Go Wine Tasting like a Pro
Planning to go wine tasting, but don’t know exactly where to go, what to do, what to expect, or how to pull it off? Wine tourism in America is big (Napa is Disneyworld for adults!) and there are tons of ways to spend your money. However, you’ll find that most of these options are a bit extraneous and nearly impossible to pull off in one trip! Let’s deduce how to pull off a wine tasting in a way that really immerses you in the region, its wines, and its people.
Choosing Your Travel Companion
The most important part of planning your wine tasting trip is your traveling companion. Who you travel with will dictate all the other aspects of the trip… so choose wisely.
There are really only 2 types of traveling companions:
- People who are slow and particular
- People who are fast and will try anything
If you’re in a position where this choice isn’t up to you, well, there are some clever ways to make everyone happy and still get what you want. If you know you are a type 2 (the traveler go-getter), practice patience with your travel partners and plan sections of your trip where you can be alone to explore what you want. If you’re a type 1, plan to have a home base that’s nice, so you can bow out of things and still have a great time.
What to Expect When Going Wine Tasting
California's North Coast Wine Map
Get to know the regions and wines of California's North Coast on this illustrated map.Buy Map
- Expect to be hit 3 wineries per day max.
- Wineries will require you make an appointment (at least a day or two in advance)
- Prestigious wineries are often closed to the public; don’t let this bother you, this is very common in popular areas like Napa.
- Most wineries wave the tasting fee if you buy wine
- Most wineries offer free tastings to professionals (distributors, sommeliers, retailers and sometimes bloggers)
- Pack a cooler or styrofoam wine boxes to keep your wine purchases from cooking in the car
How to hit more than 3 wineries in a day:
If you want to rally and visit more than 3 wineries a day you have 2 options: a.) Visit during a regional wine event so you can try lots of wines in one location OR b.) start planning your trip like a professional. BTW, professionals travel more like a type 2 traveler…
How do wine pros travel?
When sommeliers and other wine professionals visit a region, it’s not uncommon to have a very aggressive schedule. A professional may burn through 5–6 locations in a day, skip non-essential winery tours, visit mid-week, and never swallow (they spit their wines to stay sharp!). They often drive the entire region by car to get a feel of the land. To them, understanding the slopes, the dirt, and the overall feel of an area is just as important as tasting wine.
A pro schedule will be grueling, so pack plenty of water, snacks, Advil, Imodium (diarrhea), Dulcolax (the opposite), Valerian (sleep), wine wipes, breath fresheners and caffeine.
- Set up tastings at least 2 weeks in advance, with at least 2 full days in each region with the goal to hit 1 important winery each day sandwiched in-between smaller tasting-only visits.
- Ask wineries if they are hosting any group events where you can tag along with the group
- Organize your travel to minimize doubling back and start early (around 9am) to hit the farthest winery first and finish close to your evening destination
- Practice swishing and spitting–you’ll look like a pro, and tasting staff will respect you when they see this
- If you want to walk a vineyard, ask beforehand, many places have ticks or weird bugs that are very unpleasant
- Carry and hand out business cards for your wine business or blog.
- Save your drinking and indulging for dinnertime
- Remember to set your morning alarm!
- Don’t forget that we warned you it won’t be easy. You can do this!
How to Pick Where to Go Wine Tasting
Where are you going? Are there vineyards there? What is the weather like? What wines are this region most known for? What is the terrain like? How touristy is it? How big is it? These are some of the questions you should ask yourself to key-in on where to go.
Despite the fact that wineries will tell you that they do everything great, this is rarely the case. Most wine regions specialize in a particular type of wine, and that’s what you should expect to seek out. For example, if you go to Rioja, be prepared to drink a lot of Tempranillo and eat more than your fair share of white asparagus. If you go to Napa, expect to hear everyone tell you about their awesome Cabernet Sauvignon.
Here are our best tips on finding the right places to go:
- Look for producers who are small and have their own vineyards. They tend to be way more laid back and also much more knowledgeable about the nature of their wines.
- Seek out wineries in the hills as they are less traveled, cheaper, more appreciative of visitors, and have stupendous views.
- You only need to go on 2–3 winery tours to fully appreciate the entire winemaking process, so pick a winery tour that’s lead by the winemaker or winemaker’s assistant. Winemakers and their assistants are super helpful, educational and unapologetically real–in a good way!
If you just need to get a lay of the land, make note that nearly every wine region in the world has a wine consortium online with a lot of information, including free maps of the area. For example, Paso Robles wine country is supported by pasowine.com
A Few Notes on Accommodation
There are basically 2 choices when it comes to accommodation: a.) stay somewhere where the accommodation is a large part of the experience OR b.) sleep and shower as cheaply as possible to save your resources for other aspects of your trip (e.g. wine).
The best way to choose your accommodation is to think about your travel companion for the answer. If they’re a bit finicky, pick a place that’s a joy to visit and plan a spa day for them while you go adventure on your own.
Camping? Unless you’re in an RV, vanagon, yurt, or glamping tent (with shower facilities) it really sucks to camp while on a wine tasting trip.