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How to Enjoy a Wine Tour

How to Enjoy a Wine Tour

When you decide to go wine-tasting, it's easy enough to just grab your significant other, a couple friends, hop in the designated driver's car, and go! You'll head out, stop at a couple favorite vineyards, maybe be adventurous and hit another new one on the way.

Oops, the first one is closed for a private event. And the second one has a bachelorette party running around asking everyone if they wear boxers or briefs and screaming "Woooo!" every few seconds. The last one closes in twenty minutes... Think we can make it? And I haven't eaten all day, where's the closest fast food place? We can make it there in five minutes, right? Oh wait, this is a single lane highway and everyone's heading home now, there's no way we can get that last stop in.

I've dealt with that scenario (and other logistics issues) more times than necessary. It doesn't seem like going on a wine tour should take that much forethought and planning, right? Now I'm well-versed in planning out a wine tour, whether it's for me and my boyfriend or me and twenty of my closest friends on a charter bus, but it takes some practice in order to have the best time on your day of wine tasting.

First, call every winery you plan to visit ahead of time! Let them know how many people you will have in your party, and ask if there's anything special going on that particular day. I try to call a week ahead of time if I'm going with a group of four or fewer, but I'll call a month ahead to schedule a tasting for a group larger than that. Not all tasting rooms can accommodate a group of more than eight or ten people, and they need to know if a big group is coming so they can have adequate staff, samples, and seating for the group. Nothing will turn the tasting room staff against you faster than showing up with a large group unannounced. The day of your trip, call the tasting room again if anything has changed--number of guests or time you will arrive, in particular--so they have time to properly accommodate your party.

It's also a good idea to inquire if there are any special tours or experiences you should take advantage of when at the winery. Is there a barrel tasting or blend-your-own-wine workshop? What about a tour of the vineyards, facility, or wine caves? Will you be able to meet the wine maker? It's not necessary at every winery, but it's an easy way to break up the tastings and make the stop special.

Don't go into a day of tasting with the objective of getting drunk on wine. Not only will you miss the nuances that the tasting staff want you to experience, but also the hangover that hits you right at 5pm will make your trip home that much more miserable. You want to actually taste the wines you're sampling, and you want to help everyone at every winery have a good time too! There is no reason to pound back the pours and slam your glass on the countertop. There's no reason to get loud and rowdy. And there's absolutely no reason to drive while intoxicated. The police know where wine country is, and they're more likely to pull you over in those regions for driving even a little recklessly. If you can't handle your alcohol, know your limits, use the spit bucket, ask for water and crackers, and have someone else drive!

Please tip your tasting room server! They are there to make your experience at the winery more enjoyable, and they are serving you wine and possibly food to go with it. If you were at a regular bar or restaurant, you would tip the waiters and bartenders, so please don't neglect to do so at a winery.

Finally, don't crowd your day with too many tastings. Four has been the maximum pleasant number of wineries to visit in a single day, in my experience. We had a group of twenty people go to five wineries on one particular occasion, and not only did we end up running late, we had no time for lunch! Our bus driver probably still has PTSD from the rowdy drunkards whom he had to drive back from Napa two hours later than expected, though thankfully no one got sick and we managed to keep our composure while in the tasting rooms. Give yourselves plenty of time at each winery (at least an hour and a half) and allot time for travel between them, as well as any meals you plan to have. Don't show up to a tasting room if they will close within an hour, either--you want to get the full experience, not a rushed splash of a couple of their wines from a harried attendant who wants to get out of there as soon as possible after closing.

Next time you plan a wine tour, make sure you actually plan it and have the information and materials you need! Transportation, food, a schedule, and communication with the wineries you plan to visit are all necessary to having a smooth, enjoyable day of wine tasting, and that will save you headaches (from both logistics and liquor) every time.

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