From boat to vineyard, the best wine regions to hire a sailing trip
Salt in the air, wind whipping your hair, a teak deck warming the soles of your feet. As your skipper veers toward the final length of the Maritime Highway, bridging the gap between ocean and port, a distant point rises up a volcanic slope fringed by emerald vineyards.
Rachel Carson, American marine biologist, ecologist and author of silent spring once noted of the coastline, “in every promontory, in every curved beach, in every grain of sand, there is the story of the land.” His timeless observation applies particularly to traveling through or around wine country by boat, an approach that reveals to the student of grapes the contours of a landscape and the geological origin of a vineyard. Of course, you don’t need to have a learned vision of viticulture to taste the hedonistic pleasure of navigating between stopovers to eat and drink fruit from an unknown place.
Sailing through the Mediterranean or New Zealand wine region, whether by sloop, catamaran or even motor yacht, should be part of every traveler’s experience at least once in their lifetime. Of the three main types of boat charter, bareboat, skippered or crewed, skill and budget are the most important factors. Whichever you end up choosing, these four destinations offer singular sights and wine, and perhaps some lessons from the sight of water demystifying the liquid in your glass.
The granite island of Corsica offers the perfect mix of dramatic scenery, elegant towns and fiercely independent winemakers working with local grapes. of nature toilet water, a heady scent of sea salt, herbs and peppery-balsamic notes, pervades the air.
Sailors have several ports of call on the west and north coasts that adjoin the main wine regions. The island’s main varietals include the spicy, structured reds of Niellucciu (a genetic match to Sangiovese) and Sciaccarellu, the two often blended, as well as the white Vermentinu grape.
Whether you have chartered a sailboat or a super yacht, there is room for both in the marina of Ajaccio, the capital of the west coast. During the summer, the town is packed with restaurants and nightclubs, making it a lively stopover near some of the best wineries on the island. The appellation of Ajaccio is considered the birthplace not only of Napoleon, but of Sciacarellu. Hire a car for the day and drive south to the Domaine Comte Abbatucci and U Stiliccionu vineyards, just ten minutes apart.
Back on the boat, sail north to Calvi. You’ll pass the oft-photographed Gulf of Girolata, a picturesque village sandwiched between sea and mountains. After docking, incursion into the nearest wine appellation, Corse Calvi. Le Clos Landry, perched above the water in a 1900 stone cellar, is just six minutes from the port. Fill up on Vermentinu, then drive 30 minutes east to Domaine Maestracci for a few bottles of rosé to relax on the boat.
Continue the journey along the steep coast of the limestone plateaus to Saint-Florent, a traditional fishing village popular with owners of luxury yachts. It’s an ideal base for visiting the island’s premier wine appellation, Patrimonio, where you can sample mineralized whites from Vermentinu and rich, earthy reds from Sciaccarellu. Look for wines from Marie-Charlotte Pinelli, Yves Leccia, Antoine Arena and Clos Venturi.
With no vineyards more than 75 miles from the coast, New Zealand is heaven for wine-loving sailors. Start in New Zealand’s capital, Auckland, where most charters originate from the Hauraki Gulf. A testament to the country’s courage when it comes to yacht racing, Auckland hosted the 36th America’s Cup in 2021. Before you go, catch up on Auckland’s growing craze for natural wines in its multitude of bars and restaurants.
The trip to Waiheke Island takes an hour from the city center. Kennedy Point, at the mouth of Putiki Bay, has temporary berths for day trips. Hire a car with Waiheke Rental Cars to visit wineries like Mudbrick, Cable Bay, Stonyridge or Te Motu. Alternatively, drop anchor in a secluded cove on the island’s east coast to visit the Man O’War vineyards. The island specializes in Bordeaux-style reds and smoked Syrah.
Working south to Napier you will find several marina options. This charming art deco town is the anchor of the Hawke’s Bay wine region, famous for its Bordeaux-style blends and Syrah from Gimblett Gravels. With many wineries to choose from, well known names include Villa Maria, Trinity Hill and Te Mata Estate.
Continuing along the southeast coast you will come to Gisborne. Gisborne Wine Center is right in the harbour, near the yacht club and public marina, although the main reason to stop here is James Millton’s biodynamic Chenin Blancs.
One could spend days exploring the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island. Most of this coastal paradise of bays and coves is only accessible by boat. Close to Marlborough is the country’s most famous wine region, known for Sauvignon Blanc and, more recently, Syrah and Pinot.
Ionian Islands, Greece
Everyone swoons for Santorini and the Cyclades, but navigating the lush Ionians is still an insider’s choice. The six key islands of Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Zakynthos, Ithaca and Paxos have dozens of coves and ports to drop anchor.
Di Bingham founded the family business Sail Ionian in 2003, growing the fleet of charter yachts and catamarans to over 30 boats and counting. The family chose the Ionians for several reasons. “The islands are close together, there are no major tides or hazards like reefs to worry about, and the winds here dominate the northwest and aren’t as strong as in other places. “other parts of Greece. It’s a perfect place to gain confidence,” he said.
Of course, the “stunning scenery, beautiful anchorages and quayside taverns with a vast selection of wines that increase every year” keep their business booming. For crewed charters, Sail Ionian will arrange wine tours in Lefkada, Ithaca or Kefalonia. “There are a lot of options,” Bingham said.
For those sailing without a crew, all navigation systems lead north to Corfu. This star of the island chain lies at its closest point just two miles from Albania. Embark at Mandraki Marina to stroll through the Venetian harbour, swim on wild beaches, then go tasting at Nicoluzo, Pontiglio, Theotoky and Leivadiotis Winery. Local wines include citrus-scented whites from Kakotrygis and medium-bodied reds from Skopelítiko and Martzaví.
Kefalonia specializes in Robola. Embark at Marina Argostoli in Argostoli, the capital of the island, which captivates with its clear waters and sandy beaches. The location is strategic for visiting the cellars of Melissinos-Petrakopoulos and Gentilini Winery & Vineyards. Also worth a visit, Sclavos Wines cultivates Mavrodaphne and Vostilidi biodynamically.
Zakynthos, twelve miles off the Peloponnese coast, claims fame for its Instagram-friendly shipwreck on Navagio beach, usually seen in your feed as an aerial drone. Taste the island’s wines made from Robola, Skiadopoulo, Katsakoulis and Pavlos, perfect if you appreciate the wonderful and the dark.
The Croatian coast, dotted with arid islands and finger-like peninsulas, enjoys a flurry of summer boating activity. When traveling overland, it’s easy to get FOMO to monitor boats from shore. Fortunately, a range of charter options, from budget to luxury, abound. On the high end, Sail Dalmatia regularly organizes bespoke wine-infused itineraries with private chefs along the coast.
“The wine regions of Dalmatia are mainly island-based. Hvar, Korčula and the Pelješac peninsula are easily accessible by boat,” says owner Dora Vulic. “Sometimes we can moor right next to vineyards like Lumbarda in Korcula,” she says.
A recent two-week itinerary set off from Lošinj in the northern Adriatic Sea, then headed to the ancient city of Zadar, the Kornati Islands, the Krka Waterfalls and the historic city of Split.
In Korčula, guests tasted lemony white grape Pošip, then sailed south to the Dingač appellation on the Pelješac peninsula. Tastings of local red Plavac Mali and platters of oysters from the famous Ston beds concluded the trip.