Seems idyllic. A little jaunt over to wine country, you say? For some of you lucky ones (looking at you Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, NYC, and oh, hell, let's throw Halifax in there, among many others on this side of the pond), the prospect of a summer getaway in a paradise of neatly planted rows of vines, vast tasting rooms (or dealerships as I sometimes like to call them), and elevated, harvest-inspired dining rooms is literally the dream.
And it certainly can be. With a little preparation.
Let me save you from the perils that have haunted many and help you make it truly unreal by offering you a coupl'a tips for your upcoming sojourn:
1) You need a vehicle with A/C and a larger-than-you-think-you-need cooler.
And that cooler should be filled with ice-paks™ AND plenty of ice, frozen peas, whatever will stay cold. Unless you're exclusively on the Sonoma Coast where the temperature literally drops more than 35*F on the half-hour or so drive from Healdsburg and clocks in at a balmy 59*F on many summer days, it's gonna get hot. And unless you plan on personally escorting each and every bottle of wine back to your air-conditioned hotel room or AirBNB™ or rustic-chic™ shed immediately after you purchase it, at some point, you're going to have to leave some bottles in the car. Now, I love my dog, Dexter, and I wouldn't leave him in a hot car on a summer day, so why the hell would I leave a precious case of wine in there? If you hit 28*C, it's over, and you really don't want to dance with oenological death. Wine expands. It literally cooks. Flavours are lost. Character changes. Rancid,nutwater-soaked apple skins suddenly infest the aroma of your wine. It's over. You just dropped $700 in the last showroom, and now it's just become an expensive option for de-glazing your next roasting pan in which you're hopefully preparing coq-au-vin. Because I love coq-au-vin. Think, people. Maybe even invest in one of those fancy Hyundais with the keyless ignition that stay running when you exit the vehicle but won't go further than 1km if someone unceremoniously decides to hop in a drive away with the A/C blasting...because even though it's not the greatest for the environment to leave your car running, well, yes, that's the shits, but...but...OKAY maybe get the giant cooler on wheels and wheel it into every subsequent sales office tasting room you enter but DO SOMETHING, DAMMIT! Cool as a cuke, your bottles must be, Obi-Wan.
2) Follow the "2-per-day+1" rule.
Yeah, I know. There's SOOO many wineries, it's positively overwhelming. Just accept the fact before you go that you cannot possibly see them all. Unless you never come home, which does happen from time to time in wine country. You won't see them all. You CAN'T see them all. You'll just have to come back again, which is one reason why wine country makes an exciting place to return to on vacation without feeling like you're missing out on another part of the world. There's so much still to see even after you've been somewhere. You start to discover some of her secrets, and it just gets better and better each time you visit. Now, where was I? Right. Especially during these pandemiological times, you're gonna need appointments. Not ABSOLUTELY everywhere, but it's wise if you know what's good for you and you want to get the time of day given to you from the tasting room staff. I know...it requires planning in advance! And that's why a jaunt to wine country is a great way to kickstart your learning: you realize that your own ability to do research is your greatest tool for learning. Wow...like Owen Wilson. And since you'll be making appointments, you should remember this: you need to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At least the MeatLoaf™ 2-out-of-3 will involve wine. You're on vacation. It seems like you should make 6 appointments per day. Or even 4 appointments per day, if you're going easy. I'm here to tell you that based on my own experience (and personal preference, of course), that 2 appointments per day is plenty. Think about it. You wake up slowly. Coffee. Breakfast. View. Walk. Shower. Makeup. Hair. It's a lot when you're sweating young and virile Napa Cab from last night's dinner through every pore of your body, never mind just your forehead. Yes, many tasting rooms open at 10am. So what? Why rush? Unless you are determined to wake up at 6:30am on vacay, do all of the above, and be champing (yes, it's CHAMPing) at the bit while on your 17th cup of coffee by 9:45am, start between 10:30am-11am. Now, think about this. After spending 45 minutes (and if you're chatty and interested, sometimes longer) enjoying your first quaffs of the day, it's almost lunch time. And you need to have lunch. And lunch will involve wine and will be nice and leisurely. And then, guess what? You just missed your 11:45am AND your 1pm appointment. Now you're not only buzzed, hot, lethargic, but you're in a rush. That's just amateur hour, if you ask me. Schedule appointment #2 for 2:30pm. Now, after that, you may feel so toasted that you'll just be thinking about how you might make it to dinner. Or you'll need a nap. Or maybe, just maybe, you'll feel peppy enough to explore a tad more. And now is your chance to do so. Find somewhere you can pop in on and do a quick tasting. Let that be your canvas for improvisation and discovery. 2-per-day+1. It's more than enough. Thank me later.
