Planning a Wine Tasting Weekend

In a couple weeks our local wine club will be traveling up north to visit the Central Coast wine region of Paso Robles. This is the fourth year our club has gathered together to do an organized weekend of wine tasting. I organized the outing, and arranged for the tastings. In preparation for the trip, I sent out an e-mail to all 28 attendees, giving them an agenda for the weekend. On that e-mail, I added links to the winery websites. With all that information, I still get the question..."how did you determine what wineries to visit, and what should we expect?"

Well, I thought I might share a bit of the process of organizing a weekend outing, then share a little of the rationale of the wineries I picked.

Barrel tasting in Paso Robles
If you have ever tried to organize any type of event, you know the first thing is finding a weekend that works for the most people. The challenge is doubled when you are also gambling on when the grape harvest will take place. This can be a good and bad thing. Harvest means the winemakers will be busy, and have limited time to spend with your group, but it can also mean a great time to watch the winery in action.  Once your time is narrowed down, do you want everyone driving around in their own car, or pay the extra to have a guided tour, or at least a bus to shuttle your group? I prefer to let the local expert take us around (at least for one organized day of tasting). There are many groups that do wine tasting shuttles, and each one has it's own quirks and benefits. Just make some phone calls, and ask questions. (If you want leads for the Paso Robles or Santa Barbara area, send me an e-mail, and I'll pass along my recommendations.) I choose to have one organized day of tasting. We meet on a Saturday morning, and the shuttle takes us to four wineries, serves lunch, and returns us to our hotel seven hours later. During the bus ride, we have a guide, explaining the local area. Everything for Saturday is in their hands. Since we start early on Saturday, most people will arrive on Friday, some earlier than others. For those that show up early, I have always used my local contacts to arrange a tour/tasting/barrel tasting for the (smaller) early arriving group. Sunday, everyone is on their own, and this has turned in to a day for me to catch up on my "wish list" of wineries to visit.

So how to I go about determining what wineries to visit? I'll use this years' trip as an example...I always try to check out new wineries, that the group hasn't been to. I also talk with winemakers I know, and ask for recommendation, but the biggest deciding factor is that I look for diversity. I want a mix of large and small wineries. I want high, medium, and low priced wines, and I want wineries with a mix of wines. Nothing like going to Paso Robles and only tasting Rhone wines at every stop (unless that is what you like). I want people to discover the diversity of an area, and see how different wineries operate. I want people to understand why one wine is more expensive that another.

Cass Winery
This year, we will be visiting five wineries, as an organized group. My "special" Friday tour will be with Cass Winery. I have never been to their winery, but got to know Bryan Cass at a wine tasting event over the summer. I tried his wines and was impressed with the quality, as well as the story behind the label. There is also a tie to our local community. One of our locals buys his grapes from Cass, and produces his own wine (that he shares with his friends). I thought it would be nice to know where the grapes come from, and possible see more of our local get into winemaking....probably a "pipe dream" as most prefer to drink, and not create.

Niner Wine Estates
Our organized tour on Saturday will include four wineries: Niner Estate, Jada, Adelaida, and Windward. Niner wine Estates has been getting a lot of recognition for its' green, gravity flow production facility, so a tour is in order. Niner is a new winery, producing a mix of varieties within the $15-$60 (most around $25). They also are the largest (in acreage) winery we will be visiting on Saturday. They are known for their "Fog Catcher" - a Bordeaux blend (and of course their highest priced wine). On a side note, I also picked Niner Wine Estates because I know Dick Niner. We used to work together back in the 1990's, when he was the owner of the J.B Williams Company, and I was the Western Sales Director.

Jada Winery & Vineyard
The second choice was Jada Winery & Vineyard. I picked this winery based on recommendations from friends. I had been told by many people about the great wine and cheese pairings the winery presents. Jada is about 1/4 the size (in acreage) as Niner, but also offers a mix of Rhone and Bordeaux style wines. Prices run about $25 to $45 for their wines. They also offer an olive oil tasting.

Adelaida Cellars
The third choice was based on the recommendation of the wine tour company, as well as my own research on wineries that had been receiving some positive press. Adelaida Cellars is located only 14 miles from the ocean, and is about the same size as Jada, but makes a number of different varieties, including Bordeaux, Rhone, and Burgundy style wines, as well as a traditional Port blend and even Zinfandel. Their prices range from about $15 to $40.

Windward Vineyard
The last winery on the list was not even on my radar. Originally, I had wanted to visit a very small family run, Italian winery called Fratelli Perata, but, as fate would have it, they are so small, they could not handle a group our size during the harvest (I guess I'll have to visit them on Sunday when I'm not with the large group). At the suggestion of the wine tour company, we will be visiting Windward Vineyard. I have been told they are also a small family run operation. Instead of Italian wines, they specialize is small lot Pinot Noir. Matter of fact, they only make Pinot Noir. Their prices range from $30 to $60. This is by far the smallest of the wineries we will be visiting. According to their website, they only have 15 acres total..

When we return, I'll give you a full recap of our experience at these wineries, as well as any "finds' we discover along the road. I plan on making it a four day weekend, which means about 20 wineries to visit, and three nights of dinners out in Paso Robles. I have my Sunday/Monday wish list of wineries to visit, but I'll take recommendations.....


  1. I think this is a fantastic way of organising a wine tasting trip for a large group. I wonder, do you make any choices based on the types of wine the wineries grow? If, for example, many people in your wine tasting group love a certain grape do you try to match the wineries to people's tastes?

  2. Yes, I do make decisions on wine varieties and styles produced by the wineries. I do know the general tastes of the members in the club, but I am also all about educating members. The goal is to expand their knowledge of different varieties. For example, I have one member that says he only drinks Merlot, but as I got him to taste other grapes, he found that he liked Zinfandel. That led to the discovery that what he really likes is less tannic wines, Knowing that, he now has some knowledge he can share with a sommelier in a restaurant, when ordering wine.