Do you have a wine country trip coming up and don’t know where to go? Have you had terrible tasting experiences before because you randomly selected wineries on a map? Are you confused and overwhelmed by the process of developing a targeted list of wineries to visit?
A common question that I get after a wine trip is “How do you come up with such a fabulous list of wineries to visit”? Whether I’m visiting a wine region for the first or tenth time, I’m always creating a list of wineries to target and you should too. Why?
First – YOUR time is limited and there are A LOT of wineries out there. Would you rather visit a winery that has little likelihood of impressing you? Or, would you rather spend your time at a winery where the tasting experience is targeted towards your sweet spot, therefore significantly increasing your odds of you enjoying yourself and their wine? Second, your experience at a winery will influence how much you like their wine. Don’t like fancy, schmancy wineries, with large and elaborate tasting rooms? Head into one for a tasting and chances are you’ll start to dislike their wine before you even walk up to the tasting bar.
Below is the simple, four-step process I follow to develop a curated winery list that matches the experience and price point I’m looking for.
Step 1: Narrowing it Down – Creating Your Target Criteria
First things first, you’re going to want to figure out what’s important to you. Below are three questions to answer before moving on to Step 2.
- Tasting experience – what type of a tasting experience are you looking for?
- Are you looking for big, opulent grounds, fancy caves, or elaborate tasting rooms (think, Daou Vineyards or Eberle Winery)? Or, do you prefer the smaller, more intimate tastings (think, Proux Wines or Serrano Wine)?
- Type of wine
- Do you strongly prefer red or white wine? Some wineries only produce red wine or very specific varietals. If you have very strong opinions on the type of wine that you prefer, make a note of that.
- Price point
- How much are you wanting to spend on both a tasting fee and a bottle of wine?
Step 2: Develop Your ‘Ask’
Now that you have your criteria defined, let’s create what you’re going to send out into the wine universe when asking for recommendations.
Now, put on your 5th grade Mad Libs hat and let’s go:
Option 1: The Simple Ask
I’m/We’re heading to the _________ [insert wine region – Napa/Sonoma/McLaren Vale, Australia] wine region _____________ [when you are going – in December/next Spring]. I’m/We’re looking to visit a few ___________ [your ideal tasting room size/experience – big, beautiful tasting rooms/boutique wineries – the smaller the better/any winery with a heavy pour]. If you have any recommendations, I’d/We’d love the hear them!
Here is my standard ask when I’m reaching out for recommendations:
I’m heading to the Paso Robles wine region in August. I’m looking to visit a few boutique wineries – the smaller, the better. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!
Option 2: The More Detailed Ask
I’m/We’re heading to the _________ [insert wine region – Napa/Sonoma/McLaren Vale, Australia] wine region _____________ [when you are going – in December/next Spring]. I’m looking to visit a few ___________ [your ideal tasting room size/experience – big, beautiful tasting rooms/boutique wineries, the smaller the better/any winery with a heavy pour]. __________________ [optional: wine preference – My husband isn’t really into white wine, but we love our reds/My wife only likes white, sweet wines/I know the region is pretty well known for Cabernet Sauvignon, and that’s our priority], so if you could steer us towards the right direction, wine wise, that would be very helpful. Lastly, I’m/we’re hoping to find ___________ [optional: tasting/bottle cost – wineries with no tasting fees/we’re great bottles under $50/ a few really special bottles on this trip and would like to discover some wineries on the higher end of the price point/a few of the cult wineries in the area]. If you have any recommendations, I’d/We’d love to hear them!
Here’s a more detailed ask I would use.
We’re heading to the Napa wine region early next year. We’re looking to visit a few boutique wineries – the smaller the better. I know the region is pretty well known for Cabernet Sauvignon, and that’s our priority, so if you could steer us towards the right direction, wine wise, that would be very helpful. Lastly, we’re hoping to find a few really special bottles on this trip and would like to discover some wineries on the higher end of the price point. If you have any recommendations, we’d love to hear them!
Step 3: Ask For Recommendations
Why rely on google when you can get personal, curated, recommendations?
The Social Media Universe
Put your request out on to the social media universe. Take the hand-crafted ask you completed in Step 1 and post it on Instagram/Facebook either as a post or in your stories. Don’t get a response? Post it again. And, you never know which wineries are listening in – they may reach out to you directly and ask you to stop by.
Wine influencers want nothing more than to talk to you about wine – so ask them! Seriously, we freaking LOVE talking about wine and we would LOVE to recommend our favorite wineries to you. So, reach out to a couple of your favorite influencers and see which wineries they recommend. Maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ll directly introduce you to a few of the wineries as well. PRO TIP #1: If you’re going to reach out to a wine influencer to ask for their recommendations, be sure you’re following and engaging with them. PRO TIP #2: If you go to any of the wineries they recommend, 1) tell the winery which influencer recommended them; 2) tag the influencer on Instagram/Facebook when you visit and give them a shout out for recommending the winery (we’re total suckers for that kind of shit!)
The Wineries You Follow
Scour Instagram and Facebook for the wineries you follow. If they’re in the region your going to and you’ve been engaging with them for some time, chances are pretty darn good that they would be thrilled to have you out for visit.
Ask Your Driver
Hiring a driver (if you’re not, I highly recommend it)? Ask them for suggestions and have them double-check any name you’ve already compiled. Drivers see a lot more than you think and can steer you away from some not-so-pleasant experiences.
Step 4: Verify Your List
Now that you have a whole bunch of wineries to chose from, it’s time to move on to the final step and verify the wineries that have been recommended meet the criteria you started with.
Google each winery and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they offer tastings?
- Some wineries are too small and aren’t able to offer tastings. Some are just too in demand so they don’t have to (hello, Screaming Eagle). Pro Tip: Even if their website says they don’t offer tastings, you can always shoot them an email, DM them on Instagram or pick up the phone and give them a call (all you Millenials reading this, I promise, the phone is still a thing). You never know!
- What do the online photos of the grounds and tasting room look like?
- Double-check to be sure the photos of the tasting room and grounds look like the experience you’re looking for.
- What wines do they offer for tasting and for sale?
- Can you taste and buy the varietals you’re actually looking for?
- How much is the tasting fee and what are the rules?
- Verify the amount of the tasting fee, whether tasting can be shared (wineries may not always specify) and whether or not the tasting fee is waived with the purchase of a few bottles.
- If tastings cannot be shared and/or it is not waved with the purchase of a few bottles, the tasting may cost you a whole lot more than you think.
- Review the bottles available for purchase.
- Are these in the general price range you’re looking for? Or, is every bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon over $200?
- Do they ship wine to your state or country?
- In the US, not all wineries ship to every state. And, if you’re visiting a region outside of your home country, it may be extremely expensive to ship wines back home. So, if you’re like me and your idea of ‘buying wine’ means you’re counting units of cases and not bottles – it’s wise to double-check their shipping terms and possible restrictions.
That’s it! Now that you have a baller, curated list of wineries, stay tuned for my next blog on How to Create Your Tasting Schedule Like a Wine Pro.