We have just spent a wonderful week in the Southern Rhone Valley, roaming the vineyards of this beautiful land and visiting several wineries. I could not help but compare our experiences in the Rhone Valley to that of our broad travels in the Napa Valley. As I visited the Rhone Valley wineries, I was wishing that the Napa Valley wineries would offer some of the same amenities I experienced while visiting this spectacular wine country. I think that if the Napa Valley adopted some of these practices, the experience would improve for wine country travelers.
Most of the wineries in the Southern Rhone Valley offer visitors a tasting of wines without any fees. Tours usually require an appointment and fees are often charged for the tour.
Each staff member we have encountered in our travels was warm and friendly but, most importantly, extremely knowledgeable. They knew how each bottle of wine had been produced from start to finish. I was amazed at how they mentioned food matches for each wine and related it to their own cooking at home. This was not rehearsed by any means, but spontaneous and heartfelt.
The most amazing aspect of a Rhone Valley tasting room, and perhaps elsewhere in France, is the selling price of the wine. When visitors purchase wines from the Degustation (tasting room) the price of the wine is discounted from the regular sale price that you would find in a wine shop. At one winery the discount was 15% for all wines. It is not unusual for locals to drop into a winery and carry out a case. A case of wine in France holds six bottles of wine. Nice and easy to manage! In the Napa Valley wine is sold at full retail price, unless you are a wine club member.
Speaking of wine clubs, it appears that wine clubs in the Rhone Valley do not exist. We asked at one winery about a wine club and our host was quite surprised at this concept. No wine clubs, no sales push at any winery we visited. They were just happy to welcome visitors.
Many wineries, not all, were equipped with high-tech dispensing machines that we often see in wine bars. These machines prevent the wine from oxidizing. Just about any wine is available for tasting. I often hear in the Napa Valley, “We have these four wines for you to taste today.” In the Rhone Valley it is, “Which wines would you like to taste?”
I have not seen any large tour buses at any time in our wanderings. Occasionally, we will run into a wine tour guide, but perhaps with only four people in the car.
I love the Napa Valley for it great wines, dining and beautiful scenery. But what I do not like are the high tasting room fees, the high cost of wines, and the pretentious atmosphere that every now and then surfaces.