By any measure, Ezra Pound was a controversial figure, but it was one of his poems that joined forces with the current inclement weather as I hunkered down in my den to suggest you spend this cold period visiting a wine country area.
That poem, sanitized here (this is a family publication, after all), is dedicated to the inconvenience of cold, wet areas.
“Winter is icummen in/ Lhude sing [expletive] / Raineth drop and staineth slop and how the wind doth ramm! / Sing: [expletive]. Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us, an ague hath my ham. / Freezeth river, turneth liver …” it goes on.
So why would I suggest a wine country visit when the conditions are so chillingly challenging?
Most people visit wineries in summer, but that means a surfeit of tourists. Driving and parking are tricky or aggravating, tasting rooms are jammed, and the amount of information you can learn is limited.
The sanest time of the year to tour wine country regions is when the tourists have finally fled to the relative safety of rainy or snowy city streets.
Napa Valley, the most iconic U.S. wine region, is so difficult to negotiate in summer that I routinely hear from those who have tried to do it. Mainly they complain about the difficulty of getting to the tasting bar, wall-to-wall people, and the difficulty of getting restaurant reservations.
By now, most such annoyances have cleared out. The relative peace includes the possibility that an actual winemaker may be available for a chat. It’s a time when winery personnel can take breathers.
Making wine is a fascinating process, but in summer everyone is swamped with work. The start of the new year in the Northern hemisphere is a time of comparative calm.
And not only at the wineries. All regions’ ancillary services are more available. It’s easier to get a hotel booking, a dinner reservation, a parking space, and a queue-less restroom.
To plan a trip for pre-spring periods, here are a few tips:
Hotels are safe, but for a more enjoyable and adventurous time, try a bed and breakfast. At breakfast, you’ll meet other travelers and can share experiences.
Ask tasting room personnel which wines they have that can be found only at the winery, such as “library wines”—older releases that are still available, usually limited. Some wineries have little gems hidden away that they sell at fair prices. Also, many wineries make special wines just for tasting room visitors.
Rather than lug bottles home, inquire about having the winery ship them for you. Most these days will ship your wines home.
Always eat a hearty breakfast before going wine tasting in the morning. Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach can be risky. And don’t skip lunch.
Make use of the spit bucket. Winery personnel won’t think you don’t like the wine. It helps to avoid a citation.
Plan ahead to see if the wineries you’re planning to visit have picnic areas for lunches—on the off chance that the weather clears. That allows you to try one of your purchased wines with local foods from a deli.
Bring a notebook and take note of wines you’ve tasted. Many will be available near where you live and frequently at a discount.