Joe and I went to wine country today to meet with some of our wedding vendors, and I thought it might be fun to share some of our favorite tips to plan group wine tasting trips from San Francisco!
1) Get recommendations
Ask around and get some tips from friends who know the area. Some of my favorite wineries in Sonoma are Ledson Winery & Vineyards, Cline Cellars, Benzinger Fanily Winery, and Gloria Ferrer. In Healdsburg, I suggest Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves, Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards and Winery, and Ferrari-Carano Vineyards. On the Napa and Yountville side, I suggest V. Sattui Winery, Beringer Vineyards, and of course where we spent most of our time today, Domaine Chandon. Domaine Chandon is known for its amazing bubbles, so I definitely recommend doing champagne tasting there!
2) Find transportation
You can contact a wine country charter bus company (like Pure Luxury [haha], which we've used in the past) to make your arrangements, but there are a couple other options I've used that are a bit more cost-friendly! Google buses are huge and extremely inexpensive to rent, but you'll need a Google employee in your group to book it for you. Chariot, a new commuting company as an alterative to Muni, has been another great option for a group with under 14. For groups under 8, check deal sites like Groupon and Living Social. Here are some I found with just a quick search today. They always seem to have limo deals going on. You need about 5 hours of rental time if you're leaving from San Francisco. That will give you 2 hours for the commute to and from, plus three hours for tastings. That will get you to about 3-4 different wineries that are in the same general vicinity.
3) Herd the packs
The best way I find to typically organize these types of things is through a Facebook message thread or a Facebook "event". It's a great way to get everyone the information needed with meeting times, bus pick up/drop off spot, and the day's itinerary. Usually we also suggest bringing your own lunch on the bus/limo as you won't have time to stop for lunch within that 5 hour period, since quick lunch spots aren't as accessible and most of the vineyards don't serve food. We typically bring sandwiches from one of our favorite delis in San Francisco (Boy's Deli in Russian Hill, the Sandwich Spot in the Marina, or Freddie's in North Beach). It's also fun for either a BYO type thing or for the group leader to get supplies for the bus trip up, like mimosa ingredients and snacks. With Venmo, planning the trip and divvying up the totals is so easy these days!
Although visiting wine country is fun year round, a perfect time to go for a big group of 20-somethings is for Barrel Tasting in Sonoma the first two weekends of March. 100+ wineries participate each year and allow those with tickets (in the form of wristbands) to taste directly from the barrel which are often wines that have a limited number of bottles for the year. Because they are from the barrel directly, the wines are also more sweet, so be warned. I love sweet wines, but it's not for everyone! (Then again, who's really being picky when you're tasting in mass quantity!) Each person essentially buys his or her glass with the ticket for somewhere around $40, and uses it throughout the day to receive unlimited tastings at all the participating wineries. It's a really fun, young, and lively crowd each year, as you can imagine the chaos after unlimited tastings. Find out more from the wine road website.