Wine Touring

Ever want to visit some of your favorite wineries to taste and/or tour? Wonder what's involved? Here's a few tips for winery-hopping that I've found to be helpful.

Planning Ahead vs. Spontaneity
Appointments & Hours of Operation

There are a couple of ways to approach visiting wineries. You can plan the whole thing out in advance, getting out some maps, picking the destinations to visit, and making yourself an itinerary. Whether it's one day, or six days, a planned itinerary will keep you on pace and get you to the right place.

On the other hand, if you prefer to visit places on the fly or on a whim, then leave things loose and stop whenever or wherever you like. Frankly, even when working with a planned itinerary, you'll find the desire or opportunity to make an impromptu stop here and there.

Either way, I'd suggest trying to visit no more than 3-4 wineries over the course of a day - one or two visits in the morning, and two in the afternoon. You can always add more visits later on. But, try 3-4 initially, until you see how much time your visits actually take, and whether one or more of your party is getting easily bored or the "tasting" has gotten out of hand (read: tipsy).

This brings up another point - unless you have a designated driver, you may want to consider spitting out the wine, rather than swallowing it. Yes, I know, swallowing the wine is half (or more) of the fun. But, be aware, it's going to take its toll on you - especially if you're planning on staying out the whole day. Spitting really isn't that difficult; it just takes a little practice (here's a short description), and will show the tasting room staff you're not just out on a bender, but that you have a real interest in wine. If you feel that spitting just isn't your thing, at least pour out the rest of the glass, after you take a small sip. This really isn't the ideal opportunity to get hammered - so be wise.


Some wineries charge tasting fees - others don't. Often the fee is reduced or eliminated if you purchase wine. So, if it isn't clearly posted in the tasting room, just ask!

Do take some notes on the wines as you taste them. This isn't mandatory, of course, and some people don't take any notes at all. You can usually ask for one of the tasting or sales sheets, and just make some short notes right there.If you do take notes, just briefly note what you liked about the wine - and maybe give each wine a check mark or two to remind yourself which ones you liked the best.

Most of the winery tasting rooms are open to the public, but it's a good idea to check for sure. Many wineries require an appointment in order to visit them; others aren't open to the public at all. If an appointment is required, you should call well in advance - 1-3 weeks is usually sufficient. (Harvest time can present a different set of problems, as the smaller wineries often pull tasting room staff to work the crush.) However, some wineries don't seem to mind last minute (same day) requests, and I've heard of and even seen many cases where visitors just drop by, hoping to either talk their way into a tour/tasting, or hop aboard someone else's appointment or tour. I frankly think this is bad form. But, that's another story.

One last thing - if you find yourself unable to make the appointed time, call ahead to check with the winery. Aside from being the polite thing to do, you just might find they've locked you out as a "no-show."

The hours of operation for most wineries fall in the 10am-4pm or 11am-5pm area - something akin to that of a small retail business. Some are open daily; others weekends, or extended weekends.

What to Take Along

Whether you have a planned itinerary, or you fly by the seat of your pants, you're going to need some water and snacks to help keep the wine at bay, and/or freshen the palate. I suggest carrying along some cheese, bread or crackers, and some fruit and veggies (slices of apple, and carrot or celery sticks work well). If you've actually brought along enough food for lunch, plan on tailgating about mid-day. It's a good opportunity for a break. If you didn't bring enough food to cover lunch, you can often pick up cheese, bread, etc., at the winery (they may have a small deli selection available) for picnicking on their grounds. Otherwise, plan on stopping for lunch at a restaurant.

It's a good idea for tasters to match drink as much water as they do wine, in order to keep the palate from drying out and to stave off inebriation. So, you're going to need several bottles of water per person. Also, you probably ought to eat something beforehand - breakfast or lunch. If it's been awhile since your last meal, have something neutral - bread is excellent, and crackers a good backup. Also, drink plenty of water beforehand.

Just make sure you can read your own writing, and that the words or abbreviations you've used make sense later on. Of course, if you have a photographic memory, then none of this is really necessary, and you'll be highly respected among your peers.

Do be polite, by stepping away from the tasting table or bar if there is a sizable crowd in the tasting room. Be friendly, and don't forget to give the tasting room staff their due. They pour wine for a whole lot of people, and you're just one of them. While the overall wine knowledge of staff may vary from winery to winery, they usually know their own wines quite well. So, give them a break if they mistake you for a newbie and pull out the soap box in explaining the basics. If you know your stuff, it won't take them long to discover this fact, so try to avoid one-uping the staff with your knowledge.

From time-to-time you'll be treated to a pour of some additional wines that might not normally be opened or available in the tasting room. Sometimes this is due to a holiday weekend, of a special occasion for the winery, or another taster has asked for the wine - and the tasting room has obliged. But, at other times, this is because you sufficiently impressed your pourer with your wine interest or knowledge. Congratulations, because either way, you've hit paydirt!

Lastly, don't forget about spitting out your tastes or at least pouring out the excess wine from your glass. Oh, one more thing - have fun!

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- Eric Anderson
Last Update 10.22.02