So you’re planning on going to Wine Country… where do you start? As a first step, check with friends (yes, include Facebook friends), family members, neighbors, work associates and anyone whose opinion you value to ask for suggestions if they have been to Wine Country. You may also want to do some research yourself online. There are countless travel sites where people post suggestions, even itineraries (e.g. the Forum section of TripAdvisor.com). If you’re going to Northern California, be aware that Wine Country is more than “Napa.” You will miss out on some wonderful wines if your trip takes you only to Napa. Napa has the reputation, the glitz and the pizzazz that notoriety brings. Napa also has many extraordinary wines. However, don’t compromise your Wine Country experience by leaving Sonoma out off your plans. Sonoma is more laid back, quaint and some people describe it as “friendlier.” And there are wonderful wines in Sonoma, too. If you want Cabernet Sauvignon (or Cabernet Franc or Meritage) or Chardonnay, Napa has countless choices. However, if you want to experience incredible Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, and wonderful Rhone varietals (Syrah, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvedre), Sonoma should be a part of your itinerary.
Above all, it’s important to be open-minded to take advantage of all your Wine Country trip has to offer. If you drink only Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, this is the time to branch out and experience new wines. How many varietals (different types of wine grapes) are there in California? Believe it or not, there are over 100 in the state. This is your opportunity to try new wines! The upside is you may find new wines or blends you like. And the downside? There is none. If you try a wine and don’t like it, you simply pour it in the dump bucket. No harm…no foul.
On a related note, if you’ve tried a certain varietal in the past (or even earlier in the day) and didn’t like it, don’t let that stop you from trying that varietal at another winery. You may be surprised to discover you like a Zin at a winery you visit, while you didn’t care for Zins before. Wines will taste different depending on where they are grown (e.g. Napa vs. Sonoma or an appellation within a county, like Dry Creek in Sonoma) based on different soil and climate (sun, rain, temperature), as well as the winemaker’s winemaking style.
In Planning Your Trip to “Napa” – Part 2, we’ll get into the actual planning (“the mechanics”) of your trip to Wine Country. How long should you plan on spending in Wine Country? How many wineries should you plan on visiting in one day?