Planning a Nelson 151 or Shenandoah Wine Tour

 

 

 

Touring the beautiful Virginia Countryside drinking wine, beer, and cider and spending time with good people… Sounds great, doesn’t it? I think so too. That’s why I’ve put together this guide to help you plan the perfect Virginia Wine Tour. Full disclosure, I am a limo driver and wine tours are my specialty. My 14 seat Hummer limo and I have been to just about every winery in the area, which is really saying something… Virginia is home to over 250 wineries! With the newfound popularity of microbrews and ciders, new tasting venues are popping up all the time. It has never been a better time to taste all that this area has to offer.

 

As you can imagine, I’ve been a part of many wine tours. I’ve seen them go smoothly, where the group had a great time, and the entire event went off without a hitch. On the flip-side, due to poor planning, I’ve also seen some tours fall apart. In these cases, the groups are too large and the group planners failed to pre-plan for their group size and venue capacity. I’ve even watched groups fall apart because they made reservations at 8 different places, and struggled in trying to make to all of them. Needless to say, I’ve learned some things, and I’d like to share them with you.

 

There are a few key considerations to make when planning a wine, brewery, or cider tour. Follow along this list, and you won’t miss a thing. I’ve even created a printable checklist for you pen-to-paper folks. By the end of the process, you will have a great tour planned and you’ll be ready to embark on a journey none of you or your guests will soon forget… as long as you don’t drink too much! Let’s go

 

 Steps to Planning the Perfect Wine Tour

 

  1. Plan your guest list
  2. Choose the Date and Time
  3. Pick The Wineries, Breweries, and Cider houses you’d like to visit
  4. Select a Pick-Up and Drop Off Location
  5. Find a Driver or Transportation Service
  6. Pick snack and meal stops
  7. Expect to have some slow pokes and lost ones
  8. Tips and Tricks from a Wine Tour Veteran

 

1. Consider the People in Your Group

 

Are you going solo? Just you and your significant other? Or, do you have a group of 25 people? This is the first consideration to make when planning a wine, beer, or cider tour. If your group is very small and you don’t mind joining a group of other folks in the same boat, there are tours called hop-on tours that allow you “hop on” as long as there are seats available. These are regularly scheduled tours that have a set itinerary and pick up in the same spots every week. Usually, these tours happen on the weekends, the main mode of transportation is usually a bus or large van. This is a great low-stress option if you just want to hop on a tour, and taste some wines, beers and ciders without having to worry about any of the details.

 

If your group is larger, or you are interested in a more exclusive experience, then planning a private tour is the way to go.

 

In my experience, I have found that the best size group for a tasting tour is around 12 people. This is a large enough group to be fun, allow multiple conversations to be going at the same time, while being easy to manage. This number is also readily accepted by most of the tasting rooms in Virginia. If your group contains 15 people and up, you will need to make special reservations with each winery, brewery, and cidery you wish to visit. At the very least, I encourage you to call ahead and make sure they can cater to your group size. For some of the smaller venues, your group may be the only one there at your reserved time. Talk about an exclusive experience!

 

Make note of everyone who is going. Does anyone use a wheelchair, walker, or power chair to get around? If so, the transportation you choose will need to be able to facilitate as well as the destinations of your tour.

 

Even though wine tasting is an activity typically reserved for adults, children may still be a part of your group. If this describes your group, it’s a good idea to bring along toys, snacks, and activities to keep the kiddos busy, while the adults have fun too. As a side note, a winery is not a good place for children to be running wild. We all know how crazy things happen when they get bored! Don’t go down that road, and have a plan in place for the kiddos, even if that means bringing someone along who is the designated babysitter.

 

When you make reservations with the tasting rooms, they will want to know how many are in your group, if there are any children, and if anyone in your group has special needs they must cater to. Be sure to make note of your guest’s specific needs prior to making your reservations.

 

 

2. Picking a Date and Time for Your Wine, Beer, or Cider Tour

 

The next thing you want to do is pick a date and time that works for your group. October is officially “wine month” in Virginia, making it one of the most popular times to go. This is probably because the weather is cooling off, but the days are still long and pleasant. There will be a lot of festivities and events happening that are fun for the whole family to enjoy. (Below you will find some links to some wine-related event calendars). I personally like to go during the winter months because I enjoy a more quiet, intimate experience. Plus, I like to chat with the owners, and learn all that I can during these quieter times of year. Additionally, Saturdays during September and October are the busiest times to go, so be prepared for some crowds if this is your time of choice.

 

Event Calendar at Virginiawine.org

 

Event Calendar at Virginia.org

 

Through the years, I’ve noticed that tasting venues tend to attract a crowd right after lunch. If you’d like to beat the rush, you’ll want to start earlier in the day. Additionally, if you’d like to ensure you’ll miss crowds, there are options for private tastings. You can contact the tasting rooms to find out if they do private tastings as well as other details to make sure your group has fun and is comfortable. Additionally, pre-planning a private tasting will help you to stay on schedule if your plan is to maximize your tasting tour stops.

