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.