When I started Wine Explorers in 2014, the goal was to visit and document every wine-producing country in the world—something no one had ever done. Eighty percent of the nations that make wine are barely familiar to the public, which means much of the wine world still remains to be experienced by adventurous travelers.
After graduating with a masters and MBA in Wine and Spirits Business from the INSEEC Wine & Spirits Institute in Bordeaux, France, I settled into a position as export director at a Rhône Valley winery. However, wanderlust and a bit of craziness got the best of me, and I left to create Wine Explorers.
In four years, the Wine Explorers’ project visited 88 countries and more than 500 wineries, where we tasted in excess of 5,000 wines. In pursuit of the hidden treasures of unknown wine regions, we covered more than 236,000 miles and journeyed nearly 10 times the circumference of the globe.
How to travel wine country for a living
The first step was to find partners to help finance the plan. The search took nearly two years. Surprisingly, much support came from businesses outside the wine industry. DB Schenker, one of the world’s largest transportation companies saw an opportunity to communicate their ability to ship bottles from every wine-producing country on the planet. Meanwhile, automobile producer Pilote created a fully equipped, 23-foot camper van for the project, with our logo and large map emblazoned on the back. We traveled across 42 countries in that van, across Europe and the Caucasus.
After funding, the second step was to convince my high school friend, photographer Ludovic Pollet, to join me.
Our first journey began in Africa. It was the most difficult leg of our adventure, but also proved one of the most rewarding quests. We were on the road for three months. No one knew us, and we had almost no information about most of the countries we were visiting.
We explored the wine culture of Namibia. There, we found wineries in the middle of the desert that cultivated Syrah and Colombard. In Zimbabwe, a vineyard planted in the middle of a 600-hectare (1483-acre) safari park was populated with wild animals like giraffes, zebras and buffaloes.
Ethiopia, a country most don’t associate with wine, had intrepid producers that grew Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chenin Blanc from plots 5,250 feet above sea level. In Kenya, we discovered hidden wineries and grapes that sprang from the volcanic soils of the Great Rift Valley. We traveled to Madagascar, Tanzania and Egypt via minibus, rental cars and an occasional plane.
(Pro tip: If you ever decide to explore Madagascar’s wine country, budget plenty of time to navigate some of the worst roads ever. Six hours by car to travel less than 100 miles, in our case.)
The best way to taste more than 5,000 wines
We’ve developed a methodical ritual for winery appointments. First, a visit of the vineyards and the installations. Next, an interview with the owner, winemaker or viticulturist. Last but not least, a wine tasting. Ludovic was always by my side with two Canon cameras.
Our policy is to visit just one winery per day to get a true feel for a place. Along the way, we slept in the most unlikely places: a castle in Belgium, a hut in the Canadian woods, a luxury hotel in Bulgaria, and a yurt in Kazakhstan.
We visited 22 countries per year, averaging about one country every two-and-a-half weeks. The maximum time on the road we allow at once is three months, which allows us to return to France, recharge our batteries, reunite with our friends and family, and prepare the next stage. I was married last year and became a father in January. Only with the support of my wife and my family could this marathon have been achieved.
In 2015, after two years on the road and some 40 countries explored, Ludovic left the project. Fortunately, three photographer friends, Manon Perramond, Quentin Huriez and Timothé Renaud, came on board, and the project grew.
In 2017, I met Brice Garcin, the last contributor to the Wine Explorers, who added a drone and Steadicam to our arsenal. With him, we created a 10-episode wine documentary series in French and English that’s scheduled to be available on YouTube in September.
There are so many nuggets to be discovered all over the world. From Sweden with its white wines made of Solaris, to Patagonia with its outstanding Pinot Noir. Colombia surprised with its Riesling, as did Thailand with its sparkling Chenin Blanc. Whether Algeria, Azerbaijan or even the Dominican Republic, I have seen with my own eyes that it’s possible to make good wines almost anywhere.
By getting the lay of the land in places without highly financed public relations machines, we met real people that made wines with their soul. Ultimately, emotions are the most important part of wine. After all my explorations, I still have this beautiful feeling of being a beginner, because the wine world is an infinite playground that never ceases to amaze me.
Wine finds from around the globe
The Indigenous Variety to Try: Areni, a native black grape from Armenia. It’s carefully cultivated and aged in amphorae. The result is spectacular.
A Must-Visit Surprise: Tropical Thailand defies the laws of classical viticulture. My wife and I served GranMonte Crémant Extra Brut from Thailand at our wedding in 2018.
A Winery We Love: In Palestine, Philokalia winery is a unique project initiated by Sari Khoury to safeguard the local heritage. They have already identified 23 local grape varieties.
Picture Perfect Vineyards: Ocoa Bay in the Dominican Republic is one of the only wineries in the Caribbean. It faces the sea and sandy beaches.
A Winemaking Paradise: Tasmania, the only island state of Australia, is a fascinating and intriguing wine region. Thanks to its cool climate, it’s perfect for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.
Next on Our List: Syria and Venezuela are the only two destinations missing on the project’s hunting board. Considered “unstable” for the moment by the winery owners there, we wait patiently for the chance to visit both countries.
Edited by Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen.