I was a reporter covering a different industry entirely, and I was on a junket with about 10 other reporters to the San Francisco Bay Area to witness the unveiling of a revolutionary new product — synthetic (non-wood) bowling lanes.
One evening, the group of reporters was treated to dinner at a Yugoslavian restaurant. We were encouraged to order anything we wanted — both food and wine.
I opted for the pepper steak, which was one of the specialties of the house, and a fellow reporter and I took a blind stab at the wine list and “selected” a bottle of Duckhorn Vineyards’ Three Palms Vineyard Merlot.
We liked the wine a lot, and decided to spend a day in the Napa Valley before we returned home.
That day, from 10 a.m. until around 4:30 p.m., we hit every winery we could along Napa Valley’s Highway 29. At that time, most of the wineries offered free tasting. Those that charged usually threw in a logo wine glass as part of the nominal fee.
I really don’t recall much about that day. My friend’s wife assumed designated driver duties after the second stop. By noon, my buddy and I were blitzed.
Free… or almost so… wine: What a concept!
I don’t think we even stopped for lunch. We just kept going. We were on a mission to drink as much wine as we could, although we told ourselves it was all in the name of education.
When I look back on that day, more than a quarter-century later, I just shake my head. There’s virtually no chance any learning took place that day. If we did pick up a morsel of information here and there, it had to have been lost in the haze of all that alcohol.
Still, we’d had a great time, and we wanted to learn more — really learn.
So, when we got back home, we began planning our next wine country trip. Rather than simply dropping in at any winery that had an “open” sign, we did some research and put together an actual itinerary.
Over the years and after countless wine country trips, we learned how to pace ourselves and get the most out of a wine-tasting expedition.
Gleaned from all of that experience — what we’d done wrong and what we’d done right — here are five tips to help you get the most out of a visit to a winery tasting room…
1. Make a plan.
Decide which wineries you want to visit, and map out a logical order so you don’t have to backtrack.
2. Plan no more than three winery visits per day.
And spread them out. For example: 10 a.m. to 12 noon… noon to 2 p.m. … and 2-4 p.m. If you have time between stops, grab a bite to eat, or check out some of the shops in the valley’s towns. There are a number of art galleries in the valley, too.
Wineries place “dump buckets” on the tasting bar for a reason. They want to keep visitors sober and everyone in the valley safe. If you’re not comfortable spitting out wine after swirling it around in your mouth, do the next-best thing: drink no more than half of what you’re poured.
4. Carry water with you.
While tasting wine — or drinking alcohol of any kind, for that matter — you need to keep hydrated.
5. Take advantage of “winery experiences.”
More and more wineries are offering enhanced tours and tasting programs that involve snacks or even multi-course meals. Some can be pricey, but if your budget allows, such “experiences” not only can be fun, they can help you pace yourself.