Making the Most of a Trip to Wine Country

Posted January 2, 2018 6:04 p.m. EST

Wine-producing regions like Tuscany and Napa Valley already make for enjoyable vacation destinations, but with a little planning, you can get even more from your trip.

Lynda Turley, an adviser at Alpine Travel of Saratoga in California, specializes in wine-focused trips. “The areas of the world where winery hopping is a big attraction tend to be incredibly picturesque, and you don’t have to be a serious oenophile to have a good time on a trip to one of them,” she said. Turley has a few tips on how to get the most out of a visit.

Three is the limit

Even the most die-hard wine drinkers, Turley said, should visit no more than three wineries in a day. “If you try to hit too many wineries in a single day, they’ll all blur together, and you’ll have a harder time remembering the individual wines you tasted,” she said.

Consider hiring a wine guide

These regions usually have wine guides with connections to local wineries and winemakers. Some even double as drivers, so you don’t have to worry about driving while drinking.

Although wine guides can charge $500 to $1,000 a day, Turley said they’re worth the investment, especially if you’re traveling as part of a group and can share the cost with others. “Wine guides can significantly enhance your trip by giving you an insider experience of the region,” she said. You can find a wine guide through your hotel’s concierge, a travel adviser or even by asking a winery you plan to visit for a recommendation.

Choose the road less traveled

Famous wine regions can be overrun with tourists. And because many of the wineries are larger and more commercial, you’re unlikely to meet the winemakers or owners to learn about the wine and how it’s made.

Wineries in lesser-known areas tend to be smaller, which means you can usually meet and interact with the winemakers themselves. Turley’s favorite off-the-beaten-path wine destinations include the Santa Cruz Mountains in California, the Monticello area in Virginia and the wineries outside Montevideo, Uruguay.

Reserve in advance

Most renowned wineries take visitors only by appointment and get booked weeks in advance. To avoid disappointment, Turley advised making reservations for winery visits as soon as your trip dates are fixed. And, don’t forget restaurant reservations in the vicinity, too, because they can be tough to score in some of the most popular spots.

Plan other activities

Many wine regions have plenty of diversions. Napa Valley has a robust arts scene with several high-caliber art galleries. Also, some of the region’s resorts are destinations in and of themselves, such as Meadowood Napa Valley, which has a three Michelin-star restaurant and a free-standing spa with numerous wine-based treatments. Tuscany, with its hilly roads, is a prime destination for cyclists, Bordeaux has a flourishing cultural scene, and several farms in Provence offer olive oil and cheese tastings.