Planning Your Trip
With so many options, far and near, the most difficult part of your trip will be choosing which wine region to visit. Geographical location, obviously, is the first variable. Do you want to take a day trip close to home — or will you plan a whole vacation around a trip to the wine country of Bordeaux or Napa or Rioja?
Depending on your chosen location, you may have to narrow down the list of wineries you wish to visit. All f50 American states have wineries, but if you want to tour the wineries of Tennessee (38) or Arizona (36), you'll have fewer alternatives (and an easier decision) than if you're in Oregon (453) or Washington (564).
Faced with a multitude of possibilities, one strategy is to base your selection on the wines you enjoy. If you prefer Cabernet Sauvignon, choose wineries known for this varietal. If you prefer wines from a particular winery, your trip planning just became much easier. Be sure to visit both large and small wineries, as each can offer distinct yet superlative experiences.
In Australia most of the wineries are open to the public. But don't look for signs for the tasting room, because they go by another name. Australians call tasting rooms “cellar doors.” Australian producers can make a dizzying number of wines — so there's plenty to sample.
When to Go
When to go is another variable. During the winter months, wineries (particularly those in the more popular wine regions) are much less crowded. Traffic is minimal. Of course, the vines are dormant — so you'll see bare trellises in the vineyards.
In the summer the vines are fully awake and the grapes are well on their way to getting ripe. You'll enjoy better weather but more crowded wineries and restaurants. The busiest time of the year by far is autumn — harvest time — and some wineries will host special events to mark the occasion. To avoid the biggest crowds during this time, visit your chosen wineries on weekdays or in the morning. Each season, then, has it advantages.
Finally, remember that the dead of winter in the Northern Hemisphere is the beginning of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. This means that if you live in the United States and wish to experience the grape harvest in New Zealand, visit in late February or early March, a time when California vineyards are just beginning to wake up from their winter dormancy.
Once you've arrived at your destination, following these tips will make your outing more memorable — for all the right reasons.
Don't be too ambitious. Three to five wineries in one day is plenty for the best of wine tourists. Part of the fun is soaking in the beauty and personality of each estate.
If in doubt, call ahead to the wineries to confirm their tasting room hours, just in case a winery only receives visitors by appointment. It also helps to find out what wineries charge for tastings and tours. Very few wineries these days offer complimentary tastings.
Designate a driver. Spitting is not considered a bad habit at wineries. Spittoons should be available in each tasting room. If nobody in your group wishes to spit, then arrange for a limousine or private bus to escort you from place to place.
Dress sensibly. Wear comfortable shoes if you've scheduled vineyard walks, and dark colors for potential wine spills.
Leave your perfume or cologne at home. You may not smell it, but the person next to you trying to catch the bouquet of her wine will be painfully aware of it.
Take a cooler. If you buy wines on your trip, you'll need a place to store them during the day. Tossing them in a hot trunk might cook them before you get them home. Imagine the disappointment.
Take a notebook. Many wineries will give you a list of the wines you have tasted. If such lists are not available, you will want to jot down the name of that Riesling you enjoyed.