Salt in the air, wind whipping your hair, a teak deck warming the soles of your feet. As your skipper tacks towards the last length of marine highway, closing the gap between ocean and port, a distant speck rises into a volcanic slope strung with emerald vineyards.
Rachel Carson, American marine biologist, conservationist, and author of Silent Spring once noted of the coastline, “in every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.” Her timeless observation bears specific application to traveling through, or around, wine country by boat, an approach which reveals to the student of the grape the contours of a landscape and a vineyard’s geological origin. Of course, one needn’t take a scholarly view of viticulture to enjoy the hedonistic pleasure of sailing between ports of call to eat and drink of the fruits of an unfamiliar place.
Sailing through wine country in the Mediterranean or New Zealand, whether by sloop, catamaran, or even motored yacht, should count among every traveler’s experiences at least once in their lifetime. From the three main types of boat charters, bareboat, skippered, or crewed, skill and budget factor most. Whichever your final choice, these four destinations serve up singular views and wine, and perhaps a few lessons from the vantage of the water demystifying the liquid in your glass.
The granitic island of Corsica offers the perfect mix of dramatic landscapes, stylish towns, and fiercely independent winemakers working with local grapes. Nature’s eau de toilette, a heady scent of sea salt, herbs, and peppery-balsamic notes, permeates the air.
Sailors have several ports of call on the west and north coasts that abut key wine regions. The island’s main grapes include structured spicy reds from Niellucciu (a genetic match to Sangiovese) and Sciaccarellu, the two often blended together, as well as white grape Vermentinu.
Whether you’ve chartered a sailboat or a super yacht, there’s space for both in the marina of west coast capital city Ajaccio. During the summer, the town thrums with restaurants and nightclubs, making it a lively stop in proximity to some of the island’s best wineries. The appellation of Ajaccio is believed to be the birthplace of not just Napoleon, but Sciacarellu. Rent a car for the day and head south to wineries Domaine Comte Abbatucci and U Stiliccionu, only ten minutes from one another.
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, foray into the nearest wine appellation, Corse Calvi. Clos Landry, perched above the water in a stone cellar from 1900, sits only six minutes from the port. Stock up on Vermentinu, then drive 30 minutes east to Domaine Maestracci for a few bottles of rosé to chill back on the boat.
Continue the journey past the craggy coast of limestone plateaus to Saint-Florent, a traditional fishing village popular with by luxury yacht owners. It’s a perfect jumping off point to visit the island’s first wine appellation, Patrimonio where you can taste mineral-soaked whites from Vermentinu and earthy, rich reds from Sciaccarellu. Look for wines by Marie-Charlotte Pinelli, Yves Leccia, Antoine Arena, and Clos Venturi.
With no winery further than 75 miles from shore, New Zealand is a wine-loving sailor’s paradise. Start in the capital of New Zealand, Auckland, where most charters originate in the Hauraki Gulf. As testament to the country’s yacht racing mettle, Auckland hosted the 36th America’s Cup in 2021. Before sailing off, catch up on Auckland’s growing craze for natural wines at its wealth of bars and restaurants.
The voyage to Waiheke Island takes an hour from downtown. Kennedy Point, at the mouth to Putiki Bay, has temporary berths for daytrips. Rent a car with Waiheke Rental Cars to visit wineries like Mudbrick, Cable Bay, Stonyridge, or Te Motu. Otherwise, anchor in a remote cove on the island’s eastern shore to visit Man O’War Vineyards. The island specializes in Bordeaux-style reds and smoky Syrah.
Working south to Napier, you’ll find several marina options. This charming art deco city anchors the wine region of Hawke’s Bay, famous for its Bordeaux-style blends and Syrah from the Gimblett Gravels. With lots of wineries to choose from, well-known names include Villa Maria, Trinity Hill, and Te Mata Estate.
Continuing along the southeast coast, you’ll reach Gisborne. Gisborne Wine Centre sits right in the harbor near the yacht club and public marina, though the main reason to stop here is for the biodynamic Chenin Blancs of James Millton.
One could spend days exploring the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island. Most of this coastal heaven of bays and inlets is accessible only by boat. Nearby 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 sailing between the lush Ionians remains the insider’s choice. The six key islands of Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Zakynthos, Ithaca, and Paxos, have dozens of coves and ports to toss an anchor.
Corfu, the star of the island chain, sits north across from Albania. Dock at Mandraki Marina to stroll the Venetian port, swim on wild beaches, then go tasting at Nicoluzo, Pontiglio, Theotoky, and Leivadiotis Winery. Local wines include citrus redolent whites from Kakotrygis and medium-bodied reds from Skopelítiko and Martzaví.
Kefalonia specializes in Robola. Marina Argostoli in Argostoli, the island’s capital, entices with clear waters and sandy beaches. The location is strategic for visiting the wineries of Melissinos-Petrakopoulos and Gentilini Winery & Vineyards. Sclavos Wines farms Mavrodaphne and Vostilidi biodynamically.
Zakynthos, twelve miles off the Peloponnese Coast, claims fame for its Instagram-friendly shipwreck on Navagio Beach seen in your feed as an aerial drone shot. Taste wines made from Robola, Skiadopoulo, Katsakoulis, and Pavlos, perfect if you appreciate the obscure.
Croatia’s coast, dotted with arid islands and finger-like peninsulas, enjoys a flurry of sailing activity come summer. Traveling by land, it’s easy to get FOMO watching the boats from ashore. Fortunately, a range of charter options, from budget to luxury, abound. On the higher end, Sail Dalmatia regularly organizes bespoke wine-soaked itineraries with private chefs down the coast.
“Dalmatia’s wine regions are mainly based on the islands. Hvar, Korčula, and Pelješac Peninsula are all easily accessible by boat,” says owner Dora Vulic. “Sometimes, we can moor right next to wineries like Lumbarda in Korcula” she says.
A recent two-week itinerary embarked from Lošinj in the northern Adriatic Sea, then headed for the ancient city of Zadar, the Kornati islands, Krka Waterfalls, and the historic city of Split.
On Korčula, guests tasted citrusy-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 beds of Ston, wrapped up the trip.