For business travellers, fleeting visits are all in a day’s work. Be that as it may, if you’re a connoisseur of wines and spirits, it’s never a bad idea to extend your business trip by a couple of days and cross the city limits to visit some of the well known vineyards and distilleries. Here’s a list of some of my favourite alcohol and spirits experiences, which can easily be done in a day.
Grey Goose’s Le Logis experience
While France, and the region of Cognac in particular is not traditionally associated with vodka, seasoned vodka lovers are aware that Grey Goose comes from here. A little village called Juillac-le-Coq offers a “by invite only” alcohol experience at the Grey Goose chateau that dates back to the 17th century. The brand’s house since 2012 — Le Logis du Fresne — is an opulent French manor decorated in vintage French wood and wrought iron. The VIP Le Logis (dwelling in French) experience welcomes you to stay in the 14-bedroom mansion, flanked by vineyards and wheat fields, all within the estate, for one and a half days. Along with a brief look-back at the brand’s history, you are given an insider’s tour of the factory where vodka blends are created, followed by a visit to the bottling plant. Another interesting activity is the baking session that utilises Grey Goose flour — prepared by the same grains that are used to create the vodka — thereby highlighting the importance of ingredients of the spirit. A classic baguette prepared in this style makes one look at the ubiquitous French loaf from a different perspective. The experience also entails a specialised Grey Goose mixology session in one of the mansion’s historic rooms.
Getting there: Cognac is a five-hour drive from Paris. You can also catch a train from Paris that takes two hours and 55 minutes to reach there.
Cost: Price on request — limited availability. Contact Le Logis du Fresne in advance to reserve. greygoose.com
Jacob’s Creek cooking class
Jacob’s Creek cooking class promises a quintessential Australian experience in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, where founder Johann Gramp’s vision came to life. It includes sauntering into a vegetable and herb garden with a basket, picking out fresh, organic ingredients for your lunch, taking them to an al fresco and live kitchen, and then assisting the chef to prepare your meal. The meal at Jacob’s Creek cooking class is then paired with some of the most premium wines from the Jacob’s Creek portfolio. During this wine immersion, you also walk by dated structures, where you observe some of the heritage winemaking equipments. You learn about the antiquity of Jacob’s Creek dating back to 1840 and its influence on Australia’s wine culture too. Those with the luxury of time can ask the staff at the Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre to direct them to walking trails where you can stroll through picturesque vineyards and the Australian bush. Alternatively, you can ask for a gourmet picnic basket to be arranged in the gardens alongside the famous banks of Jacob’s Creek that lent its name to the brand. Pull out a smorgasbord made with Australian produce that’s paired with some tasty Jacob’s Creek wine to soak in the beautiful surrounding.
If you fancy a road trip, don’t forget to check out the spectacular Steingarten Vineyard, about ten minutes away, known for its Riesling as well as what’s known to be the “best panoramic view” in Adelaide Hills.
Getting there: Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre is an hour’s drive from Adelaide.
Cost: A$175/₹8,558 per person. jacobscreek.com
The Glenlivet experiences
Head to the home of The Glenlivet near Ballindalloch in Moray, Scotland in the far flung corners of the Scottish Highlands for the next experience. The Glenlivet Distillery is tucked away in a verdant glen (a narrow valley, especially in Scotland or Ireland) through which the River Livet flows along the backdrop of the dramatic Scottish countryside. It was in 1824 that founder George Smith acquired the first legal licence to distil in the glen beside River Livet, hence earning the title of “The Glenlivet”. Safe to say, it is considered to be one of the most iconic Spey-side malts. As a visitor to The Glenlivet Distillery, you can opt for a variety of experiences, all of which maintain the leitmotif of showcasing “the glen” and how the area enhances the quality of the malt. While you are encouraged to visit the distillery, the museum and the visitor’s centre, I would advise purchasing a ticket for one of the “smuggler’s trails” that are walking tours of the Scottish countryside. The trails range from 6km to 11km and are assisted by a guide who narrates interesting anecdotes from the history of The Glenlivet. Out of these, the Malcolm Gillespie Smugglers trail — named after the exciseman who commanded respect from all corners — is not for the fainthearted. The terrain is particularly challenging. It spans 10.5km through rocky pathways and forest land, where animal lovers could get lucky with sightings of red deer, roe deer, mountain hare, curlew, snipe and grouse. Following this, if you aren’t too outdoorsy, you can prior book The Legacy Tasting Experience for tastings of the rarest and most exquisite single malts produced at the distillery, such as The Glenlivet 21 year old, The Glenlivet 25 Year Old and The Glenlivet 50 Year Old from The Winchester Collection 1964.