 

You might be thinking that starting before lunch is too early to start drinking, but hey, it’s five o’clock somewhere! Besides, it’s completely appropriate to spit out the wine once you’ve tasted it to keep your wits about you. Additionally, planning a breakfast beforehand is a fun and responsible way to ensure that your guests will be ready to take on the day, in the case your tour departure is an early one.

 

 

 

3. Decide on the Stops of Your Tasting Tour

 

Now we’re onto the fun part! There are hundreds of wineries, breweries, and cideries in Virginia to choose from, so don’t rush the process of finding the right ones. Virginiawine.org has produced an amazing resource to help you find the perfect locations for your tour. With it, you can browse by region or do a search starting with a particular winery or location. Each winery has a page that includes details such as:

 

  • General information about the winery or vineyard
  • Tasting and Tour Fees
  • Winery features such as wedding facilities, food, picnic areas, etc.
  • Types of wines being served for tastings
  • Which states the winery will ship to
  • Location and contact information

 

All you have to do is sign up by creating an account or using your Facebook account to log in. As you browse through the various location options, you can mark them as favorites or add them to your itinerary similar to the way you would add a product to your shopping cart on Amazon.com. Overall using the resources at Virginiawine.org is a great way to go, but it’s not your only option.

 

Since not every single winery, brewery, or cidery can be found on Virginiawine.org, using the good old fashioned Google search engine is another great way to find the perfect stops for your tour. I’ve put together some maps of locations with links to their websites at the bottom of this page to help you get started on your search. The great thing about Google Maps is you can read a multitude of reviews from other folks and really get to know what kind of experience you’re in for with each venue.

 

I recommend that you choose 3-4 of your favorite locations for your tour. While it may be tempting to add in more stops, I find that the most enjoyable tours are limited to just a few locations. This gives everyone adequate time to get the most out of each stop and really enjoy their time together. Being rushed can quickly return a calm day into a stressful one, which can easily change the energy and dynamic of the whole group. If you’re still convinced that you can add in a couple more stops into your tour, write them down, and put an asterisk next to them. Best case scenario, you breeze through your top 3-4, and can add in another one or two stops, which will be the icing on the cake (or the cork in the wine?).

 

Another thing to keep in mind is the distance between the places you choose. This is where Google Maps comes in handy. The closer the stops are together, the more time you can spend chatting and tasting. Perhaps you have some special places in mind that are far apart. It’s ok! My limousine is designed to provide the most comfortable ride possible for situations such as these. It may even be desirable to allow some distance in between stops to give your group some time to just be together without any distractions and enjoy some of the tasty beverages you’ve purchased during your trip.

 

As you will soon find out, you won’t have any trouble finding lots of options. If you are having a hard time making final decisions, I’m happy to help. Give me a call and perhaps I hold some secret local information that will tip the scale one way or another. I’m always happy to add a human element to the wine tour planning process.

 

When you know where the tour will start and where it will end, it’s time to decide on a pick-up and drop off location for yourself and your guests. But wait! What about food?

 

 

 

4. Choose a Pick-Up and Drop Off Location

 

Some of the hop-on tours have designated pick up and drop off locations they use every time. There’s usually two or three of them, so you have options. As far as my tours go, I come to you. I will pick you up at your hotel or anywhere else you like. If you have a large group, try to find a parking lot at a place like a retail lot or a big box store, where everyone can leave their cars. There are also many park and rides scattered around Virginia that provides a safe place to park your vehicles.

 

When it comes to drinking and driving, proper planning is key. It’s always a good idea to have some designated drivers or other arrangements to get everyone home safe. Additionally, to have ride share options available such as Uber and Lyft.

 

 

 

5. Choose Your Transportation

 

Full Disclosure: The author of this fantastic Wine Tour Planning Guide is a long time limousine driver so allow me a small section to pitch my services.

 

My hummer limo that I use for wine tours.

 

I drive a 14 seat H2 Hummer limousine that has proven to be the perfect mode of transportation for enjoying a wine, beer, or cider tasting tour

 

 

 

 

The Lincoln Towncar I use for wine tours.

I also have a smaller 4 seat stretch Lincoln Town car that provides a more intimate experience.

 

 

I will pick you up anywhere within 2 hours of Luray, Virginia - Radius map

 

Tours are a flat fee of $575 for the day, and can pick up and drop off you and your guests at the location of your choice. The pick-up and drop off is included in the price as long as the locations are within 2 hours of Luray, Virginia.

 

If you have more than 14 people in your group, there are a few other options in the area to choose from. They might be a little more expensive but they can cater to your larger group. Don’t forget to contact the vineyards, breweries, and cideries ahead of time if your group is larger than 12 people!

