So you’ve taken the first step and decided to plan a trip to wine country. Maybe you’ve decided to surprise your significant other with a sweet weekend activity. Or maybe your parents are coming to visit and your father thinks of himself as somewhat of a sommelier. Regardless of the circumstances, planning out a visit to Napa or Sonoma can be a daunting task for the majority of us with a low score on the wine knowledge scale-(somewhere between “I drink wine because it’s purple” and “Why yes, I would say 2012 was the best year for California wines.”) Fear not though- if you follow these simple guidelines you’ll be looking back fondly on your wine tasting experience for years to come.
Things to consider when choosing a tour:
1. What’s included in the cost?
Many tour companies offer packaged trips to wine country, however not all of them offer the same value. Most tours will include pick up and drop off somewhere in San Francisco. Some tours will include lunch and along with the cost of 3-4 wine tastings at different wineries ($10-$25 per tasting in Sonoma, and $30-$45+ per tasting in Napa). It’s important to note whether the cost of your tour includes your wine tastings. The benefit to having the tasting cost included is that there won’t be any surprise additional costs when you get to wine country, unless of course you decide to buy wine.
2. What kind of group experience are you looking for?
Wine tours fall into two main categories: those that are private and those that are open to the public. If you are visiting wine country with a large group that has very specific wineries in mind, it may be best to arrange a private tour. If you are planning for a smaller group or a group that is very easygoing it can be a nice change of pace to go on a tour open to the pubic. This allows you and your group to mingle with other wine enthusiasts, which can be quite the bonding experience (especially by the third winery).
3. What kind of wineries do you want to go to?
Both the Sonoma and Napa Valleys offer an exceptional range and quality of wines. So when choosing between Sonoma and Napa it is important to consider the atmosphere you are interested in. Wineries in the Sonoma Valley tend to be on the smaller side, are often family run, and have a more down-to-earth vibe. Downtown Sonoma offers a cute collection of tasting rooms, restaurants and shops surrounding the main plaza. Wineries in the Napa Valley are generally larger and more upscale, and are producing wines on a greater scale. Napa wineries often have elaborate gardens and art galleries that add to the experience of your visit. Downtown Napa features the Oxbow Public Market.
4. Should you bother with a guided tour if you can plan it yourself?
There are two important things to consider when deciding whether to plan your own trip to wine country, or sign up for a guided tour. Some wineries will require that reservations for tastings be made ahead of time- sometimes months in advance. When taking a guided wine tour you will have the benefit of not needing to make reservations on your own, as they will be taken care of by the tour company. The second thing to consider is that tour companies have established relationships with the wineries they frequent. What this means for you is often the difference between a cordial interaction with the sommelier or individual leading your tasting, or a much warmer interaction. Of course, this will vary by winery. Ultimately, taking a guided wine tour also relieves you from requiring a designated driver in the group, and affords you the ability to truly kick back and enjoy your wine experience.
Bonus Wine Tour Tips
When you come across a wine that isn’t your favorite, do not hesitate to dump your glass into the provided “tasting receptacle”. Don’t worry about offending the individual pouring the wine- they didn’t make it and they have wines they don’t like too!
If you know that you don’t like white wines, or are particularly fond of sweet wines, make sure to let your pourer know. They are happy to accommodate your wine preferences, and will substitute wines they think you will enjoy more into your tasting.
If you are asked at the end of your tasting if you would like to “revisit” any of the wines you’ve tried, don’t be confused. This is sommelier code for “would you like to drink more wine for free?” and is a tactic used to help encourage you to buy wine. Even if you don’t intend to purchase a bottle you should feel free to revisit your favorite of the flight.
So there you have it, the knowledge to empower you to plan a wonderful trip to wine country. Of course if you want to come with Vantigo, you can do that as well!
About the Author // Eliza Dropkin is the newest member of Vantigo. She enjoys live music, good food, and cruising around town in Jerry (the other newest member of Vantigo).