If your idea of a dream vacation, like mine, involves lots of wine tasting, good on you! For some, buying a whole vacation package with tours built in is the way to go; less chaos and more certainty. The downside of those types of trips is that you have little flexibility, and often get taken to the larger and more commercial wineries in a given region. So, if you like the challenge and opportunity of putting together your own itinerary, here are a few of my tips for planning a trip that will give you a chance to explore and enjoy yourself without all the stress.
Find your style
Not all wine regions are the same, and that goes for both the wines they make and the tasting experience you could have. Trekking the Mosel River in Germany is beautiful, but if you’re not a big Riesling fan, it won’t be all that fulfilling. Figuring out wine styles is easy, but tasting room culture might take a bit more research.
If you want luxury and opulence, then Napa Valley or Champagne might be the place for you, whereas if you’d rather avoid busloads of tourists, consider the Sierra Foothills or Beaujolais.
Plan, Damnit! Regardless of where you choose, a plan is a must, especially overseas. In the United States, most wineries will have some kind of tasting room with somewhat regular hours. This is far less often the case in Europe, where appointments are often required. Navigating unfamiliar regions is definitely a whole lot easier in these modern days of GPS, but getting lost in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is never fun.
Give yourself time
One of the worst mistakes that people make when going on a wine vacation is trying to pack in too many tastings into a day (or weekend). While I understand fully the impulse to try as much as you can in a limited time, you’re only hurting yourself.
Part of the fun of wine tasting is giving yourself time to experience each wine and each winery, and if you’re gulping down each glass with an eye on the clock, you’re barely going to remember any of it (and not just because of the alcohol). When I travel, I like to limit myself to three or four wineries in a day if at all possible. Plus that way I’m not so burned out on wine by the time I get to dinner…
Let’s be honest; it’s pretty easy to get drunk when you go wine tasting. Even if you’re a diligent spitter, all that ethanol adds up. That’s why eating, both before and during your day of tasting, is so important. I’m always bringing something to snack on with me, because the water crackers at a tasting room shouldn’t account for 30% of your caloric intake for the day.
So go out there and explore the amazing and diverse world of wine. Just make sure to figure out your style, make a plan, give yourself time, and eat something first!