3) Order The Bottle That's Grown Under Your Feet.
God bless hospitality workers. Honestly. They do the most thankless work, serving people who have never even uttered the words "thank" and "you" in the same sentence. I'm pissed off that we're at this place where the customer thinks they are always right (the customer is always WRONG lol) and servers feel like they should try and get you something that you like. No. You should find out if you're interested in the idea of a restaurant before you go, and once you admit that you are interested, go there, and let them tell you what's good. Maybe the restaurant is at the winery. Or, if it's in wine country, they probably have a cool selection of wines that come from not far away. Maybe, like, come from right in front of you. It's a rare occasion that you're going to be presented with the opportunity to drink wine on the EXACT spot where that wine was grown. And it's not only one of the most magical, romantic, and exciting moments for vacationers and casual drinkers, it's one of the most magical, romantic, and exciting moments for wine geeks, too. It's truly awesome. Do you really want to be the idiot who is sitting there with these beautiful Muscat vines under his nose who completely misses these vines literally doing a striptease for you and offering to do the you-know-what with you and your wife is into it also and you are just gonna be like "oh, do you have any heavy cabs? I like heavy cabs." DON'T BE THAT GUY. That guy has a boring life. His life is a waste. He's probably a *gasp*...republican. The whole point of wine country is to be a romantic fool and fall in love with wine you never thought you could fall in love with without even knowing you were just narrow-minded in the past but it doesn't matter because it all seems like it was your own idea. Do you get it now? If you're sitting on a vineyard, get the wine from that damn vineyard for your table. At all costs.
4) Don't Bitch About The Tasting Fee.
Listen, if you buy a bottle or two, they're gonna waive it. Like, 99.9% of the time. Just. Stop. Worrying. Seriously. Personally, I don't mind paying them, and yes, I definitely don't like charging them, but you gotta give a little here. Bitching about a tasting fee is like going out for dinner, spending a fortune, going to a club, acting like a baller, getting shitfaced, and then complaining that you don't want to pay to park your car overnight and you can't afford a cab home to your suburb. Well, I have news for you: if you can't afford the tasting fee, you can't afford to buy any wine, either. It's simple math. Wanna get the most out of the tasting fee? Assuming you're in a pair, tell them you'd like to try everything and share a flight of everything they have open with your partner. This does two things. First, it assures them that you're going to get less drunk while inside the tasting room: variety is the spice, not volume. Next, it shows them you're open-minded and interested in truly understanding the wines. You and your partner get to experience more things together, which is more fun, and makes it feel like you did so much more together. When you show you're interested in all of the wines and you listen to the person pouring for you, they often pour other things *by accident* because they know it will be appreciated by the gracious and intelligent tasters that you are. Wouldn't that make you feel special? And the final thing about the tasting fee is that it's an insurance policy for YOU. If you think the wines suck, you can walk out of there with zero bottles, emotionlessly guilt-free, with your head held high, knowing that you did not just enter a place of business, drink their wine, ask for water, piss on their toilet seat, abuse their staff (don't) and walk out of there, creating a bunch of work for someone with absolutely zero reciprocity. Who pays for people to do all that and not purchase any wine? The tasting fee, that's who.
5) Know Your Limit, Purchase Within It.
If you're driving, it's easy to assume that you can purchase an unlimited number of cases of wine and safely get them home. Last I checked, your trunk wasn't air-conditioned. Neither is the back of your truck. Having hauled 7 cases of wine out of the car, up the stairs, into the room, and back down again in the morning on a stopover stay on my way home, I can tell you that it's best to plan your purchasing. Yes, you want everything all at once. No, you can't have everything all at once. Make a plan in advance. Figure out how much free air-conditioned space you have in your vehicle (does anyone even fly anymore?) and divide the number of bottles by the number of wineries you're visiting and determine how many you can purchase at each. This will make your travels a lot more comfortable on the way home. Remember, you can always join their wine club, and hopefully, they can ship directly to you later in the year. Sure, there's no such thing as too much wine. But sometimes, it's a pain in the ass to lug it around when you go shopping like a romantic fool in wine country.
But, then again, wasn't that the point?
Have fun, don't drink and drive, and happy trails!