Planning a trip to wine country doesn’t require a tour guide, limousine, or a lot advance planning.

Many travelers are including day trips into wine country as they visit regions around the world. Then there are the real wine geeks among us who plan most of their vacation time around wine.

Newspaper Columns like Grape Sense and many internet bloggers seek to demystify wine. Making wine travel simple and enjoyable can be a similar challenge. My wine travel includes two trips to Napa and Sonoma. I’ve made pre-planned trips to Paso Robles and Mendocino County. I’ve done three-day trips into Michigan and Wisconsin wine regions and a single day in Tuscany, Italy.

I’ll be making my third trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in mid-July.
While not claiming expertise, I’ve certainly learned some things you should and should not do!

– You should spend time on the internet and read about the wineries you’re going to visit. Double check hours, tasting fees, and tours.

– Do take a full vineyard tour at one stop. If you want to learn more about wine there is nothing better than a vineyard to winery and then tasting tour. One is enough; tours usually last 1-2 hours and cost double or more the cost of a tasting. Tasting fees range from $5 to $20 depending on the wine region. Some wineries will deduct tasting fees from a purchase and some will not.

(In photo above right, I joined a group of wine writers in January touring Mendocino County, California. Here we are tasting the wines of Jeriko Vineyards. Copyright photo, Tom Liden 2011)

– Do ask a lot of questions. Anyone serving in the tasting room should be able to tell you the basics about the winery and each wine. If the servers can’t answer the basics – the type of grapes and how the wine is made – leave and go to another winery.

– Don’t over-plan your visit. I always plan on going to two or three wineries a day. I have done my internet research so I know others in the area I might like to visit. It allows some spontaneity. Three to four winery visits a day is plenty.

– Do not think of winery visits as drinking. It’s tasting wine. If you can, learn to spit – it’s how the real pros can taste so many wines in a day. If you can’t fully appreciate a wine without swallowing it, learn to stop after a sip or two and pour the remainder in the dump container on the counter.

– Do think outside the box. Sure, if you’re in Napa Valley visit Mondavi. But ask people in the tasting room, other visitors, your motel clerk, the waitress about the smaller wineries that don’t have tour buses in the parking lot. Such wineries will often be your fondest memories.

– Don’t assume all wine vacations start and end with Napa/Sonoma, Paso Robles, Mendocino, Oregon, Virginia, Michigan, and Washington state. Check out wine trails in your state and states nearby. A great start is the Uplands Wine Trail in Southern Indiana. Or, get that internet map out and make your own wine trail!

– Do not drink and drive. Many wineries will offer designated drivers some bottled water or a soft drink.

– Do not try to taste everything at each winery. I ask the tasting room personnel to pour their biggest selling red and white, maybe something that interests my wine palate, and always end with, ‘Is there something else you would have me taste?’

– Do have bottled water and some crackers or snacks to balance the alcohol throughout the day.

(In the photo above, our traveling group takes a vineyard tour with Chris Nelson of Nelson Family Vineyards. Copyright photo, Tom Liden 2011)

I will be in Oregon’s Willamette Valley July 19-22 tasting some of the world’s very best Pinot Noir. I will post a lot of photos and write about the experience here each day.

Get in the car this summer and try some new wines!

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