Last Updated on December 5, 2022

Wine tasting tours come in all shapes and sizes. Over the years, my wife Patty and I have never had a bad day on a wine tasting trip, with some of our forays among the vineyards and caves more memorable than others. We’ve always especially loved a Côtes du Rhône wine tour.

On several occasions, Patty and I have hopped into a vehicle with strangers to be chauffeured around a wine region. On one memorable experience in Sonoma, California, we were carted from winery to winery in a minibus. The driver picked us up at our rental house and we introduced ourselves to three couples already aboard. It was a quiet ride – until the second tasting. Somehow this group never got the hang of spitting wine into the pot at the tasting rooms. Needless to say, by midafternoon, we were the best of friends.

Our driver, who professed to have known Grace Slick before she was Grace Slick, regaled us with tales of the San Francisco music scene in the 1960s. We began the day wondering how our leader selected the wineries we visited. He was always the last one on the bus after a tasting and with a bottle of wine tucked under his arm. Yes, we figured it out.

Making Friends in France’s Rhone Valley

Last year we were invited to join friends for a day among the vines in France’s Southern Rhone Valley. Ten of us met for coffee in a small village with a wine expert for a Côtes du Rhône wine tour. We rode off with our guide to a sunny and hot hillside where we trapsed about the vines. Here we learned about the terroire and practices of the vintners of the Gigondas region.

Our chaperone was knowledgeable and our group favorably impressed, agreeing that we’d all learned something during our tour. After visiting the vines in the hot sun, we worked our way through three tastings. We relaxed on a shaded terrace and enjoyed a fine and leisurely lunch, then plowed ahead for another tasting. Though we had an enjoyable day, the group agreed we may have gone a hill too far!

Two Days in Beaujolais

On a trip to Beaujolais a few years ago we stayed at a small inn in the village of Vieux Morgon.   A chalkboard in the bar presented a staggering list of local nectar, none of which were priced over eight euros a glass. Being good guests, we diligently worked our way through the offerings as best we could during several days at the homey inn.

Having put in a solid morning among the vines, men from the vineyards popped in for a petit verre de vin rouge well before lunch hour. The owner was friendly even asking one of our traveling companions and I to mind the bar while she ran an errand.

One evening on this particular Côtes du Rhône wine tour, we eavesdropped on the next table’s conversation. There we picked up the names of nearby domaines our neighbors had visited. Two phone calls yielded two appointments and the next morning we were off to the hills of Fleury where we enjoyed several memorable wine tasting experiences.

At Domaine Chignard, the vintner worked his way through a delightful collection of modestly priced bottles from his cave. At a pause in our tasting, Monsieur Chignard asked if we wished to taste wine he’s produced that’s served in some of the best restaurants in Paris. We were certainly not disappointed.

Then we braced ourselves for a price point out of our range. However, this excellent wine was only 14-euro a bottle. The tail of our car sagged under the weight of the cases we brought back home to our own small wine caves.

Do It Yourself Rhone River Wine Tours

vineyards near Gigondas, Provence, France. Courtesy Deposit Photos.
vineyards near Gigondas, Provence, France. Courtesy Deposit Photos.

We’ve also had fun designing a self-guided Côtes du Rhône wine tour. Small, family wine producers dot the countryside and hills near the Rhone River. Within an hour’s-drive from our apartment in Provence there are scores of wineries to visit. Often, we take an afternoon drive to the hills to simply enjoy the views, lunch, and then to buy a few bottles directly from a favorite vintner. It’s more of a wine buying trip than a wine tasting excursion.

There are a lot of vintages in the region that we don’t know. Given the fun we’ve had without tour organizers, Patty and I have dabbled in arranging do-it-yourself tours with friends. This is an endeavor I recommend if you have an interest in wines, the inclination to come to the South of France, and a desire to plan your own tasting tour.

There is no shortage of signs along the route inviting passersby to stop for a dégustation and an opportunity to purchase a few bottles directly from the producer. You need only consult your computer and do a bit of research. Then organize visits that suit your tastes. If taking friends along, it’s wise to extract a commitment from one of the group to serve as chauffeur. The art of sipping and spitting is a difficult concept for many Americans.

Our Two Day Tour to Gigondas

Our most recent visit to the vineyards was organized as an excursion with leisure time and a meal or two built into the program. We did not want another marathon tasting day. It only took a casual suggestion over lunch to find three couples willing to explore Gigondas, a 45-minute drive from our homes in L’Isle sur la Sourge.    

Planning Your Gigondas Wine Tour

Gigondas with vineyard, Provence, France. Courtesy Deposit Photos.
Gigondas with vineyard, Provence, France. Courtesy Deposit Photos.

Let’s talk about organizing your own self-guided Gigondas wine tour. Here’s a suggested plan modeled after our October 2022 itinerary. It will be easy for you to duplicate if you choose. Or, use it as a template and plug in properties you wish to visit on your trip to this famous wine growing region in the South of France.

This Gigondas wine tour was designed for the casual oenophile as our group of friends have various levels of appreciation for the fermented grape. Some have formal training in the art of wine while the rest of us are casual wine lovers. Former school teachers, a chef, a hairdresser, and business people made up the traveling band for our two-day outing.

