You’re going to Wine Country! You’ve checked with everyone you know and have compiled a list of wineries to visit. So what are your next steps?
First, determine how long you are going to be there. You will want to spend a minimum of two days in Wine Country: one day in Sonoma and one in Napa. Yes, they are different and each one is a “don’t miss!” You will find some incredible Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay in Napa. Do you really need to go to Sonoma, too? The answer is “yes!” Sonoma is the closer of the 2 counties… in fact, it’s less than an hour’s drive from the Golden Gate Bridge. Sonoma has more appellations (wine growing regions) than Napa, which means more of a variety of grapes grow there. If you are a fan of Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah and other Rhone varietals (e.g. Pinot Gris and Viognier), Sonoma is a “must visit.” Part of the fun of wine tasting is being open-minded and trying new varietals you’ve never tried before. You’ll experience new wines you’ve never heard of… and discover many you like. Napa is, for the most part, more formal and reserved. Sonoma is more casual and laid back. Napa resembles parts of France’s Wine Country, while Sonoma is more like Italy’s Wine Country. Napa can be more expensive (almost all of the wineries have paid tastings, most ranging from $20-$25 per person). There are wineries in Sonoma that still offer complimentary tastings and those with paid tastings will generally run $5-$15. Bear in mind that if you have a large group, you need a reservation at any winery…whether Napa or Sonoma. If you want to do a tour in addition to a tasting, it could cost slightly more.
How many wineries should you plan on visiting? To be able to enjoy yourself, relax and appreciate each one… no more than four each day. This brings up how vast Wine Country is, which surprises many first time Wine Country visitors. Once you’ve compiled a list of wineries that have been recommended to you, as well as those you would like to visit, it’s time to pare down your list. Part of the consideration should be proximity. Yes, all those wineries look like they’re close on a map. However, Texas doesn’t look that big on a map, either. Map out your trip. Don’t “eyeball” the mileage. Check the distance and the time it takes to drive between wineries. Traffic can be heavy in Wine Country, particularly on the weekends, and many of the roads are two lane.
Do you need appointments? At some wineries, yes, so make sure when you plan your trip, you check online or call ahead to inquire. There are wineries where tastings are “by appointment only.” And if you have a large group (8+), you should always call ahead to any winery to make an appointment, even if it is open to the public. And while hiring a driver is a good idea when wine tasting, some wineries do not allow limos or limos buses.
The final step? Go and enjoy!