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Friday Fishwrap: Random Jottings at Week's End
Quick Tips When Visiting Wine Country

By Stephen Eliot

As is the case with just about any topic these days, there is no dearth of advice and opinion on the internet when it comes to touring California’s wine country. As you jump from one site to another, it is impossible to miss one almost universal recommendation, that of the need for planning. Now, we will often make spur-of-the-moment visits to this or that winery while doing the business that we do, but we could not agree more that a bit of planning and foresight will make for a far more memorable visit whether a quick day away or a longer vacation. The point is that California wine country is a big place, there are countless wineries waiting and more than a few other things to do while there.

Every six weeks, I start a new class on wine appreciation for student chefs at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, and, like clockwork on the first day, I am met by lots of raised hands and eager questions of where to go, when to go and how best to make the most of a visit.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is to pace yourself and simply not try to do too much. I have always thought it best to limit a visit to no more than three wineries in a day. There are folks that seem to think the point is to see as many wine wineries as possible, and I have known some to aim for six to ten at a time, but, even if successfully making such a mad dash from place to place, there is simply no way to come to any real appreciation of the wines and the people who make them when on such a hectic place. And, pace, it should go without saying, is important when it comes to tasting!

I would also urge would-be visitors to get a good map and key on a specific district rather than scrambling from one valley to another and ultimately spending more time in transit than anything else. Do not try to race from Carneros to Calistoga to Russian River in the same day if you want to feel that you have really learned something about a place. Pick a place, take a more leisurely pace and spend some time listening, tasting and soaking up all that your hosts have to offer. And, do not forget, that wine country, from Anderson Valley in Mendocino to Sonoma’s Healdsburg and Napa Valley’s Yountville is home to a wealth of world-class eateries that will make touring all the more memorable yet. Before heading out, take the time to check out your destination of choice and see what other attractions it might afford. A good way to do just that is to either check a winery’s website or give them a call. Most will be happy to let you know all of the reasons that they believe their particular corner of the world is the most special one to be found. Calling for an appointment, in fact, is always the best tactic insofar as many wineries will receive visitors by appointment only, while others may have special events and tastings planned that might be otherwise missed.

Finally, on the topic of the best time to visit, the simple answer is that each season has its own virtue. We are partial to early Spring when bud break commences, the vineyards are blanketed in blooming mustard and vacation-time tourism is low, and excitement of harvest against the backdrop of Autumn colors is a time that must be experienced by every wine lover. Winter in the vineyard may not be the most picturesque time of the year, but things are slower, reservations and accommodations are easier and less expensive to get, and those who are less than taken by large crowds will find the pace very much to their liking


Visting Wine Country
by Joe Coppola
Posted on:1/3/2011 6:11:46 AM

I couldn't agree more with the recomendations made in this article.  Wine country is really far too vast to capture at one time.  Breaking visits into smaller stops concentrating on specific areas and the wineries therein is optimal.  As the article points out, this is the only way to get a true sense of any given winery and its wines.  And even within this approach, pacing is paramount.  Trying, for example, to cover as many wineries in Dry Creek as you can is fool's errand.  Steve recomends 3 or 4, but you could fit in a couple more depending on when you start and how long you spend at each stop.  Just enjoy yourselves and the hospitality of your hosts.

P.S.  Steve, I am a former student of yours from CCA 15 years back.  I enjoyed all of your classes and appreciate your knowledge.  I work in retail wine sales and use much of what you taught me so long ago.  Thank you!  Peace.

Re: Visiting Wine Country
by Stephen Eliot
Posted on:1/5/2011 5:52:31 PM

Joe, thanks ever so much for your comments and validation. I am delighted that you are checking in to our site.  Please know, nothing pleases a teacher as much as hearing from an old student, and I am both humbled and extremely pleased that I may have contributed to your love of wine.

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