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Making the Most of Winery Visits

Wine travel is hot, and for good reason. How can wine-lovers resist sipping new discoveries while gazing over inspiring views of rolling vineyards? Before you go, learn to travel wisely with our top tasting-room tips.

Just for Fun 

If you're new to visiting wineries, don't feel as though you need to show up armed with encyclopedic wine knowledge and the palate of a master taster.

Above all, you're out to relax. So, rather than sketching out a detailed itinerary with lots of stops, create an open schedule that allows you to stay awhile if you're enjoying a particular winery, or to keep moving if you're not.

A Few Thoughts for First-Timers:

  • Get a good map -- often available free from wine country tourist bureaus and hotels.
  • Choose a designated driver, or, if visiting a major wine region, consider hiring a guide or joining an organized tour.
  • Consider traveling off-season -- not only are the crowds thinner, but travel expenses are often cheaper as well.
  • When traveling in a group, make sure everyone shares the same expectations in terms of winery time vs. shopping and sightseeing time.
  • You need not offer comments when tasting wine, but if you do, avoid saying that you don't like the wine.
  • Have a rough idea in advance which wineries you'd like to visit, including alternates, and make sure their tasting rooms will be open.
  • Expect to pay a tasting fee (they are often applicable to purchases, however).
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.

By the way, if you love a picnic, this is the perfect time to plan one. Wine country has few rivals in the scenery department! Check ahead with a winery to find out whether they'll allow you to picnic on their grounds. (And be sure to drink their wine with lunch!)

Use Etiquette

Winery visits differ from any other social situation -- politeness and generosity of spirit trump silly little rules any day. Still, keep the following in mind:

  • You don't have to finish every pour.
  • Don't wear perfumes or colognes.
  • If there isn't a tasting fee, consider buying something as a gesture of appreciation.
  • If there is a tasting fee, don't feel as though you must buy something.
  • Never be bashful about asking questions -- it's one of the best ways to learn.
  • You need not offer comments to your server as you taste, but if you do, be tactful.
  • No matter your interest level, take a moment to properly taste and think about each wine.
  • It's typical to progress from dry whites to reds to dessert wines, and from lighter to heavier in each category.
  • Experts disagree on whether rinsing your glass with water between pours is helpful or necessary; do what seems right for you.

Taking It To the Next Level 

Perhaps you're looking for a little more substance along with the fun? In addition to the ideas just mentioned, consider:

  • Making an appointment in advance to tour a favorite winery's vineyard and winemaking facilities -- or, requesting an appointment to visit a winery not typically open to the public.
  • Doing your most serious tasting before noon, when your senses are at their peak.
  • Taking along a small notebook and jotting down names of favorite wines and what you liked about them.
  • Asking whether the winery has any unusual wines that may not be widely available.

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