foot in oak barrels, vintage wine tastings deep down in ancient wine cellars, bicycle rides in the vineyards, swimming in private pools, helicopter rides and more will come your way so be prepared to be wowed!
I’ve stayed in luxury five star hotels where you can help yourself to the Champagne chilling in the fridge and yet I have also stayed in hostel style (traveller) lodgings at less than 20€ a night per room. There’s been a full spread of fresh food with chilled wine waiting for me in the hotel room to me having to call reception as there were no towels in the bathroom and the kettle was not working. I’ve enjoyed Michelin Star cuisine and having the chef all to ourselves to popping into workers cafes to experience the cuisine of the land workers of the region (both experiences were enlightening). I’ve had wines that were less than inspiring to tasting some of the finest examples and some of the rarest. All these factors go towards your appreciation of the region you have visited and giving you lasting memories.
Remember, the tour you are going on is likely to have taken months to prepare and certainly will have had plenty of money invested. You will be visiting locations where the people will be equally excited to meet you as you will be to visit, your expressions and feedback will be waited on with bated breath. You may visit locations open to the general public or maybe you will be given exclusive access – I remember visiting the KGB offices in Latvia and we were lucky to have the building to ourselves prior to it being open to the public (above) and (below) we were allowed to visit the just purchased former house of Renoir and were able to wander round each room, lay in the bed of his bedroom and visit his art studio where the magic happened.
For me, the most enjoyable wine press tours are those that allow us to see not only the prestigious highlights and the finest examples, but those showing us what happens behind all the glamour as well. One of my favourite wine tours was that to Georgia where most of our tour was to family producers where wine was made in farmer’s barns and our introduction to local cuisine was at the kitchen table with wholesome food cooked by wives of the workers (article ‘title image’ is myself enjoying lunch during my Georgia tour sat at a farmers table).
One visit is never enough and this is for sure the case for my press tour history in that I have travelled to the Champagne region ten times and Prosecco twelve. The point here being that many wine regions could take you a lifetime to explore and what you missed on your first visit is probably worth another dozen revisits in order to take it all in. Also, remember that wine regions will likely have varied bodies representing the region so you have multiple opportunities to receive invitations to wine press trips such as Prosecco where I have been invited by Prosecco DOC, DOCG Prosecco and Asolo DOCG agencies in previous years.
Once you are on the scene with wine press trips you will note that not only wine regions / wine governing bodies will organise tours, but also individual wineries themselves plus occasionally the major wine trade tastings, such as Vinitaly / Prowein, will invite select journalists to attend and usually add winery tours as part of the invite.
Most times, the size of the group will be around 6 to 8 people though I have been on some with 50+ guests and I have also once been the sole person invited and received one to one care throughout the trip. There is also a decent diversity in who gets invited, ages vary most times and in regards to the trips I have been on, at least 50% were ladies.
Some people that I know are nearly full time on wine press trips, literally finishing one and immediately connecting up with another (I wonder what they do with their dirty laundry)!
To date, the world of wine has taken me on many fascinating journeys including the USA, France, Spain, Slovenia, Austria, Georgia, Italy and more. It is a wonderful, hands on education that you should try to embrace at some point during your career in wine, nothing beats experiencing wine regions for real over what you read in books or watch on YouTube.
My favourites to date (subject to change!):
Best Wine Press Trip – Georgia 2017
Best Wine Region – Prosecco, Italy
Best Wine Tasting – Vertical Giulio Ferrari Magnum tasting as a guest of Ferrari Trento & Gambero Rosso in Rome 2018
Best Food Experience – Latvia 2016
Best Touristic Attraction – Carcassonne Cite Fireworks for Bastille Day 2018
Best Activity on a Tour – Helicopter ride over the Dolomites as a guest visitor to Ferrari Trento 2016
Best Event Attended on a Tour – Giulio Ferrari Rosé launch Trento 24th September 2018
Most Memorable Moment – Interviewing legendary Villa Sandi owner, Giancarlo Moretti Polegato, at his desk in his private office