Have you experienced the pleasure of a wine cruise yet? If so, like many, you’re ready to book your next. If not, perhaps 2019 is your year. With several Livermore Valley wineries planning European cruises this coming year, it might be time to get on the boat.

We talked with several Livermore Valley winemakers who recently participated in cruises to learn what makes these waterborne cultural immersions so special and compelling.

Earlier this year, the folks at Nottingham Cellars, 3 Steves and Wood Family held a joint wine cruise to Bordeaux. Wood Family brought 32 club members, while 3 Steves and Nottingham Cellars booked 10 and 20 cabins respectively, so it was a true Livermore Valley overseas “field trip.”

It was clear that Collin Cranor, his wife Samantha and father Jeff, all of Nottingham Cellars, had a time they will never forget. The various Facebook and Instagram accounts told the visual story beautifully, and Collin took the time to share his thoughts on the meaning of the cruise, which he calls “the Euro-trip of a lifetime.”

It was the first such trip for Samantha and Collin, and they leveraged the cruise to visit Spain and Portugal as well as France. They began their journey in Paris, which Collin claims is easily his favorite city he has visited. From there, they took a train to Tours, and explored the Loire Valley wine region, which is filled with breathtakingly beautiful castles and scenery. They also dropped into the Leroi Cooperage in Cognac for a visit, after which they spent a few days in the town of Bordeaux before joining the others on the cruise ship that would take them on the Garonne.

Among the most memorable parts of the cruise for Collin were visiting the Medoc, walking the vineyards at Mouton and Lafite Rothschield and Chateaux Margaux, and having the opportunity to taste wines on the Left and Right banks. “It was like visiting the wine mecca,” says Cranor. “After the cruise, we spent a few days in San Sebastian on the northern peninsula of Spain up against the French border. The food and vibes of this town were amazing. We took one-day trip to Rioja for wine tasting and people meeting. Incredible wines and scenery.

From San Sebastian we flew into Porto, spent a few days exploring the city. We were staying in an apartment right on the Duoro looking across the river at all of the famed Port production facilities. We traveled inland and stayed a few days in the Duoro Valley. Absolutely the prettiest wine country I have scene. Rolling terraced hills of hundreds+ year old vines, inexpensive and amazing food and wine. We got a little nervous every time our little Fiat 500 rental approached a hill because we would lose speed. But we were the little engine that could, and that tiny thing conquered those hills!

We finished our trip in Lisbon where we had a chance to watch Atletico Madrid at Sporting Portugal. The energy of this match was insane. We explored the city and the southern coast of Portugal frequently stopping for delicious and inexpensive Vino Verdhe.

It was the trip of a lifetime, and my wife and I came back refreshed, with a new life perspective and ready to build on our foundation at Nottingham Cellars.”

They also are building their family foundation, as they moved from San Leandro to Livermore, and are expecting a son in March. Congratulations!

Rhonda Wood, who also went on the April Bordeaux cruise, says many more club members from all three wineries wanted to sign up, but the ship filled up fast. She thinks it might have been one of the fastest selling cruises AMA Waterways has ever done. What she does know is that they filled up the entire ship up with Livermore Valley Club Members and had a blast.

Rhonda found the Bordeaux Wine River Cruise simply amazing. “I loved sailing directly into the little towns and didn’t think I would do as many planned excursions as I ended up doing. What surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed the bus rides. They were very comfortable, not crowded with scenic rides and we had lovely tour directors who we came to look forward to seeing and singing to! We ended up going on the Red bus most the time and Carolyn was our tour guide, which is how we ended up singing “Sweet Carolyn,” and she loved us!”

Rhonda also learned how to do her first Powerpoint presentation. “I chose the subject, The Down and Dirty on the Left Bank vs. the Right Bank. This set me up to learn quite extensively about the area and work with Powerpoint. The presentation was fun and educational. Even though I was nervous, it went quite well. I even had 3 people ask for copies of my presentation!”

She says the vibe of the cruise was relaxing, and encouraged camaraderie, wine drinking and dancing in the evening. She’s very much looking forward to going on the Danube River cruise next November. “It is supposed to be the prettiest river cruise and goes to four different countries. We are already over half booked with local friends and new friends already!”

Larry Dino of Cuda Ridge is looking forward to another wine cruise next year, this time to Bordeaux. Says Larry, “We did the Rhine River cruise with AMA Waterways last November. River cruising is a great way to see Europe. You are basically in a moving hotel going from small village to village without having to pack and unpack. With each of our cruisers (last year and current), half the ship is filled with Cuda members and friends. You meet wonderful people and create lasting relationships and memories.”

The upcoming Cuda Ridge Bordeaux cruise aboard the AmaDolce will sail the Garonne River and its surrounding estuaries, calling upon port cities like Cadillac, Pauillac, Bourg and Libourne. An optional pre-cruise 4-night stay in Spain is available ($1200 per person, double occupancy) and well as a 3-night post cruise Loire Valley/Paris extension ($1140 per person, double occupancy).

In November, Las Positas sponsored a wine cruise to Normandy. Winemaker Brent Amos was not able to participate, but he says he’s looking forward to the cruise they have tentatively planned for Spring of 2020 to Bordeaux.

Upcoming Cruises

Among the Livermore Valley winery cruises on the radar:

Cuda Ridge: Bordeaux Cruise, March 28, 2019

Wood Family: Danube River, November, 3rd, 2019

McKahn Family Cellars: Provence Cruise, April 16-20, 2020

Las Positas: Bordeaux, Spring 2020

On the eve of the holidays, with a glass of Livermore Valley wine in hand, I want to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas and thank everyone in the local wine industry for blessing this Valley with the beauty and magic of vines, and for making our lives a little more merry and bright.