COURTESY PHOTOFor the best wine country experience

How to plan a stress-free trip to the wine country

Wine growing areas are among the most beautiful, and highly trafficked, destinations in the nation.

Whether your trip is to the center of Napa Valley or the off-the-beaten-path Texas Hill Country, it will go more smoothly if you sort out priorities before you take off.

Here are a couple of guidelines:

– Figure out what flavors you like in wine and learn to describe them with a little wine-speak. Do you like big, tannic cabernet sauvignon or silky, lower-alcohol European-style wines? There’s no need to be shy about your preferences.

– Don’t overstretch your boundaries when it comes to driving. It is often best to enjoy two, maybe three wineries a day. Keep in mind that car services such as Lyft and Uber are also popping up in many wine destinations.

– Walk to tasting rooms. Many wine towns are featuring downtown, urban tasting rooms, from Walla Walla in Washington to Napa Valley. This is a great way to taste a broad spectrum of wine, see the town and not have to drive. Some of them, such as Carmel, have even created day and weekend packages.

– Go in the offseason if you can. There is nothing worse than an overflowing tasting room in Napa on a Saturday in the heat of summer.

– Reach out to wineries that aren’t open to the public to make an appointment. You may get a personal tour and maybe even meet the owner. Cathy Corison is often pouring at her own Napa winery if you ring ahead of time.

– Always find out the details of the tasting policy, such as the cost, number of wines and whether that $5 or $20 can be used toward wine purchases. If winery staff covers the cost of your tasting fee, spend it on wine as a courtesy. While you’re at it, you can find out about shipping policies if you want to avoid carrying wine home.

– Ask questions about different wines and vintages. There may be something hidden under the table that vintners might let you compare and taste.

– Focus on what interests you most — the wine tasting experience, the educational segment or the views from the vineyard. In Napa, wineries such as Mondavi allow you to taste grape varietals in the fields, and Domaine Carneros has an amazing tour showing how sparkling wine is produced. Both experiences teach a lot about winemaking. Chimney Rock features Cape Dutch-style architecture, while Del Dotto and Jarvis have extensive caves. Castello d’Amoroso is a faux castle with 107 rooms and a moat. And half the wineries in Walla Walla have fragrant onions growing just a field away when in season.

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing, educating and consulting about wine, cocktails and food for two decades. She has also worked almost every angle of the wine and food business: from server and consultant to positions in distribution, education and sales.

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