Visiting Wine Country
My favorite part of any winery tour is walking into the barrel room. Inhaling that first sniff of a combination of wood, grape, earth, yeast….mmmm. If anyone knows of someone who makes wine-barrel-room scented candles or room spray, please let me know. I’ll keep them in business forever.
My second favorite part? Tasting wines, of course (a very close second, indeed). But whether I’m taking a day trip to visit wineries in the Hill Country here in Texas, fitting in visits to vineyards on a trip to Italy, or devoting an entire vacation to touring purveyors of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I have a few key guidelines that I keep in mind that might be helpful to you as you plan your next wine-related adventure:
- Focus on quality, not quantity
- Plan a “drive-by” day and hire a car service
- Have a plan…but be flexible
Focus on Quality, not Quantity
I prefer “high-touch” experiences which are typically available by appointment only. Many wineries have tasting rooms which are open to the public, and touring these tasting rooms can be a lovely experience (as you’ll see in the next section). However, I’ve found my most memorable adventures were “by appointment only” visits, in which we toured the winery and tasted the winery’s best or rarest wines in a private (and unhurried) setting.
Schedule only two or three wineries to visit in a day. Attempting to tackle a big list of wineries in one day is hard. It is neither relaxing nor safe. Those tasty splashes of vino add up to multiple glasses quickly and we should all taste responsibly!
The best strategy:
- Plan a tour and tasting for the morning, around 10 or 11 am,
- Eat a leisurely lunch,
- Arrange a second tour and tasting in the afternoon, around 2 or 3 pm, then
- Pop into a third winery for a tasting only, if there’s a wine producer close by that’s interesting or recommended.
But all that said, another option is….
Plan a “Drive-by” Day and Hire a Car Service
There are times that I enjoy being be ferried around to experience wines of several different producers, rather than spending the time walking around vineyards and wineries. When you book the car, use a local company and request a driver who’s a local. Wineries can be in places that are difficult to find – down winding and hilly roads – and even GPS can’t help with some. You don’t want to waste your time with a driver who’s constantly getting lost (trust me – I’ve been there), and a local can often be a great source of info on hidden gems.
On that note…
Have a plan…but be flexible
By all means, research wineries in the area, ask friends and family for suggestions, and schedule/confirm visits before you go. However, as you visit wineries, ask for recommendations from people who work in the tasting rooms of other wineries to visit. Some of the best experiences I’ve had were at wineries recommended to me by folks who work in the industry locally, which I didn’t find – and probably wouldn’t have found – in my own research. If you’re only in the region for a short time, take notes and make plans to visit the next time you’re in the area. (Of course, there will be a “next time”!)
In the future, I’ll post some thoughts on how to get the most out of a winery visit, as well as observations on tasting etiquette. (Nobody wants to be “that guy” at the tasting room table!) Until next time, cheers and happy planning!