As the pandemic and wildfires subside in California, tasting rooms begin to host more people indoors than they did during the last 20 months or so.
Those seeking to visit wineries in northern California and elsewhere are eager to resume fond experiences of the past. And tasting room reopenings are planned just about everywhere these days. The lure of wine country is seductive.
But be prepared for some inconveniences.
Driving to your favorite wine country often takes longer than you imagined. Once there, traffic can be thick, parking at many popular places is hit-and-miss, and tasting room crowds can be elbow-to-elbow.
And that’s not all: Servers can be in such demand that you don’t get the information you desire, tasting room fees can be steep, the heat inside can over-tax air conditioning systems, and the wine you wanted is pricier than you imagined. And when you finally leave, you simply cannot turn left.
Welcome to wine country.
Yes, summer and fall are nice times to visit the wine country. Trucks laden with grapes play tag with tour buses, and many wine country areas are so crammed full of people that touring isn’t as idyllic as it once was.
Even careful planners can find that late summer in many wine country areas can be exhausting. Napa Valley is often compared to Disneyland in terms of traffic, and many other wine country areas aren’t radically different.
If you are determined to visit a wine country area this fall, here are a few tips that might make the task a little more enjoyable.
Be prepared for tasting fees: Most wineries in “hot” regions now charge for tasting, some substantially. Most fees range from $25 to $100, and a few charge a lot more. Call ahead to find out what each winery charges and what the rules are.
Make reservations: Many wineries offer special tours and tastings for higher fees.
Start your tour at the farthest part of a wine region early in the day: That is, if you are arriving in the wine area from a major city, head first for the winery that’s farthest from the city. Most tourists stop at the first winery they see.
Taste wines you are unlikely to see at home: No sense in tasting widely available chardonnays or cabernet sauvignons. The real treats are the wines that are available only or primarily at the winery. Ask which wines those are. If you like them, consider buying them.
Try to visit on weekdays: Most of the popular wine country areas get a double-hit on weekends.
Use the spit bucket: The winery personnel will not think you didn’t like the wine.
Be prepared for full retail prices: Few wineries offer much of a discount; better deals often exist at local wine shops. So take notes on your favorite wines, and plan on buying the more widely available ones at home. At the tasting room, buy those wines that are in limited availability.
Make reservations for lunches and dinners: Wine country regions typically don’t have a huge number of places to dine, and the better ones fill up quickly.
Remember that wine touring has become a lot more popular recently. So tasting rooms often are crowded.
Don’t expect to visit more than four wineries in a day—two before lunch (many only open at 10 a.m.) and two after (many close at 4 p.m.).
Wine of the Week
2019 William Cole “Albamar” Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley ($12): This is one of the very best value pinot nors you can find today. It comes from a cool region north of Santiago and has a lovely, expressive varietal aroma of cherries and sandalwood. The flavors are spot-on, and the aftertaste is silky and delicate. Because it is from Chile, it is priced about half of what it would normally sell for, based on its quality alone.