California’s winemaking roots trace back to the 1760s, when Spanish missionaries planted vines to supply the sacramental vino. Today, the Golden State produces more than 80 percent of domestic wine across 139 American Viticultural Areas and 880,000-plus acres. All of this grape-growing creates countless opportunities to enjoy nature’s bounty—and Anna McPeck, co-founder of West Coast Wine Country, knows precisely how to plan the perfect tasting day.
Just in time for California Wine Month, McPeck shared her top tips on the California Now Podcast with host Soterios Johnson. Before you start booking, make sure to download episode 25 to hear more insider information, including McPeck’s picks for must-visit vineyards in California's most popular wine regions. Read on to discover her top tenets for creating a sip-and-savor experience that’s perfect for you.
1. Consider your preferences
With hundreds of California wineries ready to pour, the options can feel overwhelming. McPeck recommends asking yourself questions like: “What kind of wine do you drink at home? What type of experiences are you looking for?" This will help you develop an itinerary suited to you. Lean into the process, says McPeck. “The planning part is really fun and exciting.”
2. Look for fun events
California Wine Month plays host to dozens of events celebrating the annual crush. You can find wineries offering grape-stomping sessions, winemaker dinners, harvest tours, and more. “If you want to get hands-on and interactive and really learn how wine is actually made, this is the perfect season to come out here and do it,“ says McPeck. But no matter when you visit, it’s worth checking wineries’ calendars for anything special that might tickle your palate.
3. Be ready for a few costs
The cost of tasting experiences varies wildly, so do a little research beforehand. Depending on where you go, a tasting may be anywhere from $5 to $150. Up-and-coming regions like the Anderson Valley will trend less expensive while well-established spots like Napa Valley will be a bit spendier. Research the cost first so there are no day-of surprises and keep in mind that “a lot of wineries do have a policy that they will waive their tasting fee with a minimum purchase,” says McPeck.
4. Make appointments
Once you have selected your stops, it’s time to start booking. “A lot of wineries have gone appointment-only to ensure the quality of experience for everybody who does come to visit,” McPeck explains. While some spots allow walk-ins, it’s always wise to call ahead.
5. Limit your stops
“Trying to pack too much in and to over-plan is probably one of the biggest pitfalls I see,” McPeck says, so limit yourself to three or four wineries tops. This will prevent you from both over-indulging and feeling rushed.
6. Hire a driver
Unless you have a teetotaler in your party, securing a driver is an absolute must. In addition to selecting lodging and booking appointments, this is one of the many planning elements that West Coast Wine Country is happy to arrange.
7. Stay hydrated and well-fed
It sounds simple, McPeck says, but “that’s one of my biggest pro tips.” Make sure you feel energized the day through by paying attention to some basics: a hearty breakfast, a water bottle, a few portable snacks, and a planned stop for lunch.
8. Don't be afraid to (politely) spit
It might feel strange to spit or pour out wine. As California Now Podcast host Soterios Johnson points out, “it's not a normal thing to do when you're having a drink with somebody.” However, McPeck assures that this practice is both normal and expected: “If you don't prefer that wine, or say it's your last tasting of the day... Go ahead. Dump out the wine; spit out the wine. I promise you that your host will not be offended.”
9. Tip for great service
McPeck advises that tipping isn’t expected, but is always welcome. The rules of restaurants don’t necessarily apply, so don’t worry about percentages. McPeck’s rule of thumb: “If they took really good care of you, they would absolutely appreciate a gratuity.”
10. Have fun!
While McPeck’s advice will ensure that you have a lovely time, at the end of the day, the only hard-and-fast rules are to enjoy yourself and taste delicious wine. McPeck says, “There is nothing that matters more than just chilling out and relaxing, and drinking a nice glass of Pinot or bubbles in a beautiful setting.”