For many people wine is not just a drink, it’s a way of life. They read the backs of bottles, search for tasting notes, and invest in a mighty collection of wines to ensure that there is always the perfect vintage to match the occasion.
If wine is what makes you tick and you’re considering a move abroad, it’s probably worth looking into a life in vineyard country.Plastered to the side of every bottle is the name of the region from which it comes, and many of these have become synonymous with the finest quality wines.
Bordeaux, Rioja, Chianti: for many of us these names conjure up memories on the palate rather than thinking of new destinations. But stop remembering those fruity grace notes and the full-bodied taste and concentrate for a second.
Not only are wine-growing regions home to brilliant booze, but they are also sunny, peaceful and with limited rainfall. This could be the perfect destination, especially when you consider the spectacular vistas, looking out on rows of perfect vines as the sun breaks over the mountaintops.
So whether you are looking to retire, settle down or start up a new venture, pour yourself a glass and settle down with our guide to the best destinations for wine-loving expats.
10. Hunter Valley, Australia
Australia might be famous as the home of beer-swigging outback tough guys and dusty Jackaroos, but the Land Down Under has a refined palate for light refreshing white wines.
In actual fact, the average Aussie sips their way through 30 litres of wine every year, favouring white over red or rosé. Australian wine is popular both home and away, with 530 million litres being exported globally to make the country the world’s fourth-largest wine exporter.
Australia’s relationship with wine is as old as the nation itself, with vine cutting being brought over by Governor Phillip along with the first convicts who founded the colony in 1788. Unfortunately these plants failed, but by 1822 there was a thriving export trade with the wines winning international awards.
Every Australian state has a wine industry, but the most famous of these is the Hunter Valley. The area is known for its Semillon, its bittersweet Chardonnays and its full-flavoured Cabernet Sauvignon that goes well with lamb or steak.
The valley enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with bright sunshine but a cooling sea breeze keeping temperatures comfortable. Cutting a swathe through the Great Dividing Range, it’s relatively easy to get from anywhere in the valley to Newcastle or even down to Sydney. The valley is home to dozens of small rural communities and contains numerous conservation areas and nature reserves.
9. Montevideo, Uruguay
Vineyards need clear skies, clean air and just the right soil acidity. So it might seem odd to include Uruguay’s capital and biggest city on this list. Montevideo has consistently been listed as having South America’s highest quality of life, probably due to the fact that the city is at the centre of a wine-growing region.
Uruguay’s wine industry is entirely thanks to immigrants who travelled to the Atlantic coast country in the 1870s. Coming from Italy and the Basque country, the new arrivals made use of their expertise and immediately set to work laying out vineyards.
Things really took off for Uruguayan wine in the 1950s with the introduction of the Albariño grape. The variety helped offset the relatively low production thanks to poor local soil. The hardy grape can produce high yields that lend themselves to clean, rich tasting whites. Oaky Tannat, with its raspberry aromas, is the nation’s favourite red.
The Montevideo area accounts for much of the 67,000 tonnes of wine produced in the country each year, making it South America’s fourth-largest producer.
Uruguay is one of the world’s most liberal nations and enjoys some of the highest quality of life, being South America’s only high-income nation. Uruguayans are some of the most open-minded peoples and enjoy one of the lowest rates of official corruption in the world.
8. Napa Valley, California
California produces 90% of America’s wine and is such a part of Napa County’s identity that a bunch of grapes adorn the state seal.
The story of Napa Valley’s success began in 1862 with Prussian immigrant Charles Krug establishing the first commercial vineyard. However, over a century of trouble prevented the wine business from taking off. Viticulture in the region was assaulted by waves of pests, drought, Prohibition, depression and war.
At the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 Californian wines beat French wines to much acclaim, suddenly popularising them to an international audience. Suddenly the ‘new world’ wines were seen as equal to their older European counterparts and the public started buying them en masse.
Napa County is warm year-round and enjoys a cooling breeze from San Pablo Bay. The western side of the valley is wetter than the east due to storm clouds breaking over the easterly mountains in winter.
The Valley is sparsely populated, with the majority of residents concentrated in a number of small towns close to Mount Saint Helena at its head. Many of these towns have capitalised on the wine trade, hosting highly acclaimed restaurants, farmers’ markets and luxury hotels.
7. Mendoza, Argentina
Mendoza is home to some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world. Sitting in the Andean foothills, these grapes grow at 1,100m above sea level. These high-level growing operations are regarded as Argentina’s most important, accounting for nearly two thirds of the nation’s wine.
Immigrants from southern Europe in the 19th century brought a wine boom in the region. Spanish and European expertise helped create better yields of new grape varieties. Coupled with the opening of railway links to Buenos Aires, Mendoza suddenly became a global player in the wine trade.
Mendoza produces 70% of Argentina’s 1.5 billion litres of wine each year, but the province enjoys a wide range of agriculture. Thanks to the changing landscape climbing across the Andes, the area is able to grow a range of fruit and vegetables and has a thriving business in honey and beeswax.
