For wine lovers, nothing is more fun than a day visiting tasting rooms or maybe even wine travel.
Depending on where you go, there are some things you need to know. It can be a Saturday on the road, a trip to the coast or a dream vacation to Europe to enjoy wine. But all wine trips take planning.
The easiest way to start is using the internet to find a wine trail close to home. Indiana has several wine trails.
Figure out your geography and plan on visiting no more than about three wineries. That is advice, not a standard. Needless to say, a designated driver is always a must. But tasting at more than three wineries can impair your judgment. I also find that when I hit a fourth winery in a day, I’m suffering “palate fatigue.”
After you’ve hit some Hoosier wine trails and you get the tasting room fever, try neighboring states. I admit I’ve visited just a couple Ohio wineries, none in Kentucky or Illinois. But I’ve visited Michigan wine trails three times, and they are delightful. You can plan an easy trip into southwestern Michigan and choose from many different wineries. A great weekend trip would be to head up to Traverse City, a great food town, and visit the really good wineries of Leelanau County and Old Mission Peninsula. The wines are surprisingly good.
If you wish to travel east, check out the wineries of upper New York, the Finger Lakes Region. Virginia wines also are gathering more accolades with every vintage.
If you’re ready to head west, there are more options to cover than space allows. The wine mecca for those of us in the United States is Napa and Sonoma valleys. Napa, in particular, is one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. But Napa is very commercial and very expensive. Lean on advice from friends who have visited Napa to plan your trip. Look at every winery’s website and see what fits your tastes.
Some Napa wineries, the very best, usually accept guests by appointment only. Many welcome walk-in visitors daily, as well. Also, be aware the big winery names you know don’t come cheap. All wineries in Napa charge a tasting fee. Many will have two or three tasting levels.
Be prepared if you want to taste the very best wines or at the very best wineries to shell out big bucks. The better Napa wineries charge $50 to $100 for a tasting. And unlike many Midwestern states, that tasting fee will not be refunded with a purchase. But if you’re going, be sure to do at least one premium tasting to learn more about what the fuss is all about.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley is an awesome wine tourism region. It’s not as busy as Napa or Sonoma but is growing fast. Tasting fees are going up but are still nothing like Napa.
Finally, some advice about going to Europe — particularly France or Italy because that’s where I can share the best advice.
Wine tourism remains new for both of Europe’s Old World Wine regions. Planning is essential for winery visits in both countries. Only the biggest, most commercially motivated wineries have open tasting rooms as we know them. A call or email is necessary to secure an appointment.
It’s wise and not cheap to engage a wine tourism professional to plan your trip and accompany you, especially if you don’t speak the native language. Most wineries vigorously engaged in tourism will have English-speaking staff. But if you want to visit a smaller winery, you can’t count on English-speaking staff. Such wine guides can charge up to $500 to $1,000 a day, but they will take care of every detail.
Howard W. Hewitt of Crawfordsville writes every other week about wine for more than 20 newspapers.