Ultimate Guide to Wine Country Vacations

Wine country vacations are great for everyone. You don't even have to like wine (but it helps).
Wine country vacations are great for everyone. You don't even have to like wine (but it helps).
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Contrary to popular belief, wine country vacations aren't only for wine connoisseurs. Between the breathtaking vineyard views, relaxing hotels, spas and fine dining options that are available to tourists in locations throughout the world, it's clear that wine is only part of the allure of these diverse destinations. Still, a basic appreciation of vino is necessary to get the most out of your trip, even if you're more of a causal fan than an aficionado. After all, knowing the difference between a pinot noir and a pinot gris will help you fully appreciate the diversity of flavors being offered.

Regardless of your level of wine expertise, there are an infinite amount of wine-related experiences available -- from enjoying the famous hospitality of Germany's Baden wine country to learning how Australia's shockingly non-traditional (but still delicious) kiwifruit wine is made. Of course, you don't have to trek across the globe to find a vineyard to visit. Fine wineries can be found all over the United States, from New York to California and everywhere in-between.

Before you call the nearest winemaker and begin making travel arrangements, however, head over to the next page to find out what kind of wine country vacation is right for you.

Types of Wine Country Vacations

Do a little homework before planning your wine country vacation. Do you wish to travel halfway across the globe and seek out the most historic and renowned French wineries, or is your heart set on visiting the high-tech, commercialized vineyards of California? Decide what area of the world you'd like to visit, then do some research to find out which wineries you'll tour over the course of your stay.

There's nothing wrong with visiting the Bordeaux region of France or California's Napa Valley (they remain two of the most popular wine-related destinations in the world, after all), but many tourists find that boutique wineries -- small establishments that sell specialized, high-quality products -- are just as interesting as the largest wineries in these vino hotspots. Boutique wineries can usually be found in famous wine-producing areas (Bordeaux and Napa included) but they also appear in locations and in countries all over the world, from Chili to China, so you should be able to find a few, regardless where you're going. Like seeing your favorite band play at a local bar instead of at a sold-out stadium, boutique wineries offer a more intimate setting and specialized experience than what's available at the larger, more commercialized venues. However, it may take a little time to find these hidden gems, so search the Web for boutique wineries in the area you plan to visit and call ahead to find out if they offer private tours.

Once you've planed your schedule, consider how you want to lodge -- or how you want to rough it -- during your stay in wine country. Depending on the popularity of your destination, you can expect to sleep in anything from a hostel to a world-class luxury hotel, complete with a day spa and several gourmet restaurants. If you'd rather pitch a tent in the great outdoors, you'll be pleased to know that campsites are often not too far away from vineyards, especially in the United States, and most American sites allow both tents and RVs. Whether you plan to live it up in luxury on the other side of the planet or sleep under the stars a few miles from home, always place your reservation at least three months in advance, as the more popular wine-touring destinations tend to book up quickly.

How to Plan Wine Country Vacations

Touring a vineyard can be extremely romantic.
Touring a vineyard can be extremely romantic.
Polka Dot/Thinkstock

Taking a wine country vacation is wonderful anytime of year, but summer and fall are the most popular seasons to visit. Winter is less crowded, but grapevines are dormant -- they don't bud until late March or early April. Grapes grow in the summer, but the peak months for vineyards are in the fall -- usually September and October -- when the grapes are harvested. Of course, the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, so plan accordingly when visiting wineries located south of the equator.

Once you decide where you want to go, start looking for winery vacation packages that fit your budget. Depending on your destination, the length of your stay and the extravagance of the activities you've planned, expect to shell out anywhere from a few hundred to multiple thousands of dollars on your vacation. Visits to smaller wineries are usually less expensive than tours through the more well-known estates. However, these small companies don't have any of the luxurious extras that some of the larger wineries offer their patrons, such as golf course passes, spa treatments and access to upscale clothing outlets. In fact, many boutique wineries outside the U.S. don't employ full-time tour guides, and English-speaking employees are often a rarity.

Don't forget to leave extra time in your schedule to experience the local culture. Fine restaurants and small, family-owned cafes are usually a short drive away from popular wine-touring areas, so remember to keep your evenings free to dine at these one-of-a-kind eateries. Depending on the time of year, festivals, concerts and other events may be scheduled during your stay that you won't want to miss. Call wineries ahead of time to learn more, or consult the Web for a monthly calendar of events.

Now that your trip's itinerary is packed with wine tours, festival outings and gourmet meals, we have a few tips and tricks to share that will guarantee your wine country getaway is a success.

Wine Country Vacation Tips

It's imperative that your wine country vacation is planned carefully in advance -- tour and lodging availability is limited, and planning ahead will make your vacation much less stressful. A few days before leaving, check the weather forecast and pack appropriate clothing for the trip. Wine country temperatures vary depending on the area and the time of year, so even though you're heading to sunny Tuscany, Italy in September, you may still want to pack a few long-sleeved shirts.

If you're worried about the right way to drink wine at a tasting, don't be intimidated! Winemakers and winery employees are usually glad to answer your questions and guide you through your first wine tasting. White wines are usually tasted first, followed by reds, and dessert wines are sampled last. Water and crackers are used to cleanse the palate between tastings, but take only what you need -- the crackers are not an invitation to snack freely. If you decide you don't like a wine, it's completely acceptable to say so, and you don't have to finish every glass -- or even try certain wines, for that matter! While you want to respect the winemaker, no one is going to expect you to choke down something you don't like. It's important to have a good time, so stick to wines that agree with you palate, sip, relax and enjoy!

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Sources

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