~ by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits ~
As Columbus Day soon approaches, this is an opportune time for many of us to go off-island and experience a vacation of our own. Nantucket is host to the world-renowned Nantucket Wine Festival in May, when winery owners and vignerons from all over the world descend upon our tiny island. The fall is perfect for planning a trip to visit our wine festival friends in order to see how life operates for them during their busy season of crush and harvest. Here are some tips that will make your wine tasting travels a Grand Cru success.
Have a designated driver.
Whether you decide to do a self-guided day trip, hire a tour guide in a loaded van, or hop on the bus, make sure you know who is getting you to and from your winery destinations. To nominate yourself as designated driver and say you will spit doesn’t mean much after you have visited a handful of locations. Even if you are careful, you will most likely partake more than you think, especially when you aren’t used to drinking or tasting wine during the day. Your wine tasting excursion could end up costing you thousands of dollars, not to mention the inconveniences along the way, if you happen to be pulled over for driving under the influence.
Decide who your fellow wine tasters will be.
When deciding on the size of your group and your mode of transportation, keep in mind that some wineries do not allow limos or buses on property. Smaller, family owned wineries may not have the parking infrastructure for a larger then normal vehicle to park, much less space for a vehicle of that size to turn around in a tight space. Also, their tasting room may only be able to accommodate a limited number of guests at one time.
Leave your four-legged friends at home.
Most wineries are not permitted to have dogs in their establishments or they may have their own winery dog as a mascot. It is not suggested to leave your dog in the car while on your wine tasting tour, as you never know how hot it will get in there. Your pet may be uncomfortable and you will spend the day worrying about your critter instead of enjoying the wine. A handful of wineries do not allow babies or small children, so it’s best to keep this an adult only adventure.
Map your route.
It is important to know where you are going, how to get there, and how long the journey will take. You may decide which wineries to visit based on what days and times they are open, whether or not you need to make an appointment, and what types of wines you want to sample. At many wineries in California, tasting rooms are open daily and especially frequented on the weekends. For a more intimate tasting experience, you may prefer to visit during the week instead. The number of wineries you visit may depend on the amount of time needed to travel to each winery along with the amount of time necessary at each stop for the tour and tasting. Don’t pack too much into your day: you want to have sufficient time to enjoy each visit without rushing or worrying about making the next appointment.
Remember your manners.
Tasting room etiquette may seem overwhelming and a bit square when you are trying to have fun, but a handful of simple Do’s and Don’ts are guaranteed to make the experience more enjoyable. Do not wear heavy perfume, cologne, hand lotion or shaving cream that can interfere with the smells of the wine. Leave the tasting area if you need to take an emergency phone call. It is perfectly acceptable to spit the wine, not because you don’t like it, but in order to moderate your tasting throughout the course of the day. There is no rule that says you have to consume everything that is poured for you. You can pour out the wine that was not consumed in the dump bucket as well. Whether you are the designated driver or not, you should never drink so much that you are drunk.
Dress appropriately for whatever the weather may bring.
Have a sweater on hand for the brisk cellar tour even when it is a scorcher outside. Wear comfortable shoes that are closed toed. No need to ruin your fancy heels or muddy your feet in flip-flops while walking through the vineyard!
Be a good student.
Pay attention, ask questions, create dialogue, record tasting notes, and take pictures. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn by opening your ears and eyes to what is going on at the winery, versus just opening your mouth to sip.
Have snacks along the way.
You are bound to get hungry at some point during the day. And, it’s a great idea to have some nourishment to help soak up all the alcohol you may be consuming. Most wineries have a beautiful outdoor sitting area where you can enjoy a picnic lunch while sipping wine you have purchased from them. There are typically local restaurants or small markets that offer gourmet take out food that cater to those who are visiting the wine regions. Taking time for a bite to eat is a great time to regroup and discuss your favorite wines thus far and what you are anticipating at your next winery stop. Bring plenty of water with you for the duration of the trip and remember to drink it along the way. You will be glad you kept yourself hydrated at the end of a long day.
One more tip for a wine-tasting trip overseas:
In France, Italy and Spain, it is not so common for the winery to have an open cellar door policy, and they rarely receive visitors on the weekend. Because more of these wineries are small, family owned operations, you must make an appointment well in advance. You will most likely be meeting with the winemaker who lives on property and who is taking time out of his workday or family time in order to accommodate you. Therefore, be sure to honor your appointment by being prompt and not making any last minute changes or cancellations.
By following these helpful hints and with a bit of pre-planning your trip, you will be better prepared to enjoy the wine tasting experience and have many memories to toast when you return home.