For the last several years my wife and I have taken vacations with the sole purpose of discovering wineries in different parts of the country. With the explosion in the number of small wineries, the country is ripe with interesting wines and people to meet. We tend to stay in the middle of the country or what is known as “fly over country”. We have been on the west coast and, while the wine in most cases is very good, it also tends to be somewhat common place. We have found that the new and exciting world of wine making is happening in the part of the country that 20 years ago would never have dreamed of having wineries.
Our last trip took us from our home in Elkhart, IN to Denver, CO and back. During our seven day journey would stopped at 16 wineries (a new record for us). Virtually all the wineries are small operations, most with very nice tasting rooms, and most of them selling direct to consumers and restaurants.
Ever had Rhubarb wine? Sounds disgusting, right? Well I’m here to tell you that it is actually quite good….and I can’t stand Rhubarb. How about a nice blush with a very interesting quick finish. Imagine Fritos or Doritos. The taste is quick and then gone. While you wouldn’t spend the day on the back deck sipping this, it is a nice wine to surprise people with. One glass will do it but it is fun. There was a Cranberry wine that my wife loved. Again, not a wine to drink a lot of, but for something different during Thanksgiving dinner it would be great.
Many people tell us that what we do sounds like a great time but they don’t know how to start. It is actually quite easy. All states in the US that have a decent number of wineries now produce wine tour maps online. So pick an area of the country you would like to see, look at an online map, and map out your route. We don’t worry about reviews. The fun is in exploring what is out there, not trying to see if someone else was right in their review. I would say that over 95% of the wineries we visit we would visit again. In virtually all the wineries we find, at least one wine is was worth purchasing a couple bottles.
We also tell the tasting room staff what we are doing and what direction we are headed. They are always happy to give us recommendations as to wineries to visit. Wine makers tend to be a close knit community and taking advantage of their knowledge of each other is a great way to find those hidden gems.
A few tips on the wine tasting tour:
1) Keep a simple journal of the wine purchased and why you purchased it. We found we would forget what we really liked about a given wine by the time we got home.
2) Occasionally you find that after you get home you would like more of a wine purchased on your tour. Check to see if the winery can ship to your home address. Laws vary from state to state. In some cases they can ship but you need to have proof your purchased from their physical facility before. So keep those receipts as proof.
3) Ask the person providing the tasting what is the winery’s “claim to fame”. They are always happy to talk about their wines and especially those wines they feel are their best.
4) Everyone has a preference in wine. Red or White, Dry or Sweet, but don’t hesitate to try what the winery recommends even if it is outside your comfort zone. Occasionally you can find a wine that by description you shouldn’t like but that is just extraordinary.
5) Tastings tend to be around $5 per person for 5 or 6 wines. You can get the glass included as a keep sake and frequently they will remove the cost of the tasting if you purchase 3 or more bottles.
6) Cost of wine is usually in the $12 to $16 per bottle. We had a couple of wines that we really liked that were “reserves” and were around $22 a bottle but that was the exception.
7) Make sure your GPS is up to date. We have had cases where our GPS tells us “we have arrived at our destination” only to be staring at a corn field…………..
8) Most tasting rooms open at 11am or 12pm and go until 5pm or 6pm. We find that most are open on Sunday but many are closed on Monday. So always look them up on line or call them to confirm when the tasting room is open
The point of a winery tour is to see what is happening in the world of small wineries. Major retail chains sell the vast amount of wine in the US. But your choices are limited by their buyers and, unless you purchase of entire bottle, you don’t get a taste. The local wineries provide you the ability to taste the wine and then purchase what you like. They are the businesses that are experimenting and creating some of the best wines for the price.