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Gary Farrell Footnotes ... A Blog Preserving our past. Penning our future. Join us here for more to our story.

Published on Wednesday, July 22, 2015

7 Wine Country Planning Tips

Gary Farrell's Guide to Planning Your Wine Tasting Day

"Peak Season" has commenced for winery tourism and we have put together 7 helpful tips to guide you in making the most of your wine tasting day.



  1. Pick a region and create an itinerary.
    Travelers often think they can “pop over” from Napa to Sonoma or vice-versa. That might be true if you’re going from the town of Napa to the town of Sonoma (about 25 minutes), but it’s an hour or more between valleys depending on location and traffic. Even destinations within Sonoma County can be 45 minutes apart. You want your time in wine country to be spent at amazing wineries with minimal driving around, so we recommend visiting just one region per day. Spend a few minutes with your favorite online map to plan your route before you head out. Here are a few we suggest:
    RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY MAP
    SONOMA COUNTY WINE REGION MAP
    NAPA VALLEY WINE REGION MAP
  2. Research wineries.
    Once you’ve picked a few wineries of interest, visit their websites for tasting details ahead of time. Part of the joy of wine tasting is the variety in grapes and wine styles, but wineries also have different prices, tasting options, amenities and/or restrictions. Think about what kind of experience you’re looking for and plan accordingly. If four-legged Fluffy needs to go wine tasting with you, call ahead to confirm the winery is pet-friendly. If you want to picnic at a winery to maximize tasting time, choose a winery that allows picnicking and schedule it for the lunch hour. Or adapt your plans … there may be trade-offs to be able to visit the estate you’ve long wished to experience. And remember, policies aren’t set to be mean or unfair; they enable the winery to deliver their best experience – the experience for which you are coming.
  3. Set the tone for a relaxing trip.
    The wine country lifestyle isn’t rushed, and your journey through wine country shouldn’t be either. There’s nothing more exhausting than rushing from winery to winery because you had 5-6 planned for the day. Do yourself a favor and visit just 3-4 wineries. Quality over quantity is what we preach, and if you have the option to leave the kids and pets at home, do it. Wine tasting is intended to be a relaxing adult activity.
  4. Make a reservation, whether the winery requires one or not.
    Wineries are better positioned to meet your expectations when they can plan for your arrival. Imagine the difference between a friend popping by your house unannounced one evening, or calling you to let you know she’ll be stopping by at 6 o’clock. Make it easy to enjoy your day by helping us help you. Check to see if your destination is by-appointment, as many wineries have shifted to this style of service. Even wineries open to the public daily may have elevated, appointment-only experiences (those offered beyond the casual bar tasting) or require advance notice based on group size (6+ guests is considered large for many wineries).
  5. “Food & Wine” is not just a culinary term … you need to stay nourished!
    Drinking wine on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster, so eat a good breakfast, bring snacks to enjoy between wineries, and don’t forget to plan for lunch. Pack a picnic to enjoy at a food-friendly winery along your route or make a reservation at a local restaurant (wineries are helpful resources, so don’t forget to ask for suggestions when you make your tasting reservation). We also recommend booking one or two winery experiences that include food pairings, if you can, for a most enriching experience. And of course, stay hydrated! Bring a refillable water bottle … any winery will be happy to top you off.
  6. Hire or designate a driver.
    Wine is a privilege to be enjoyed responsibly, and too many tourists end up over-indulging, leading to predicaments of all kinds ... including drunk driving. It’s unfortunately far too easy to consume more wine than you realize (if you assume each winery’s tasting flight is the equivalent of a glass of wine on average, and you visit 4-5 wineries, you’ve consumed an entire bottle of wine by yourself throughout the day). So play it safe! Hire a driver or ask a friend to be the DD (and volunteer to return the favor next time). This doesn’t mean you have to pay a lot of money and rent a stretch a limousine; there are plenty of touring companies that serve small groups and couples. Even the pros who spit after each taste can wind up with a little buzz after 5-6 wines at 3-4 wineries, so play it safe and avoid the risk of a DUI. Plus, you’ll just feel better!
  7. Study up on tasting room etiquette.
    This point could be an entire guide by itself, but here are a few suggestions to exhibit good wine tasting etiquette:
    • Don’t wear strong scented perfume, aftershave or lotion. Wine is extremely aromatic and your tasting peers won’t be able to smell the aromas in the wine if all they can smell is you.
    • Don’t rinse your glass with water between each wine. Not only does water dilute the wine in your glass, but rinsing between wines is generally unnecessary. Leave the rinsing up to your winery host as they will know when it’s best to do this, such as when moving from red wines back to white wines so you don’t end up with pink wine. If you do prefer to rinse, politely ask to use a tiny splash of the next wine you'll be drinking.
    • Don’t be a know-it-all. We love when guests ask interesting questions and engage us as hosts, but it’s pretty obnoxious when you tell us everything you’ve memorized from your Wine Bible and/or try to stump us. Remember that wine is an incredibly complex subject and it’s not likely your host knows everything about wine – even Masters of Wine and Certified Sommeliers are engaged in a lifelong learning process. Engage us in our passion and we will share it with you.
    • Do be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to how loud your group is or if your children are running around unsupervised. We know you came for a good time and you have the right to one, but other guests have the right to enjoy their experience as well. And we don’t like to be babysitters or party poopers.
    • Do spit or dump out unfinished wine in your glass. No one expects you to consume every last drop of wine in your glass, especially if that “taste” seems more like a small glass of wine. A standard taste is one ounce, but many servers over-pour (or under-pour). Spitting and dumping sound like terrible words, but they are quite appropriate behaviors to move from wine to wine and avoid over-consumption. Wineries don’t take it personally when you do this, and in fact, we wish more people would!
    • Do respect the winery’s pricing. Like most things, value is subjective. You might not find value in the price for the bottle, while others would happily pay more. Winery X might discount wines or waive tasting fees with a wine purchase, while Winery Y does not. Never make assumptions and be respectful to staff with your inquiry. You have chosen to visit the winery and if you did your research (as in Tip #2 above), there should be no surprises about what you will pay for the tasting experience or the wine.
    • Do show gratitude. Wine tasting is an experience and it takes a human being (or several human beings) to deliver that experience. It’s not a robot pouring that wine and telling you about the vineyard from which it came. Say thank you. Give a smile. Tip your server. Leave a great review on Yelp or Trip Advisor. Send a note to the tasting room manager about the lovely staff that hosted you on your visit. However you wish to display graciousness, we sincerely appreciate it.
And don't forget, when you book your reservation at Gary Farrell Winery, our Concierge team is happy to help you plan your day in Russian River Valley with recommended wineries, restaurants, hotels and transportation. We have relationships with some of the best in the biz and we'd be pleased to make introductions or reservations personally for you. Contact our tasting room at concierge@garyfarrellwinery.com or 707-473-2909.
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1 comments on article "7 Wine Country Planning Tips"

Deborah Adams

4/20/2018 5:56 PM

I do like that you suggested how you should not consider wearing strong scented perfume when you're on a winery tour to make sure that your tasting peers won't have any issues on smelling the aromas in the wine. This is something that I will be sure to keep in mind because I'm planning to join a winery tour, and I want to be a sensitive enough so my tasting peers can enjoy the tour too. Thanks for sharing your tips on winery tours. http://www.texaswinetrail.com/wineries/1851-vineyards

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