Photo by Michelle Bainbridge Constantia South Africa
Photo by Michelle Bainbridge Constantia South Africa
Where's the Wine Blog
Where's the Wine Blog  

Yes, You can Take a Trip to Wine Country During a Pandemic

Planning a trip to Paso Robles Wine Country

Part One

Keeping safety first, plan your trip with these tips – 

In the Fall of 2020, we were chatting with friends about the trip to Peru that we were not going to be able to take, thanks to COVID-19. Since we had reserved time on our calendars for the trip, we came up with the idea to plan a wine country trip, one of our favorite pastimes.

 

The planning process started with selecting a destination. Our criteria included:

  • Where can we get a direct flight, within 4 hours?
  • What type of aircraft are flown for those routes (is there one or more classes of service, are there heap filters)?
  • Is the flight schedule convenient?
  • Are the fares reasonable?

 

Among the choices from our home base in Denver were: Seattle or Walla Walla, Washington, Portland, Oregon, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Louis Obispo or Santa Barbara, California. We eliminated Northern California due to the extensive wildfires happening there. We targeted Paso Robles in Central California. The closest airport to Paso Robles is San Luis Obispo which we eliminated because only small, regional aircraft fly that route, and we were concerned about the lack space and Hepa filters. We settled on Santa Barbara (about a 2 hour drive to Paso Robles) because there were daily flights with two classes of service. Even though more and more studies are showing air travel to be safe while wearing a mask and sanitizing, we still feel safer with the extra space in first class. Santa

 

Before booking the flights I started researching the status of the virus and any restrictions on business to be sure that we would have access to a variety of activities, safely. I discovered that all wineries were welcoming guests, by appointment only, for outside, private seatings. This sounded perfect for our preferred style of wine tasting. We have always scheduled our tastings, in-advance so that we would have time and attention with the most knowledgeable staff. If you have not experienced this focused environment, I highly recommend you try it. Visits will take longer than “bellying up to the bar” and knocking back a few glasses of wine, but I guarantee you will leave with a better understanding of each producer you visit.

 

Pro tip- Regardless of health issues, always plan your tastings in advance. Write to the wineries at the “contact us” email on the website. Introduce yourself and explain your level of interest and make a request for a private tasting for your small group. If you are involved with the American Wine Society or have a personal connection to the winery, you may receive a discount on the tasting and the wines purchased.

 

Most restaurants were open with limited indoor seating and exceptional, extended outdoor dining options. The weather in Central California is conducive for outside dining most of the year.

 

Our next decision was where would we stay and what is the price and availability? I checked vacation rental homes first as we enjoy sharing a home with our friends. What I found was that they were not as well-located as the hotels and were not a particularly good value. In addition, the rental homes had very restrictive cancellation policies. Exactly what you do not want during ever-changing pandemic restrictions. Hotels on the other hand were very flexible with cancellation policies and were offering special rates, due to the pandemic.  We decided to split our time between a hotels just off the main square in Paso Robles and one that was a bit of a “destination resort”, just a few miles away.

 

Our in-town choice was the Paso Robles Inn, which has one of the best locations, just off the square and within walking distance of many great restaurants. It is an older property with beautiful gardens. Prices for the weekend were steep everywhere, after all wine country is always popular. Our resort property was the stunning Allegretto Inn.

 

Pro tip- If you can schedule your trip to fall on the weekdays, you will save a lot of money on hotels and have less competition for appointments at your favorite wineries.

 

Next up on the planning process was to select which wineries we would visit. In order to be most efficient, I use Google “My Maps” feature to locate wineries and create our itinerary. We would go east one day, wet 2 days and south another day. I wanted to be sure to visit wineries that were available for sale in my state. You can do this by spending some time with your favorite Sommelier or wine retailer. The reason this was important to me was that I want to have an on-going relationship with the wineries and connect our visit to future wine experiences. You can certainly buy direct for the winery and ship to most states, but there is something special about ordering the wines at a restaurant or retail store and re-living the winery memory. 

 

You may view my map here.

 

Pro tip- Get to know how to use Google “My Maps” for all your travel planning. It will save your countless hours of time and provide reliable travel times between stops.

 

After mapping the itinerary, it could not have been any easier to book our appointments. Most wineries are using on-line booking services like Open Table and Tock. You can find them by visiting the wineries’ website. It is a good idea to allow about 2 hours per visit, not including drive time. I was pleased to discover that more wineries are offering food, or full-service restaurants. This becomes a benefit when traveling in very rural areas. You can book your lunch along with your tasting appointments.

We were able to put together this itinerary within a few days’ time, with about 3 weeks advance planning. Even during a pandemic wine country is immensely popular when they are allowed to receive visitors, so plan ahead as much as you can. 

 

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