Plan Your Wine Tasting Trip Like a Pro
“Wine tasting has become a fun hobby for us — we love how it brings together family and invites new friendships. Silver Oak has such a welcoming atmosphere. We cannot help but go back every time we visit wine country.” –Wilmar, California
One of the things we love most is welcoming guests like Wilmar and his family to Silver Oak. We want everyone who walks through our door to feel at home and have an amazing wine tasting experience – whether it is their first time in wine country, or the tenth time they’ve visited our tasting room.
We know that wine tasting, while just about the perfect way to spend a leisurely day, can sometimes be overwhelming: Which wineries should I visit? Do I need to make reservations? What should I bring, and (you’d be amazed how often we’re asked this) what should I wear?
We’ve got you covered with answers from Scott Bothof, our Retail Sales Manager, who oversees all four Silver Oak and Twomey tasting rooms. We sat down with Scott to get the skinny on how he would plan an ideal wine tasting day. The moral of the story? A little bit of forethought goes a long way.
Wilmar’s photo, taken outside our Oakville tasting room, is featured in our 2017 Silver Oak Calendar
- Where to go? When we’re asked this, our first question back is, well, what do you like? Cabernet (we’re thinking yes if you’re at our tasting bar), Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc.? A great place to start your search for wineries in the Napa Valley is the Napa Valley Vintners Winery Finder, Map and Trip Planner. You can search by varieties produced, by tasting type, if the winery has an electric vehicle charging station, if there is an in-house chef, and beyond.
- The reservation: First of all, do you need one? Wineries have different rules when it comes to a walk-in policy vs. reservation/appointment only (or even a combination of the two). There are also different prices for each kind of experience (varying from free to $50+ per person).
Scott suggests you spend a couple minutes on each winery’s “Visit us” page to familiarize yourself with the offerings. For example, Silver Oak and Twomey tasting rooms are walk-in, but require reservations for parties larger than six or elevated experiences, like food and wine pairings. Many wineries, like us, have hospitality concierges that can help you navigate different choices, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone (P.S. Ask for Janey at Silver Oak).
- Pace yourself: Limit the number of wineries you visit in one day. Scott suggests one winery in the late morning followed by lunch, and then two more wineries in the afternoon. This gives you plenty of time at each location enjoying the grounds, and also offers ample travel time without feeling rushed. Lastly – and this is super important – have a designated driver.
- What to wear and what to bring: Most of our visitors are casual-elegant in their dress. (Though ladies, we recommend comfortable shoes – not stilettos – for walking in the vineyard and/or cellar). If you plan to take a winery tour, be aware that barrel rooms are kept cool (ours is 56 degrees), so bring layers. Having a refillable water bottle is always a good idea (remember to drink as much or more water as you do wine), and consider toting a large cooler for snacks that can be repurposed as the day goes on for wine that you’ve purchased. Wine does not like sitting in hot cars!
The technique: There is no right or wrong way to enjoy a wine tasting experience, but we find that visitors that taste wine regularly focus on three characteristics.
- Aroma: What does your nose pick up in the glass? Fruit, flowers, citrus, earth, etc.? If you’re building confidence in this area (and guess what – even our staff undergoes training on this topic as there is always more to learn), spend a little time with a glass of wine and an Aroma Wheel (this one is from Wine Folly).
- Color: Take a minute to assess the color of the wine. There’s a lot you can learn simply from a wine’s appearance – again, we cite Wine Folly for an easy-to-understand guide.
- Taste (our favorite part): Try to pick out different flavors, but most importantly, is it (as David Duncan, our President and CEO likes to ask) yummy? What matters is that you like the wine.
- Food: There are so many great restaurants in Napa and Sonoma to visit throughout your trip. Scott’s favorite tool for culinary inspiration or make a quick reservation based on location is Open Table. Of course, some wineries, like us, offer wine and food pairings, but these aren’t meant to be a meal. Think of them as exceptionally fun and delicious classes.
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