Getting there: Ballindalloch is about a three-hour drive from Edinburgh.
Cost: Smuggler’s trail walks are free. The Legacy Tasting Experience is priced at £60/₹5,208 per person. theglenlivet.com
The Louis XIII experience
If the very thought of sipping on one of the world’s most expensive cognacs excites you, The Louis XIII Experience at its maison (house) is a must do. Rémy Martin’s Louis XIII cognac takes 100 years to make, which means that since its origins in 1874, each generation of cellar master selects the oldest and most precious eaux-de-vie (French for spirits) for Louis XIII. Since 2014, cellar master Baptiste Loiseau has been setting aside eaux-de-vie for his successors in the coming century.
Begin the experience at the present house of Louis XIII that’s located in the heart of Cognac city. You can gain insider access to the maison and learn about the nuances of cognac production on this experience. Here, you can opt for a private tour of the Salle des Références, a reception room of sorts where almost all the cognacs produced by the house since 1724 are gathered — and opened up only for Louis XIII’s VIP customers. You can also explore the part of the estate where the cognac is produced. This special elixir is made up of a unique blend of over 1,200 eaux-de-vie sourced from the district of Grande Champagne. To conclude this experience, you will also enjoy a guided tasting session of Louis XIII in the signature crystal glasses designed by acclaimed French artist Christophe Pillet. For this, you are led to the old distillery to savour the king of cognacs, complemented by a contemporary French meal. Interestingly, while the different courses of the meal are paired with high quality French wines from Bordeaux and Bourgogne, the best is saved for last. Dessert is paired with Louis XIII.
Getting there: Cognac is a five-hour drive from Paris. You can also alight a train for Paris that takes two hours and 55 minutes to reach there.
Cost: €1,000/₹76,538 per person, including a chauffeur and a guide, booking required. louisxiii-cognac.com
The Pioneers Tour
Glenfiddich has an immersive experience for the whisky lover at its distillery in Dufftown, Scotland. Founded by William Grant in 1887, this is one of the last independent distilleries remaining in Scotland. An old-world charm emanates from its stone warehouses, copper tuns and historic facilities. The tour takes you back decades to understand the “craft” behind Glenfiddich. A comprehensive tasting session follows where you sip Glenfiddich 12, 15, 18 and 21 Year Old single malts. Next is a pitstop at Warehouse 12, which houses the uber-exclusive Malt Master’s Selection. Here, in the company of a malt master — the whisky equivalent of a cellar master — you explore a curated selection of four exclusive casks chosen by him. As a souvenir, you’re gifted a small bottle, which you can fill from any one of the four casks showcased. This is handed over to you with a little commemorative booklet. If you don’t mind burning a small hole in your pocket, head on over to the Malt Barn Bar, which features the largest collection of Glenfiddich in the world. Here you can taste the Glenfiddich 1958 whisky that is priced at a casual £1,250/₹10,8432. You could even have a personalised label for your bottle of Glenfiddich from the in-house boutique.
Getting there: Dufftown is about a four-hour drive from Edinburgh.
Cost: The Pioneers Tour is priced at £99/₹8,587. Malt Barn Bar prices depend on what you order. glenfiddich.com
Riaan Jacob George