Random thoughts on the world of wine, presented in no particular order.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On the road... touring Napa & Sonoma.

I'm going to be travelling in wine country in California in about a year (it'll be a road-trip bachelor party; wine and food trumps beer and strippers!).  So, I'm in the process of planning where to visit.

Of course, since I work in the wine industry, that's a bit easier for me -- I can count on our corporate office to arrange some tasting tours for me.  But, were I a civilian, how would I go about it?

The first thing would be to call wineries I was interested in -- either because I've had their wine and liked it, or because I'd like to try their wines.  Ask for recommendations -- both from friends who've visited the area, and from your local wine shop staff (you'd be surprised how many staff members have gone to a number of areas for wine tours!).  Check out wine blogs -- both reviewers and winery blogs -- for ideas as well!

Assume a tour and tasting will take an hour or so (after all, this is a chance to relax, not to recreate the Bataan march in wine country, so no power-tasting!).  Schedule the  visits about 2-3 hours apart -- so, if presuming the schedule was tasting from 10 AM (when most wineries open up) to 5 PM, I'd schedule 3 to 4 tastings a day.

Why schedule such long breaks?  Simple -- ask at the winery, "where should I go next?  I'm going to be at [wherever] in 2 hours, so what would you recommend?"  The folks at the winery will be far more knowledgeable of the hidden gems in the area than anyone else.  So take their advice!

Additionally, you might just see someplace that appeals to you -- so have enough latitude in your schedule to be able to visit!

Also, as a note -- tastings in Napa and Sonoma are not free.  Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $50 for a tasting flight (4-5 wines), depending on where you go and what menu you choose.  The costs will be higher for Big Name wineries (eg, Opus One, Silver Oak), and higher for reserve and library selections.  Yet another reason to avoid the Big Name wineries -- your tasting dollar goes further off the beaten track!  Yes, there are exceptions, but plan on paying.

What about food?  Well, again, ask.  There's always places that non-locals can recommend (personally, I'm a fan of Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena -- try the duck burgers!), but really, why not ask the locals (that's how I found Cindy's!), as new restaurants open up all the time.  Alternately... what's the phrase, "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou."  Picnic overlooking the vineyards -- many tasting rooms have a small picnic area (Heitz has back patio for picnicking, for example, and Von Strasser has a front patio where I'm sure they wouldn't mind you enjoying a sandwich).  I would check before planning, though, to make sure it's OK.  Still, how could you beat popping into a winery for their new release Pinot Noir, picking up a bottle, spreading out some gourmet sandwiches (there's a Dean & Delucca in Napa.  'nuff said.), popping open your new find, and relaxing for a half-hour? 

How about getting from point A to point B?  There are a number of limo/town car services that will drive you around wine country, and I would recommend these wholeheartedly.  If you're not spitting at your tastings, you'll be taking in a lot of wine -- the last thing I'd want a reader to get as a souvenir from wine country would be a DWI.  At the very least, make sure you have a designated driver.  As a side note, many of the limo services will have set tastings that they go to; these can be a great way to see "off the beaten track" wineries, but if you've got tastings arranged, let them know when you book, as they'll happily work around your schedule.

So, in a nutshell, that's how you'd arrange a slightly hectic, but unique, visit to wine country.  Now, as for how to get your new finds back from wine country... well, that's another thing entirely -- I'd recommend shipping your luggage home via UPS or FedEx, and checking a case of wine (labeled "fragile") as your baggage for the flight home.  Because, you know, you've got to have some souvenirs!  Especially when you consider that some wines are still only available at the winery (for example, did you know that Heitz makes a port? Yep.  You'll probably only see it in their tasting room.).

1 comment:

  1. Just remember, no touchy touchy the strippers!
    ~ Love,
    Your Fiance :-)