Almost everybody loves travelling to wine country. The scenic vineyards and the interesting people you meet–and all the wine! The winemakers and winery owners are some of the world’s most charming and interesting people and they often give away samples of their wine for free (or at most a nominal tasting fee).
Here are twelve secrets on how to get the most out of your next trip to wine country.
Chances are you will taste more wine than you expected. Not only that, but if you’re typically a day drinker, it could catch up with you pretty quickly. Various tour companies are popping up in wine regions all over the country that are happy to chart your visits to wineries and take you to them. Tour companies may even get tasting fees waived.
#2 Go early in the day.
The thing that’s the most fun about a winery visit is chatting with the people behind the bar, who are often the owners or winemakers, especially at smaller wineries. They won’t have time to talk with you if it’s busy. Tasting rooms typically open by 10 AM – but check their web site before you just show up.
#3 Focus on the smaller places.
There is something comforting and unintimidating about the larger places with big parking lots, T-shirts for sale and lots of hired help — it starts to feels like Disneyland. But to feel the passion of wine and winemaking, it’s important to seek out the smaller places where you can really spend some quality time with the people behind the bar.
You can save yourself tons of time by picking up a copy of wine travel guidebook or a solid wine travel app. Wine country can take a lot of driving to get from winery to winery. Planning your trip is critical so you don;t end up wasting an hour retracing your route because you missed a must visit winery.
#5 Be cool.
Yes, this seems obvious. The problem is that people are used to shopping at big box stores and they forget about the people and focus on the transaction. In a smaller winery, you are likely to be in part of someone’s home and possibly talking to the owner. And you’re probably getting wine free, or for a small fee. Be nice, and show them the respect they deserve.
#6 Try new things.
In many parts of the country, the grapes that grow best are native American grapes or hybrids. Perhaps the winery makes a Chardonnay, but it’s not as good as its Vignoles. If you stick to grapes you know, you could miss out on the regional specialties.
Tasting-room personnel tend to ask this reflexively as an ice breaker, but many people who aren’t totally comfortable with wine find it hard to answer on the spot. In any event, you should be a little hesitant to answer it directly because you shouldn’t merely try only the kinds of wines you already know you like. Even if you think you only like dry wines, you should try some that are sweet, and vice versa. Think about saying something like, “I enjoy all kinds of wines. Which would you start with?”
#8 Ask where the grapes were grown.
Many wineries these days all over the country make wine from grapes grown in California or someplace else far away. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but when you visit a winery in, say, Oregon, part of the fun of the visit should be tasting wines made from grapes grown in Oregon, near where you’re tasting. If you don’t want to ask, just peek at the label. If it says “estate bottled,” that’s a sign that the grapes were probably grown right around the corner.
#9 Ask questions.
Don’t be shy. If you ask simple questions like “Does this look like it will be a good year?” or “What food goes best with this wine?” the person behind the counter will appreciate your interest. There are no stupid questions.
If you want to drink a big glass of wine, buy a bottle and have a picnic. And even if you are not driving, be very careful about how much you’re drinking. People who have had too much to drink ruin the tasting experience for everybody.
#11 Be careful how much you buy.
It’s a nice gesture to buy a bottle or two, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to. Still, many people tend to get carried away at wineries and buy more bottles than they initially intended. You’ll be amazed how quickly those bottles add up. Many wineries now can ship across state lines, so you can probably call and get those wines after you get home if you have non-buyer’s remorse later.
In fact one trip to Italy I actually looked up a wine on my phone and had my local wine store order a case of the exact wine and vintage and it was waiting for me when I got home.
#12 Keep wines out of the hot car.
If you do purchase wine on your wine country tour remember heat is a wines enemy. A car that’s sitting in the sun will cook your wines in no time flat. Find a way to avoid that.
Bonus: Wine tastes better at the winery.
The wines you bought at the winery will not taste as good at home as they did at the winery. We’re sorry to end this list with a downer, but it’s true. When you’re there, surrounded by the wondrous sights and smells of a winery, with the winemaker across the bar, pouring wine in pristine condition that has never traveled, the wine tastes special. You simply can’t replicate those conditions at home. But this is exactly why you should go taste wine at a winery this week.