I don’t know about you, but when I go on vacation, I want to relax – check out. That’s what vacations are for, right? Well, that’s what I used to think. Then I’d show up for my vacation and realized I hadn’t planned anything.
“You mean I was supposed to book the tour in advance?” Whoops.
“You don’t take same-day reservations?” Alrighty then.
“It costs how much?” Seriously?!
Granted, vacations are a time of relaxation – where it’s enjoyable to let the day evolve… maybe a beach one day, a hike the next, playing the trip by ear. But there is something to be said for preparing for your trip, i.e. deciding what you want to see, how much it costs, and making the appropriate arrangements.
Enter: the Sonoma Wine Trip.
Having just returned from a trip to California wine country, in which we planned our trip – day-by-day and glug-by-glug in advance. The payoff? We had a fabulous time.
To give a little more context, there are roughly 1,100+ wineries in what they call the “California wine region,” which is made up of Napa and Sonoma counties. We’re talking the Disneyland of wine, where you have a massive number of wineries to choose from.
Inspiring? Of course. Overwhelming? You better believe it. Especially for a typical non-planner, “see where the wind takes me” kinda gal.
Are you planning a trip to the greatest place on Earth, wine-wise? Then check out my 6 tips that will remove some of the busy-work so you can focus more on the essentials of planning your trip, making the most of your vacation.
1.) Plan, plan, plan. Put an itinerary together before you go, including calling your wineries of choice in case they require reservations. Now about those wineries, how to choose? I asked for recommendations on Instagram from a few wine influencers I follow. I also googled “best wineries in Santa Rosa and Sonoma”. A few of our favorites that accepted our large group of 12 were St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, Flanagan’s, and Papapietro Perry. Although we prefer smaller wineries, we learned that when traveling with a large group, many wineries won’t take more than 8 people at a time. Just another reason why it’s crucial to speak with someone before you arrive on their doorstep. The last thing you want is to show up to a winery ready to taste and learn they don’t accept large groups or are fully booked. Every moment of tasting delicious wines counts!
2.) Get a driver for the day. We ended up using Uber 1 day, then spent 2 days with Sonoma Sterling Limousines (make sure you ask for Mark if you use them!) Uber came out to be a little less expensive, however between the drivers trying to find us and the spotty cell phone service, Uber turned out to be pretty stressful. Having a dedicated car for our group all day to safely drive us around was well worth the $60 per person. We recommend booking the car for 7 hours (11-6).
3.) Ask questions during the tastings. Don’t be shy and feel like you’re going to ask a silly question. This is your chance to learn from the experts in this field. For example, unless we asked, we wouldn’t have known that white wine should be chilled at 55 degrees and red at no more than 68. As soon as we got home with bundles of wine in our suitcases, we made sure the fridge was set at the right temperature.
4.) Eat! Never wine taste on an empty stomach. Order sandwiches and enjoy them at a winery that allows food. Laura Michael Wines in Calistoga allowed us to do this. This also happened to be one of our favorite stops. We won’t spoil the story but if you have the pleasure of doing the tasting with Laura herself, there’s a great love story involved. The bonus of getting a car is that the drivers will most likely drive down to the deli to pick up your food.
5.) Hydrate. When we were out there, it was hot. We’re talking over 100-degree days. Drink water at every tasting and bring a bottle to sip on in between. Trust us, you do not want to wake up the next day unprepared to taste the day away again. You may even want to pop 2 Advil halfway throughout the day. Some members of our group were also drinking Pedialyte and swore by it.
6.) Don’t make dinner reservations unless there is somewhere you are absolutely dying to go to. If you do make reservations, may I suggest Press in St. Helena and the Bird and the Bottle in Santa Rosa. However, we recommend you play this by ear, since any reservations we made ended up getting pushed back; then pushed back again. We wanted to keep tasting or take a nap. Takeout seemed to be the best option!
All in all, the California wine region is one, if not the most favorite place we’ve traveled to.
Do you have any questions on the trip or are looking for more planning tips? Feel free to drop a comment/question here. We’d love to help you out!