Next time you visit the wine country, hire yourself a big limousine and follow these simple guidelines:
1. Plan your day around visiting as many wineries as possible.
2. Go to the same wineries everybody else does. After all, those are the popular wineries to go to, and they’re more than ready to put a wine glass in your hand.
3. Don’t listen to the tasting room staff, and be especially sure not to ask them too many questions. They’re not paid enough to be knowledgeable professionals.
4. Have a strong desire to self-medicate. Start your wine tasting early in the day, and get sideways by noon.
5. Get your exercise! Walk back and forth from the limo to the tasting room, and repeat often.
Now THAT’S your kind of wine country vacation, right? Many others just like you think so, too. Aren’t you glad you’re not alone? Be sure to keep the above guidelines handy, and refer to them often.
A Word to the Wise
Dear reader, as you may have guessed, the 5 guidelines above only apply to April Fools. For the rest of us who might consider ourselves to belong to the greater majority of responsible wine-loving adults, tasting wine is an experience to be savored and discussed, appreciated and remembered.
To tour a series of wineries to get a buzz is not what the wine-tasting experience is all about. Wine is food! And like the pleasure that comes from eating your favorite cuisine, wine can provide a similar allure. Food and wine, as many know, complement each other well. As with food, if you choose to taste wine, do it because you truly enjoy tasting it. But unlike food, don’t go to a tasting room because you’d rather be drinking a lot of wine. Instead, stay home! But be responsible there, too.
If you would maximize your visit to the wine country, let us then provide contrast to the above guidelines and consider what will allow your wine country vacation to be a memorable experience – not just a sideways tour.
5 Ways to Maximize Your Wine-Country Experience
Call it wine country appreciation. Or, call it self-appreciation. In either case, if you would choose to truly benefit from a trip to the wine country, here now are five responsible guidelines signified by letters, instead of numbers, to differentiate from the list above.
A. Plan your day around visiting the wine country, not just its wineries.
There are a whole host of wonderful opportunities to be found in the wine regions of the world, whether you’re touring the famed Bordeaux region, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, or the up-and-coming Calaveras County area west of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. A visit to these wine regions can include a number of historical, cultural, educational, heritage, and active outdoor pursuits. Quite often, having a local guide can dramatically enhance the personal growth aspects of vacationers.
Gaining appeal with today’s travelers are tours ranging from culinary education classes that take place in spectacular settings to wellness retreats that offer exercise and nutrition counseling as well as superb pampering. Or, if you desire to be more active, you can find tours that offer a few days of exploring the flora, fauna, and scenic vistas of local open spaces, then a superb meal with wine tasting. Travelers are increasingly booking such tours, and they are trending heavily toward booking them online on a myriad of tour and travel websites.
B. To properly enjoy your wine-touring experience, choose your winery destination carefully. Visitors are often drawn to the popular wineries that are located alongside the wine country’s main arterial routes; for instance, Highway 29 in the Napa Valley. And yet those are the areas in which you’ll find the greater share of vehicle traffic, especially during the summer tourist season. Of course, the traffic isn’t just cars, limousines, and tour buses. After you get off the bus or out of your car and into the winery, you’ll often wait in long lines of human traffic just to taste a wine or two. Ironically, this can defeat the purpose of Guideline A.
Many wineries and lodging operations offer better service and better vacation deals for your dollar during off-peak seasons. As a result, you’ll find that you get to linger longer at a restaurant or have a conversation with a winemaker that goes beyond the merely casual. Having the time to relax and not compete with other tourists on your vacation can dramatically augment not only your sense of well-being, but also your wine knowledge and your social network.
In addition, there are many family-owned wineries that are real treasures. It’s easy to overlook them, but once you make the effort to seek them out, you’ll often be rewarded with an experience that will have you telling your friends about them. You may even find the winegrower getting off his tractor to take you for an impromptu tour of his vineyard or winery operation. Of course, he might have you consider purchasing a case of his wines for his trouble. But then, you may also find that you’re not paying nearly the premium that you’ll pay at the more popular wineries along the main wine roads.
C. The tasting room staff earn their pay, and they do it out of passion. Let them guide you.
The wineries aren’t in business to attract more tourists. They’re in business because they have a clear understanding of the needs of their customers. If you’re not the world’s greatest wine expert, don’t worry! You’re among friends. Learning is why you traveled to the wine country in the first place, and winemakers and their staff love to talk about what they do. Listen, and ask questions. If you should visit more than one winery, ask the same questions.
You’ll enhance your understanding by the answers you’ll hear, and what’s more, you’ll be delighted that you asked.
D. Be fully aware of your experience. Participate in it, and find yourself enchanted by it. Don’t desensitize yourself to the magic of the wine country.
“The advantages of wine touring are beautiful scenery and a new learning experience. The disadvantages are that there’s not enough wine.”
This author has actually read the above statement in a review by a supposedly-serious wine expert. I’ve heard similar quips from the lips of the not-so-pleasantly plowed. While I might agree with the “advantage” half of that statement, the desired outcome of your wine tour should be a quality experience, not a quantity experience. Wine touring is not meant to be a dormitory-style competition.
Therefore, pace yourself. Pour the wine you no longer want into the proper receptacle, usually a spit bucket. Spit the wine into the bucket if necessary – it’s perfectly acceptable within the context of tasting wine. But nobody likes a drunken tourist – not the winery staff, not the patrons, and especially not the wine country police.
E. To properly enjoy the wine country, get out of the land yacht and explore your surroundings.
Bring your hiking shoes with you, and find a local trail. Or, if you prefer to connect to your new surroundings on a deeper level, hire a guide. The reasons that grapes do so well in the wine country are often the same reasons why most areas surrounding the wine regions of the world offer a number of marvelous outdoor experiences. You’ll find that a walk in the redwoods, an expansive mountaintop view, a remote meadow full of wildflowers, or a glimpse of a bobcat on the trail can heighten your wine country experience in sensational ways.
Plus, the exercise and the fresh air you’ll get from your outdoor excursion will build your anticipation of those fine meals and exquisite wines that you came to the wine country for. They are the reward for your physical efforts, they balance your intrinsic desire for deeper understanding, and they make your vacation complete.
Russ Beebe is an experienced wine taster and hiking guide who leads naturalist tours in the California wine country. Discover how you can enjoy the quintessential California experience at californiawinehikes.com.