There are two ways to take part in a wine tour: You can plan an itinerary on your own, using a map and the Internet. Or you can enlist the guidance of the many tour companies that plan wine tours. If you've never been on a wine tour before, you might like one planned by a professional tour company.
If you're touring on your own, the costs are minimal. The winery typically doesn't charge for the wine tour and sometimes provides a sample of wines for free. More often, there's a small charge to cover the cost of sampling. If you want to taste a specialty wine, such as ice wine, expect an additional charge.
If you decide to participate in a wine tour arranged through a tour operator, expect to spend more. The tour operators provide transportation between wineries. The final cost depends greatly on the area you're touring. A one-day trip that encompasses several wineries in the Sonoma Valley of California may cost a little more than $100, while a two-week excursion through Bordeaux, France, will be in the thousands.
Even within one tour company you'll find variable prices. Some companies provide van transportation and shuttle groups of 15 or more from vineyard to vineyard. They may also work with intimate groups where transportation is a limo, horse-drawn carriage or hot air balloon.
Whether you're on your own or traveling as part of a group, once you arrive at the winery, most tours are similar. You'll walk through the vineyards while your host discusses the types of grapes grown in the region. Once you return from the vineyards, your host will explain the different stages of wine making. You'll see wine in stainless steel vats and oak barrels that are in different stages of the aging process. You then enter a tasting room where you can sample from four to six different types of wine.
After the wine tasting, you'll have time to visit the winery's gift shop to make a purchase. If you're visiting more than one winery, it'll be time to move to the next stop. Some wineries provide live music or gourmet meals on certain dates, and some tour operators plan meals or other extras as part of their tour package. It's important to know exactly what you're getting when you make plans. If a meal isn't offered, ask for recommendations before heading home. The cumulative affect of sipping wine throughout the day, particularly in warm weather, can be offset by putting some food in your belly.