How To Enjoy Wine Festival Like A Boss

With the latest wine festival kicking off this weekend, there will again be an influx of visitors to our local wine region. Many will be returning to visit favourite spots while others will be attending for the first time. As a former winery retail manager, I have been fortunate to partake in many wine festivals over the years. Here’s a few quick tips to help you have the best experience while exploring wine country.

1. Travel in Style: Hire a driver or designate someone to do the driving for your group.  A further incentive for DD’S is that they can purchase a discounted passport, and most locations are offering a non-alcoholic option for the food match. There are many companies in the area that offer wine tour packages as well.  (Be sure to thank your driver too!)

2a. Plan your Route: Pick a few destinations you want to go to each day. Look at the guide/menus in advance and narrow down your top picks based on overall wine portfolio and ambiance.  Dress comfortably and appropriately for the weather.

2b. Slow down! Wine touring is not a pub crawl. It does not involve a race to the finish nor a prize for hitting the most wineries in a single day. If you are only interested in getting drunk then stay home. Seriously. You are missing the point and will ruin the experience for everyone else. Wine touring is a chance to slow down and savour life. Plan to spend at least 45 minutes at each location. Allow time for washroom breaks, possible lines at cash, taking multiple selfies, and of course tasting wine.

3. Ask the Right Questions. Winery staff are there to help you learn about your own palate. As a former winery retail manager, I can tell you the most frequently asked questions by guests is “what’s your best wine?”

Don’t simply ask “what’s your best wine?”  The answer to this depends more on your own tastes than anything else.  Ask staff to help you find the wines that will suit your palate. Then you will have “the best.”

If you don’t know enough “winespeak” to describe your own tastes, never fear.  This is the fun of touring wine country.  Let the staff help you put into words what your tongue already understands.  You’ll be surprised how much you already know.

4. Bring Water. And snacks. Plan to stop for lunch. And bring extra water. Trust me on this. If you skip out on refreshing your palate between stops you won’t be able to taste anything properly by noon. Then you’re just wasting your money.

5. RSVP if you Please!  Make a reservation for groups of 12 or more. Just because you are on a passport program doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show some courtesy. Large groups risk being turned away by smaller wineries. If you plan to bring a bus of 50 people out for the day, keep in mind that most wineries will require time to prepare that many wine and food pairings all at once. If you fail to give them a heads up before your arrival, you risk delaying your own groups experience. Avoid creating a backlog for yourself and other guests by traveling in smaller groups or calling ahead.

6. Take Notes: Grab a copy of the winelist and make notes for later reference. Mark down what you liked about the wines you taste, and any aging suggestions if not indicated. These lists can be most helpful if you later regret not purchasing that other bottle.

7. Ask about shipping. Remember; many of the wines you discover may not be available in the LCBO. Be sure to ask before you leave. If so, also inquire about shipping. Most wineries will ship to home or office within Ontario. Shipping rates will vary so be sure to ask what methods are available.

Planning a visit to Wine Country?  Here’s a few links that you might find helpful:

Wine Council of Ontario

Twenty Valley Tourism

Niagara Ice Wine Festival