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how do I plan for 3 days of wine tasting?

We are visiting Sonoma & Napa in December.This is our first time doing this sort of trip. I have read lots of posts about favorite vineyards on chowhounds. Does anyone have any tips on how to choose where to go? plan ahead or not? make appointments or not? how many to plan on visiting in a day? i am a big plan ahead sort of person, but with all the options I tend to get a little overwhelmed. should i visit vineyards that I am already familiar with? such as Ridge & Kunde? or go with those that i have not heard of? My only plan so far is one day in the zinfandel area, another in the pinot, and the third in Napa.

any clarification/guidance would be helpful.

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  1. my only suggestion is don't try to cram too much into a day. Take your time and enjoy the days, and that might give you time to hop into someplace that you didn't plan on visitiing. Maybe set up one appt each day and see where they rest of the day takes you.

    1. bring plenty of advil, lolololol

      Seriously, look for reserve tastings, opportunities to taste soemthing better than mid-shelf wines.

      1. When I go I focus on two things:

        1) Wines that aren't available or hard to come by in my area (you'd be surprised how little non-industrial CA wine makes it to NY)
        2) Wines that are very expensive and I'd like to taste before investing in a full bottle

        I don't bother going to places like Gallo, Kendall Jackson, etc, since I can drink those anytime anywhere (and would rather not anyway!)

        I'd say at the very least plan out what areas you'll be in every day. So pick an area, and then make one appointment there. In my experience, the best vineyards require appointments, but do leave some room for surprises. I've discovered some great little-known places by asking employees or fellow tasters at the tasting rooms I like what *they* recommend. You may also just drive by a place that looks nice and find some great wine.

        Also, make sure you leave time for breakfast and lunch breaks.

        2 Replies
        1. re: oolah

          i agree to skipping the big names, no desire for them. i like the idea of choosing one place to make an appointment and go from there. I have even heard that if you phone a vineyard as you are on your way they will take an appointment.

          are there any good resource books with maps/vineyards/contact/description that anyone is aware of?

        2. Actually, I'd recommend you look at some of the more wine centric boards like vinocellar.com and winodepot.com. Both have lots of posts from well informed wine nuts about their trips to the area, along with recommendations and trip reports.

          A lot of the advice I could give you would depend on what you are looking for. Do you want to tour a winery and see how the process works, meet with wine makers, get to see small operations, etc.

          I would second the advice that you not try to cram too much into each day. I'd also make sure to limit my visits to those wineries that make the stuff you can't get at home. However, if you are going to visit wineries for the experience, and not necessarily to buy wine, you might do well to visit some of the big boys like Beringer because they are set up to show you the whole operation. On the other hand, if there are certain wines you want to taste/visit, you should check to see if 1) they permit visitors (many of the smaller, high end or more famous wineries do not), and 2) whether they require that you make an appointment.

          I'd also caution that Sonoma especially, and Napa too, are large areas with narrow winding roads in many parts that take time to drive, and you certainly want to be sober when doing so.

          Sonoma, especially the Russian River Valley, is very good for Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. Napa is best for Cabernet. I'd also caution you that with visits and tastings, it is probably not a good idea to schedule more than 4 visits a day, especially if you are making appointments as those visits tend to be longer. You should also look at a map, there is quite a distance between the south end of Napa to the northern end. Trying to get from Acacia to Sterling for example, can be a very long drive.

          2 Replies
          1. re: dinwiddie

            thank you so much for the winodepot.com recommendation. I will be engrossed in this for the next few weeks!

            we actually debated hiring a car for one day, but husband insists that he will swirl & spit!

            1. re: cleopatra999

              You can still get a buzz after a number of swirls and spits.