Heading For the Hills – Day 1

09h00 Gather your group and head for the hills north of Avignon. Casual wine drinkers have no doubt sampled the well-known vintages of Vacqueras, Gigondas, Cairanne, Beaume de Venise, and others. These appellations are clustered among fields and hills just north of the medieval walls of Avignon.

09h45 Take in the atmosphere with a morning café and croissant at a table in the center of one of these wine villages before venturing into the fields.

10h30 We enjoyed our first dégustation at Domaine de la Garrigue. You’ll have to wind your way through the vineyards down the hill from the town of Gigondas. It is off the main road but well worth the effort. Use of your vehicle’s GPS is advised.

The Bernard family’s friendly dogs greeted us in the parking lot at this property founded in 1850. The sixth generation is now at the helm of the winery with over 75 hectares of vineyards.

11h45 On the main square in Gigondas, you’ll find several tasting rooms from which to choose from. We opted for the Caveau de Gigondas. The staff is welcoming and speaks English. We purchased a few bottles here, several of which were opened before the credit card receipt hit our in-box.

12h30 You’ll find several picnic tables across from these tasting rooms on the terrace at Gigondas. As the shops close for lunch, unpack your picnic basket and enjoy the vineyard views. Perhaps someone in your group will offer to share a bottle of wine from your first dégustations. If you don’t wish to organize a picnic, there are several restaurants in the village.

02h00 A short drive from the center of Gigondas is the Hôtel les Florets. After lunch we opted for a relaxing afternoon at our hotel. Some chatted away the afternoon around the hotel’s swimming pool. Others read or dozed in the warm autumn sun. It was a lazy afternoon, executed exactly as planned.

Hotel les Florets is nestled at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, its unique mountain peaks piercing the bluebird provincial sky around the property. The more ambitious may opt for a hike along one of the nearby marked trails.

19h30 We met in the garden to share a bottle of champagne before our meal then gathered for dinner in the hotel’s dining room.

Onward And Upward – Day 2

Hotel les Florets. Photo by Kevin McGoff.
Hotel les Florets. Photo by Kevin McGoff.

7h- 10h There was no morning agenda. We regrouped in the hotel dining room for a petit-déjeuner of café and croissants to start the day. We operated at the agreed-upon slower pace, conserving energy for another ‘strenuous’ day in wine country.

10h45 Our group departed for our next dégustation, again a short drive away. As we wound our way down the hill there was a flurry of activity in the vineyards as man and machine engaged in la vendange – the grape harvest.

11h15 Our targeted winery was elusive. Inexplicably, given that our group of eight adults was accompanied by 12 cellphones and one GPS, we were unable to navigate to our targeted vineyard. We adapted quickly to the crises, easily accomplished given the breadth of winetasting selections the Rhone Valley offers.

We set our sights on Domaine Boisson just outside the village of Cairanne. Our decision was influenced by the name, Boisson, meaning beverage in English. It also helped that there were multiple signs providing directions, unlike the domaine of our originally planned stop on this Gigondas wine tour.

The impromptu choice of vineyards turned out to be a hit. The Boisson family was incredibly friendly and engaging. The wine here was tasty and well-priced. Several of us chatted with the winemakers and were offered a taste of the still-developing nectar from this year’s vintage.

12h30 The final event on our itinerary was a special treat. We followed up on friend’s recommendation for a lunch spot and booked a table at Les Côteaux et Fourchettes.

There is a quiet, shaded terrace at this unassumingly located oasis, found at a roundabout down the hill from Cairanne. We enjoyed a superb meal, accompanied of course by a red and white wine from the region. It was a perfect ending to our short excursion into the valley of the Southern Rhone.

Slow Down and Enjoy Your Visit

While everyone in our group appreciates a nice glass of wine, we decided not to compare every vintner on the hillside. Rather, we planned a relaxed Côtes du Rhône wine tour. Our idea was to visit several small vintners, lounge about the hotel, and have a couple of leisurely meals together.

The conversation during our excursion tended toward gossip of the village, complaints about the weather, and occasional discourse on British and American politics. If there was any deliberation as to the virtues of a particular varietal, it was brief. There were no efforts to impress others with concocted descriptions of the taste of a particular wine. It was a relaxing and enjoyable getaway; two wonderful days with friends.

Experience has taught us that buzzing up and down the road jamming five or six tastings in a day is not for us. If you agree, follow in our footsteps one day and create your itinerary along the Côtes du Rhône wine route.

Gigondas region B&Bs

If staying at a bed and breakfast in Gigondas is more your style, let us recommend three:

Stylish.

Rustic with pool.

Garden oasis.

What do you think?

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3 Comments
  • Jim Lykins
    December 4, 2022

    What an interesting overview of different wine 🍷 tasting excursions! I could almost taste the wine on my lips! Thanks for the fun and vivid tour!

    • Kevin
      December 4, 2022

      Thanks for the kind note Jim. This is a great part of the world to visit. I hope you put the Rhône Valley on your list.

  • Linda Funay McCarley
    July 5, 2023

    Thanks for taking us on your wine journey! Excellent info and fun descriptions.
    This sounds like a wonderful inclusion for our next year’s trip to Provence. Saving!