 

 

 

6. Consider Where You and Your Group Will Have Lunch and/or Dinner

 

You will likely be spending the better part of the day tasting and touring. While a lot of places will supply small snacks with the beverages, it will be necessary to find a place to eat. Some places have restaurants that can cater to your group. If that’s not the case there are many great restaurants to choose from. Doing a search on Google will help you find a place that interests you and that is close to the locations you will be visiting on your tour. When you are calling ahead to make reservations, don’t forget to ask about a corkage fee if you are planning on enjoying your newly purchased wine. My favorite food to enjoy with wine is steak. Just saying…

 

 

 

7. Leave a Little Time in the Schedule for Lolligaggers and Slow Pokes.

 

As people spend the day drinking and mingling they tend to get less concerned with the time. It can be difficult to manage a large group of people, especially when they’ve been enjoying themselves. Leave a little bit of extra time in your schedule to be flexible and wait for people to catch up a little bit. It’s a great idea to print out the itinerary and hand it out so everyone can be aware of the schedule you have set forth. This will keep everyone on the same page and allow you something to refer to if anyone gets out of line. It probably won’t happen…. but just in case, right? Right.

 

Well, there you have the most important details, but the guide isn’t quite over yet. I’ve put together some tips to help you get the most out of the day of your wine tour. If you come up with any tips you think I should add, please send me an email and let me know. Thanks! Now, onto my favorite part, the tips!   No pun intended…

 

 

 

8. Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Wine Tour

 

  1. Bring an empty box for the wine you will buy. Even a styrofoam cooler that can be found at most gas stations and grocery stores will do. Virginia can get very warm, and leaving your wine in the back of a hot car will not be good for it. Consider how you will store the wine ahead of time so you aren’t left trying to figure it out on the go.
  2. Most wineries are happy to ship wine to you. Ask them if they are willing to ship it to your location of choice. Some places will only ship to certain areas so it’s good to ask ahead of time. If the winery themselves won’t ship it, ask them if there’s a local place nearby that can handle it. Shipping might not be possible depending on state laws, so this is where it can be handy to have that cooler I mentioned earlier. Also, check with your airline if you will flying with it to make sure they will allow you to bring your beverages onboard the airplane.
  3. Be ready to answer the question, “What kind of wine do you like?”
    A lot of tasting staff will ask this question right off the bat as an icebreaker. If you or your guests aren’t avid wine drinkers you might not have an answer so it’s good to think about it ahead of time. That way nobody will have to feel awkward in front of all their friends. With that in mind, check out the next tip.
  4. Try new things! That’s right. The best part of a tasting tour is experiencing new types of beverages and looking for new favorites. Take a risk and broaden your horizons. You won’t regret it!
  5. Be polite, but ask lots of questions. If you’re interested in how wine is made, do a little research ahead of time so you can bring some questions along with you. Some example questions are below. Warning, you might sound like you know a little bit about wine…
    1. Where are the grapes grown for your wine?
    2. What kind of grapes are used in your wine?
    3. How long can you shelf this wine?
    4. What makes Virginia wine special?
    5. What is the history of your winery/vineyard?
    6. Is the process different for red and white wine?
    7. What is your favorite wine?
    8. How can I tell if a wine is corked or bad?
    9. What temperature do you recommend I serve this wine?
  6. Eat before beginning the tour. This one might be common sense but it’s good to mention it. We all know what drinking on an empty stomach can do! Enjoy a hearty breakfast or lunch before your tour begins.
  7. Don’t drink coffee or chew gum before tasting. Chewing gum or eating mints at a wine tasting is like eating something right after you brush your teeth. Strong flavors can alter the way things taste, and you will want to get the most out of your tasting. So I recommend you avoid things like coffee, mints, and gum, at least until after the tour is finished.
  8. Go easy on the perfume and cologne. A lot of wine tasting experience is about smelling the wine. That’s why wine glasses are shaped the way they are. You are meant to swirl the wine around and smell it. Did you know that? This is why it’s best to avoid things that will mess with your sense of smell. Think of yourself and others before you put on a ton of smell-good stuff!
  9. Bring a case of bottled water. There will surely be water at the places you visit but it’s best to be prepared and keep everyone hydrated and happy in between stops.
  10. It’s okay to spit, but you don’t have to! If you’re tasting a lot of wines, remember to control your intake. It’s common to sniff a wine, taste it, then spit it out. This is what people do when it’s purely about the taste and not about getting a fun buzz. It’s fun to get a buzz, but you might not want to turn into the person who quits before lunch. This is easy to do sometimes, especially with wine.
  11. Here’s a guide to tasting wine written by Madeline Puckette at winefolly.com that can teach you some of the finer points of the wine tasting experience.

 

9. Here are Some Maps to Help You Decide on the Locations for Your Virginia Wine Tour!

 

 

 

Nelson 151 Wineries

 

 

 

(Click “View larger map” to get more details)

 

 

Nelson 151 Breweries

 

(Click “View larger map” to get more details)

 

 

Shenandoah Valley Wineries

 

 

 

(Click “View larger map” to get more details)

 

 

 

 

Shenandoah Valley Breweries

 

 

 

(Click “View larger map” to get more details)

 

 

 

 

Northern Virginia Wineries

 

 

 

(Click “View larger map” to get more details)

 

 

 

 

Northern Virginia Breweries

 

 

 

(Click “View larger map” to get more details)

 

A man and woman tilting their wine glass to see the streaks on the glass and judge the quality of the wine.

Wine Tour Planning Checklist

Download the Printable Checklist