Thanks to a fall in the value of the Argentinian Peso, Mendoza is enjoying a rush of tourism into the area. Chilean and Peruvian visitors make tours of the vineyards in summer and go skiing at the renowned Las Leñas resort.
6. Elqui Valley, Chile
A short hop over the Andes from Mendoza, the Elqui valley sits just south of the Atacama Desert. With the driest non-polar desert to the north and the freezing Andes to the east, the Elqui valley strikes a perfect climatic balancing act to be a great spot for grapes.
With very little rainfall, rocky slopes and temperate weather, Elqui happens to be perfect for growing Syrah grapes. These dark, smoky berries lend themselves to full-bodied wines that are best after bottle aging.
A byproduct of the vineyards is Chile’s most popular liquor, Pisco. The powerful brandy ranges from 30% to 43% and is a proud part of Chilean culture.
5. La Rioja, Spain
La Rioja has an excellent pedigree for winemaking. There are records dating back to the year 873 that document monastic communities making wine there. The monks were apparently doing a roaring trade, as they claimed it had miraculous healing powers. In the 13th century Gonzalo de Berceo, a clergyman and Spain’s first recorded poet, waxes lyrical about the wine’s magical powers.
Residents of the autonomous region are still passionate about their wine, famously holding La Batalla de Vino every year. The party-cum-food-fight sees thousands joining a parade to mass with wine jugs in hand, and after the service a wild party of drinking competitions erupts. Revellers throw their beloved Rioja over each other until everyone is dyed a vivid purple colour.
With viticulture the main industry in the region, La Rioja has one of the lowest population densities of anywhere in Spain, making the area incredibly peaceful.
That’s not to say the area is filled with country bumpkins: La Rioja has a 30% higher rate of university graduates than anywhere else in Spain.
4. Chianti, Italy
The famous rotund little bottle wrapped in a straw fiasco may have given way to more contemporary wine bottles, but Chianti is still one of Italy’s most popular exports.
The Chianti area of Tuscany produces 8 million cases of the iconic red and some of its lesser-known white wines. The medium-bodied wine delivers a hint of cherry with nutty tone and a floral nose.
The region runs south from Florence to just north of Siena and has a tradition of winemaking that extends to medieval times. Viticulture still dominates the local economy, and the region’s many small towns often have historical links to particular vineyards.
It’s not unheard of for foreigners to move into these small communities, and they are often welcomed as fellow wine enthusiasts.
3. Bordeaux, France
Romans began the first vineyards here in the 1st century and, even though the region has changed hands during warfare, wine production has remained continuous ever since.
Bordeaux produces its own wines in a wide range of varieties, inspiring or with direct links to vineyards the world over. Cuttings from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have travelled from Bordeaux to found ‘New World’ wineries.
One of the world’s largest wine regions, Bordeaux includes 120,000 hectares of vines, churning out 700 million bottles a year.
Bordeaux is the spiritual homeland of winemaking and a community of global vintners, The Meritage Association, works to share knowledge of the area with new producers.
2. Constantia, South Africa
Constantia is an affluent suburb of Cape Town, but wine lovers everywhere know it as the home of Constantia wyn, a dessert wine so good it became the favourite of kings and emperors.
When exiled on St Helena Napoleon ordered barrels of it, Fredrick the great quaffed cups of it and Jane Austen’s characters praised “its healing powers on a disappointed heart”.
Production of the dessert wine came to a halt in the 19th century when the destructive phylloxera aphid ravaged the country’s vineyards. Recent years have seen the classic wine produced again thanks to the efforts of three vineyards and researchers at Stellenbosch University.
Constantia sits 15km from central Cape Town at the foot of Constantiaberg Mountain. As well as a being the home of South African wine, it has been a favourite home of the rich and powerful. Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer lived at historic Tarrystone House. A short drive away it Hout Bay, home of Africa’s big wave surfing.
1. Champagne, France
No list of wines would be complete without a mention of the most luxurious of drinks. A favourite of royalty, there are as many myths and sales tactics intertwined to its history as there are facts.
The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in the Champagne region as far back as the 5th century, but it was the Christian church that made the wine famous, using it in the coronation of kings.
It wasn’t until 1531 that the famous bubbles were added to the Champagne story. Modern myth has the secret behind the sparkling wine being unravelled by a French Benedictine monk named Dom Pérignon, inspiring the iconic brand of the same name.
Champagne production has always been a difficult process, thanks to the high pressures stored in the bottle. It was estimated that up to 90% of 18th century Champagne was lost in regular barrages of exploding bottles.
The region that gives its name to the iconic drink sits in the north west of France, enjoying cool temperatures and low rainfall. Vineyards dominate the gentle rolling hills, but small forests dot the landscape that is largely untouched by modern development.
Over 160km from Paris, the Champagne region is a distinctly rural community, where village populations rarely top 200 and the vineyards dominate.
A new life in Champagne would be an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Article by Andy Scofield, International Features Writer