Wine Vacations for Beginners – USA

So you’re wanting to explore a wine region but you’re new to this, we get it – it can be so intimidating walking into your first winery feeling like you don’t know anything and wondering if the staff will know you’re new to this. Whether you love wine at home but haven’t been out to wineries or you’re trying to impress someone new we have some great tips and tricks to share with you!

First off – don’t feel intimidated. I know my very first time wine tasting I felt like a duck out of water. Wondering if i was doing it right 🙈 Silly I know, how can you taste wine wrong, but hey if I felt like this I’m sure others have as well! 

Let’s start off by saying we have never been to a tasting room that was so pretentious that we were uncomfortable with a lack of wine knowledge. In most cases, the employees at wineries are eager to share the winery’s story and give you tasting notes / what to look for in the wine. Oftentimes they will even ask what you like – don’t panic here if you’re unsure. This is where their expertise will help you. They’ll probably have you describe what you like in a wine, do you like it sweet? Fruity? Light or full? How do you like the tannins in your wine? Do you like oaky flavor or more clean and bright? From there most of the winery personnel can direct you to a wine in their catalog that will fit your palate. 

Now that your nerves are under control and you’re ready to get the low down on wine tastings, how many to schedule, cost saving strategies and sample itinerary we’re ready to help!

So What’s the Ideal Number of Wineries to Visit in a Day?

Here in the US we drink the full tasting poured in your glass and don’t spit it out which is what contributes to the low number of wineries to visit in a day.  So what is the ideal number of wineries to visit in a day? Well this depends on the type of experience you’re looking to have. Our ideal number is 3-4 wineries in a day, three you’re buzzed at the end and four you’re drunk and ready for the after party. Anything more than that people tend to get sloppy and a good time turns bad pretty quick. Keeping the number of wineries low also allows you to really spend time at each place and not feel rushed. No one likes to feel rushed while on vacation!

Are reservations required or are walk-in’s welcome?

Okay so this is an interesting topic and my first time wine tasting I didn’t know that some places actually require reservations to do a tasting. I would say do some research on the area you’re visiting especially in COVID times. In Napa Valley, even pre covid, reservations are required or highly recommended at a majority of the wineries. In Temecula walk-in’s are welcome at almost all of the wineries with a few exceptions. Paso Robles – we visited for the first time during COVID and a majority of the wineries were reservations required. So what does this mean for you? Plan your trip and the wineries you’d like to visit at least a month in advance to get those reservations in! Wineries are adapting to the times and more and more are getting friendlier with online bookings, but we also like to do a good ‘ole fashion phone call sometimes they’re a little more accommodating 😊

What’s the best mode of transportation?

Again this will vary from wine region to wine region, but make sure you check out some of our “A First Timer’s Guide” for the regions we’ve been to for more specific recommendations. A good rule of thumb the bigger the wine region the more likely you are to want to hire a driver or have a DD. The larger wine regions tend to have poor cell service so Uber/Lyft are not the most reliable unless they have UberWine in the area (which is essentially a hired driver for a fraction of the price since it’s not black car/limo service).

What would you tell the budget conscience traveler?

  • There are ways to cut costs! One of the best things we can recommend is to research your winery and see what their tasting fees are, some wineries are so incredibly expensive to taste at while there could be another winery just down the road with equally delectable wine for a fraction of the price. 
  • If you’re going with a group see if anyone is a club member at any of the wineries you’re looking to visit! Most wineries offer complimentary tastings to club members and a couple of their guests!!
    • To build off of wine club, a lot of wineries will drop your tasting fee if you join their wine club during your visit 😊🍷
  • Share a tasting! You still get to try all of the incredible wines at the wineries but at half the cost. This is also a great long game strategy if you’re visiting a lot of wineries in a day.
  • Buy bottles and ask for glasses – it’s always cheaper to buy wine by the bottle to share with your group than by the glass or individual tasting.
  • Some wineries will also waive tasting fees if you buy a bottle or two of wine from them! This is also a great way to save money at restaurants later in the evening, just pay a corkage fee ($10-25/bottle depending on restaurants)
  • Pack your own water and snacks! Check to make sure your winery allows outside food before bringing a snack in but we’ve never had an issue with water!
  • If you’re traveling with a group look into Airbnb, VRBO etc or even a hotel suite with multiple bedrooms to split the lodging costs. You are also able to cook your own meals and eat out less if you stay somewhere with a kitchen. 
  • Check the city’s websites and groupon – there are so many places that offer two for one tastings!!
  • There are different experiences at each winery – some offer just tastings, others tastings and tours and then some will even do food pairings. Look into the type of experience you’re wanting to get because sometimes compromising at one winery will get you more at another 🍷

How to structure your day to  maximize your experience

We’re major planners and we love to set up an excel that has an hourly breakdown of our vacation days in wine country. We start by picking which wineries we want to go to during our trip and from here we map them out based on proximity of each other. What this does is ensure that you’re maximizing your time at each winery and not spending as much time in the car/bus driving back and forth all around town. In addition to this it sets a more clear timeline for when to set your tasting appointments!

So most wineries open between 10:00 and 11:00am. What we love to do is have a nice big breakfast around 8:30 or 9:00am (alcohol free!) filled with yummy carbs to help soak up some of the wines in the beginning of your day. We also love to use this time to buy snacks and waters to get us through the day and help sober us up a little as we go!

First winery – We usually like to go to a winery that opens on the earlier side (10:00am) and start with some bubbly (I mean who doesn’t love to start their day with sparkling wine?)

Second Winery – 11:30am This is the winery that you really want to visit, top pick of your wineries. We say this because this is also when you’re going to be most sober and truly able to enjoy your visit to the fullest.

Lunch – We love a grab and go style lunch when wine tasting, normally we’ll look for a delicatessen and grab a panini or sandwich to eat while traveling to the next winery or for a quick sit.  If not we’ll make our Third Winery of the Day a seated lunch with tasting!

Third Winery – 2:00pm – Whatever direction your feel like taking your wine to next 

Forth Winery – 4:00pm – this winery should be the one open the latest of your picks. Most wineries will close at 5:00pm with a few exceptions that stay open until 6:00pm, make this the one open until 6:00pm and enjoy your time!

Be sure to reach out to us if you have any questions!

Leave a Reply