Friday, April 27, 2012

Planning Your Wine Country Trip

So You Want to Go to Wine Country!!

This Will Be Our 11th Trip!!
I really don't remember how it all started, but somehow, eleven years ago Joe, Gwen, Gale and I decided to take our first trip to the California wine country. Gwen is Gale’s sister and Joe, well, Joe is Joe and our brother-in-law. What’s funny about the decision to go wine tasting is that at the time, Joe didn't drink wine. And that’s how he became our designated driver!

Joe Drinking Wine!!
Like all good pilgrims making their first trip to the motherland of US wines, we decided to go to the ultimate of wine regions…Napa. I wish I had known at the time that Napa would turn out to be my least favorite of the wine areas. But eleven years later we have gone to Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake County and Paso Robles, and much to my dismay, Joe has started drinking wine!   

Amateurs Not Allowed! 

Wine tasting for us isn’t an adventure for armatures or the faint of heart. It takes practice and endurance that only dedicated wine drinkers can hope to achieve. Wine tasting starts when the wineries open at 9:30 and ends at 5:30 when the last one closes, with only a short stop for lunch. There are way too many vineyards to see and wines to taste to bring “light weights” on our trips! 

In this blog I’ve decided to write about the best way to travel to California’s wine regions so that you can start planning your trip to WINE COUNTRY! Later on I will blog about the areas in general and then do a more in-depth blog on each region.  But first let’s discuss getting there.

Fly Southwest!!
We always use frequent flyer miles and fly Southwest. It takes a little longer but they have never broken a bottle of wine and they don't charge for bags. Both major pluses since we check our wine as baggage. We carry our luggage on the plane, which means Gale and I can each check two cases of wine.

Our Wine Boxes!!
And because we are…frugal, we take four empty wine shipping boxes with us, as well as tape, scissors and markers. Southwest will supply “fragile” stickers if you ask for them. We fill the boxes as we go, which helps us keep track of how much wine we’ve bought. If you don’t have empty wine boxes, you can buy them at the wineries. You can also save them from wine you may decide to ship home, but shipping is a lot more expensive.

Checking in Outside!!
Fly into Oakland if possible, it’s less crowed than San Francisco or LA.  On a trip to Paso Robles we once flew into LAX...big mistake. I thought we'd never get out of the airport and I still have nightmares about the bumper to bumper highway traffic. It took about twice as long as it did when we left from Oakland. And check your “wine luggage” out front, and if possible never fly home on Sunday. It’s way too crowded. The lines for checking in are long, and you will end your trip on a bad note. 

We always rent a large SUV, because between the four of us we are bringing eight cases of wine and our luggage. Unfortunately large SUVs can be expensive, so check around to get the best rental price, because they vary from year to year.  However remember the purpose of the trip is to bring some great wine home, so pack light so your luggage can be carried on the plane.

Packing Our Large SUV!! 
And if you plan on keeping up with our marathon tasting you will need a designated driver! In fact almost any tasting of wine at more than a couple of wineries will require a driver, unless you are doing the unimaginable, and spitting it out. And that’s a waste of good wine...see the movie Sideways!!!!  

Do some research before you go and check out the website to see which wineries have the type of wines you like in your price range. Try to stay close to the wineries you want visit so you’re not wasting a lot of time driving around.

Join A Wine Club Or Two!!!
Be prepared to join a few wine clubs. If you really like the wines it’s a great way to continue receiving them long after you’ve returned home. Besides, you’ll get a discount on the wine you buy when you’re there. We join a few each year and drop them before our next trip.

Also look out for some great wine deals. Wineries are always having sales to move wine out before their next release. The wineries aren’t selling bad wines; they’re just clearing their warehouse. And you can find some major discounts!

So have fun planning your Wine Country trip. And remember, the wine often doesn’t taste as good as it did at the winery, so buy wisely, especially if you’ve been tasting wine all day!


Cheers !!!

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