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Jun 6, 2007 11:09 AM

Travel to French wine country in December, HELP!

Hi Hounders, my hubby and I are thinking of traveling to France in the winter (Have to be in the UK for Xmas and wanted to make it somewhat fun ;-) )

I'd thought about going to a wine region, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire. However, all the info on travel to these regions seems to be skewed towards the Summer peak travel months. Has anyone ever gone wine touring in France in the winter time? What about Italy? Do places tend to shut down around the holidays?

Any insight is much appreciated! Thanks!

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  1. Never been in the winter. But my sense is that you would be better served in a warmer climate -- Tuscany?

    Also, I found Bordeaux to be pretty pretentious and uninteresting. Burgundy can be fun because there are some tiny producers that you never see in the States and the people there really want you to learn their wines. You didn't mention the Rhone, but that can be a blast. And so close to Provence. I love Provence. The Rhone also has some tiny non-exported producers that can be a lot of fun to visit and taste at. Alsace can be fun. I love Colmar.

    On the other hand, the Loire is close to Paris and has a bunch of castles. After about 3 castles I was all castled out. But some people really enjoy them. And I did enjoy the first 3. (After 4 I called it quits.) We didn't go wine tasting in the Loire, so I cannot say what it is actually like.

    1. I have been to Epernay in February and it's less busy. some champagne places are open so you can still get around.

      1. I prefer to go in the off season, and always lead my tours at off times. Over the actual Christmas to New Years, yes, everything will be shut down. and many restaurants take vacation at that time, as well. However, if you go in December before the holiday week, you should have better chances.

        Be sure to make appointments at the wineries you want to visit. Your local wine merchant can set you up through distributors, who hold the key to those admissions. I haven't been to Bordeaux, but I haven't met an unfriendly winemaker in Burgundy or Rhone/Provence yet.

        3 Replies
        1. re: ChefJune

          Burgundy would be just fine ANY time of year. Stay in Beaune, and take day trips. There is a Relais and Chateau Hotel there, (name escapes me) that I stayed in 2 years ago, and it was beautiful, with an excellent restaurant.

          1. re: ChefJune

            Hi Chef June!

            I want to go to Champagne region after new I need to make reservations at the wineries? I should contact a wine merchant where I live to get the appointments? Also, is Chateauneuf-du-pape area open during winter? It seems like a lot of the wineries close to visiters then.

            Thanks for any insight!

          2. There is nothing growing in any of the wine regions at that time. The vines are bare black branches on bleak hillsides.

            The major houses (Moet in Champagne, for example) will be open as usual, of course, but smaller houses set their own schedules. Many will be on vacation for the holidays, as there's not much to be done in the vineyards when it's cold and grey.

            Best advice would be to decide on the region you want to visit, then contact some houses to see if they'll be open.

            The big houses in Champagne are open pretty much all year, and reservations are rarely necessary in the wintertime, although you may need some planning to get an English-language tour.

            You absolutely do not need to go through your local wine distributor. Head to the local office of tourism, or the office of the local grower's cooperative, and you can find more tours than you could ever have the time or desire to take.

            It would be a challenge indeed in the winter -- but you can even drive down rural roads looking for signs saying "Degustation" or "Vin à vendre" (tasting, or wine for sale, respectively) and just pull in.

            1. Of all the wine growing regions, the one which is probably the most tricky in Winter is the Rhone/Provence area. When the Mistral wind is blowing it can be bitterly cold. The Champagne area would be a safe bet since all the big houses in Reims (Taittinger, Mumm, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart...)
              and Epernay will be open. I
              also think that Burgundy and the Loire Valley will be fine. I don't know enough about Bordeaux to make an informed comment.

              6 Replies
                1. re: sunshine842

                  Yes, I spent 7 years of my life in Reims, but most of the
                  large champagne houses are inside the cities of Reims
                  and Epernay, so it is easy to take refuge in cafes or
                  restaurants between visits.

                  1. re: bclevy

                    I really want to go to the smaller houses though the most and try champagne that I wouldn't get in the states. Will that be hard? Will I need to make reservations or email the houses before?

                    1. re: raymondirwin

                      I would contact the office of tourism in Reims or Epernay ( or respectively) and ask if they could assist you with planning a trip to see a few smaller houses.

                      The folks in both offices are very friendly and helpful, and there is almost always someone on duty who speaks anything from pretty good to nearly-fluent English. (Yes, you can send them an email in English


                      They will also be keeping a list of what houses are going to be open around the holidays, and what their hours might be.

                      1. re: raymondirwin

                        Even big houses visits usually require reservations on their websites. For visits of champagne growers in Montagne de Reims (pinot noir dominant champagne) between Reims and Epernay or Cote de Blancs (chardonnay dominant) South of Epernay, you will need to set up the visits by email.

                        1. re: bclevy

                          You can walk right into Moet or Mercier with no reservations, especially in the winter and if a French tour is okay. Even in the summer you can walk in with no reservations. Summer can mean you might have to w ait until the next tour.