What to “Know Before You Go” On Your Wine Country Tour
Tours of California’s wine country can be magical, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Whether you are an amateur or aficionado, brushing up on your Napa and Sonoma awareness before you go can help the trip live up to your lofty expectations!
Here’s a few things I tell my guests as we depart San Francisco for a tour of Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
Napa and Sonoma are rock stars on the international stage
Winemaking has a long history in California dating back to early Spanish missionaries who needed something to do in their downtime. But it wasn’t until 40 years ago that humble Napa Valley achieved celebrity status among the wine elite.
Amazingly, California wines never got much respect until connoisseur, Steven Spurrier, secretly placed French and California wines against one another in a taste test. Known as the Judgment of Paris, this event changed everything (check out the movie Bottle Shock).
Since then, California wines have exploded in popularity and prestige. Every year millions visit Napa and Sonoma to taste some of the best wines in the world, one lovely sip at a time.
Napa and Sonoma Valleys are perfectly situated in a geographic Goldilocks zone. The mix of cool air and fog from the bays of San Francisco and San Pablo, and warm summer sun help the grapes plump and grow to perfection.
Each little hill or valley influence how the grapes mature. In fact, even on the same vineyard property, microclimates make the harvest and, ultimately, the wine different from one acre to the next.
Find a guide for a 1-day tour
There are hundreds of wine labels in Sonoma and Napa. Unfortunately, the crowded roads during the summer and fall can put incredible wineries up to an hour apart. A bit of planning will ensure that you have a fun and memorable trip.
In fact, hiring a guide who really knows the valleys is a great way to avoid unwanted frustration during your tour of Napa or Sonoma Valley. They can plan your day and take over navigating the congested roads so you can relax and enjoy the experience with all five senses!
Remember the five S’s
Here’s a little memory jogger that some find handy.
SEE. Hold the glass to natural light and light-colored background. What color is it? Is it cloudy or bright (better)?
SWIRL. The wine has been sitting in a bottle for a while and needs little action to wake up the aromas. As you gently spin it, does the wine have “legs” or streaks that trickle down the side of the wineglass?
SMELL. Most of our “taste” sensors are in our nose. Take a nice, slow sniff before moving on to the next stage of the tasting.
SIP. Wine should be judged on the third sip. The first sip is to ‘cleanse your pallet’, the second to ‘coat your mouth’ and the third one is where you taste the true flavors.
SAVOR. This one is easy. Did you enjoy the wine? Not sure? Repeat steps 1, 2, 3 & 4!
Leave your comfort zone
Even if you already think you know what you like, part of the fun of doing a Napa or Sonoma Valley wine tour is to discover something new and to learn what makes a wine better for YOU.
If your tour guide is any good, they will introduce you to wines you never experienced before—all directly from the source!
Come join us some time, and find out what makes California Wine Country so special.