Wine Touring: Where to Start

So, you want to visit some of your favorite wine country regions to taste and/or tour. Maybe you just want to go somewhere local, like Temecula. If you’re wondering how to get started, here are a few tips for winery-hopping that I’ve found helpful.

Most wineries charge tasting fees. Often these are credited toward purchases. If the fee and terms aren’t clearly posted in the tasting room, just ask. Some wineries also require an appointment. Call in advance to find out, and if an appointment is required, making it one to three weeks ahead is usually sufficient. If you’re unable to make this appointment on time, call the winery as soon as you know. It’s the polite thing to do.

Most wineries are open either from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.—something akin to that of a small retail business. Some are open daily, others weekends or extended weekends.

  • You can plan the whole thing in advance by checking the online resources for the region you choose. Once you’ve picked your destination, just search for “Sonoma Wineries,” or “Napa Wineries,” etc., and make yourself an itinerary. This will keep you on pace and get you to the right place. Alternatively, you can visit places on the fly or on a whim, leaving things loose so you can stop wherever or whenever you like.
  • I’d suggest visiting no more than three to four wineries over the course of a day—maybe one or two visits in the morning, and two in the afternoon. This gives you a chance to see how much time your visits actually take, and whether one or more of your party gets easily bored, or the “tasting” gets out of hand (read, getting tipsy).
  • This brings up another point: Unless you have a designated driver, you may want to consider spitting out the wine, rather than swallowing it. Yes, yes, I know, swallowing the wine is half (or more) of the fun. But, be aware it’s going to take a toll on you, especially if you’re planning to stay out the whole day.
  • Spitting is commonplace now, and really quite easy. Plus, when done correctly, it doesn’t look the least bit uncouth. In fact, it will make you appear much more experienced, and the staff will take you more seriously. Usually, there’s a moderate-to-large container on the counter/table for wine-dumping purposes. Ask if it’s for spitting, too. Often the staff doesn’t want it used for this, and will have a different container or a some large Dixie cups to hand out for spitting.
  • The method of spitting is quite simple—just purse your lips and expel the wine in the same way you might spit out water after rinsing out your mouth. My advice is to get close to the container, but not too close, and push the wine out with a slight amount of force. If you get too close, you risk a splash-back from the container—very bad! But, if you stand too far back from the container, you risk missing it altogether—very, very bad! I know, this makes you want to swallow instead of spitting. But you will persevere.
  • If spitting just isn’t your thing, merely take very small sips and pour the rest of your wine into the dump bucket. Again, this really isn’t the ideal opportunity to get hammered, so be wise.
  • So, is that everything? Well, not quite. Stay tuned. We’ll talk about Tasting Room Etiquette in an upcoming blog.