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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Winery hopping without driving

Visiting several wineries in a day is fun and educational. The downsides are you probably don't really know where you are going on the often narrow, winding roads. The biggest risk is driving while intoxicated. This can sneak up on you as you make stops with a short drive time between each. What to do?

The most popular has been the designated driver. It's no fun for them and they can still get lost.

Some of your options if you don't want to drive
Image from winetoursonoma.com

Renting a limo for a day is also popular. You don't have to drive and hopefully the driver knows some good stops. Downsides:
  • You may still have to drive once they drop you off (unless they're taking you home or to your hotel)
  • It can be expensive unless you have a larger group to share costs
  • Some wineries don't allow limos 
Hiring a small van with a tour guide is great as you should have a knowledgeable driver who knows their way around. They should call ahead to the wineries with as estimated time for arrival so they know you're coming.  There are several companies in Sonoma County that offer this service and most drivers know the area well. You don't need a large group to make it affordable as with a limo. You sign on to go with the driver and other people he signs up for the day. Downsides:
  • You may still have to drive once you are dropped off
  • Some wineries don't allow buses or vans
You can sign up for a full-sized bus tour. This is the worst way to visit. The only wineries that will take a large bus are those catering to lots of tourists. This isn't what I'd call the real wine country. Sure, taking a tour bus trip of Europe with 50 other Americans is easy, but you don't really see Europe or real Europeans.

The famous (or infamous) Napa Valley Wine Train will take you through the valley but there are no winery stops. The cost is fairly high.

There are a few other unique ways to get a wine tour. One guy offers a horse-drawn carriage ride in rural Alexander Valley. There are a couple people offering old trolley cars that go through Sonoma Valley. The wine trolley will pick you up at Sonoma hotels so if you're staying there you won't have to drive at all. The costs of these options is reasonable. Downsides:
  • They have already selected the wineries you'll be visiting so you don't have a choice
  • You may still have to drive once the tour is over

Note that for most of these options you will still be responsible for any tasting room fees on top of the cost of the bus, van, car, or trolley.