They say wine is an acquired taste, but it didn’t take long for wine to win me over. Ever since I visited my first winery in Sonoma for my 21st birthday, I’ve developed a love affair with wine I won’t soon break up with. I’m lucky enough to live in California, home of America’s famous Wine Country, and while I live far south in San Diego, I can still appreciate a tasting tour. Today my girlfriends and I try to visit nearby Temecula at least once a year to get our fine wine fix.
After visiting California vineyards over a dozen times, I’ve perfected the art of a wine trip. These are the X tips you must know to have a flawless winery tour.
Time Your Visit
Weather varies widely in Wine Country. The high season is in June through October and has the warmest, driest, and sunniest weather. Temperatures may remain cool in the morning, but midday summer temps easily soar into the 80s and 90s. High season signals Napa’s busiest time of the year, which means higher prices on everything. Tours quickly fill and accommodations become scarce, so gear up if this is when you want to go.
My favorite time of the year is in March through May. By then, the monsoon rains of February have mostly cleared and the fresh greenery is starting to come in. The hills burst with wildflowers and the vines start to bud. The weather hovers between forty to sixty degrees, which is chilly to some but I think it makes the wine that much warmer in the belly. High season hasn’t hit yet, so crowds are low.
September through November is a fun time to visit because harvest season is in full swing. This is the only time of year when you can participate in the picking and smashing of the grapes. It’s still crowded, but this time of year you can expect to move about a little easier.
December-February is low season in Wine Country. This is a great time to expect deals on tours, tastings and accommodations. The weather easily dips into the thirties and February brings harsh rain. But if you’re on a budget, this is the best time to go!
Stay at a Cozy Inn
It’s not a visit to Wine Country unless you stay in a comfy cozy inn. Napa and Sonoma both offer numerous bed and breakfast inns in modern homes and vintage cottages alike. Choose a fun cottage for you and your friends with rates as low as $100. Once you visit the inn, ask the owners about which wineries they love the most and other local activities to make the most of.
Visit Just a Few Wineries a Day
You’re in Wine Country now, so don’t be in a hurry. Absorb the experience by visiting just 2-3 wineries a day. Wine tours aren’t meant for guzzling down wine as fast as you can. The tours can take a couple hours and during that time you get to learn all about the vineyard, the types of grapes grown, how they’re grown, how the wine is made, and finally the taste of the wine. If you listen closely, you’ll discover how intricate the process is. Winemaking is truly an art, and the knowledge will oy make the wine taste sweeter.
Soak in Wine Country Scenery
Napa and Sonoma can give France a run for its money when it comes to scenery. When you think of California, you may think of beaches, deserts and Hollywood. But Wine Country shows you so much more. Many wineries now offer gourmet picnics that you can take with you into the country or you can dine at an in-house restaurant with stunning views. Soak it all in because after all, wine is about the experience.
Get There Early
If you visit during high season, prepare for crowds. Visit wineries early in the day to get the most out of your tour. Staff is wide awake, the lines are few and you will get a good tasting before lunchtime!