There is no shortage of ideas on “What To Do in Wine Country.” Thousands of articles have been written on the subject. Half a million instagrams have a #winecountry tag. And Facebook posts . . . there isn’t enough time in a day. What could a concierge possibly tell you about Wine Country that all these other sources might have missed?
Therein lies the rub. Because everyone who writes or posts or tweets about Wine Country does so from their own perspective. As inspiring as their personal adventures might be – as constructive as their must-sees might seem – they’re all particular to that person. No more useful to planning a trip around your needs and desires than if you simply Googled it. To wit: Google yields 19,200,000 results on the subject.
That’s where working with a concierge comes in. Not a hotel concierge – though they can certainly be of help if you’re staying at their hotel – but a private concierge who can plan an itinerary for specifically for you. Someone local who knows the lay of the land, who has connections and, most importantly, who listens to what you want.
This might sound like the obvious thing to do but in fact it’s not how things work in Wine Country. There is a lot of, shall we say, back-scratching. Some limo drivers get spiffed from the wineries they bring buyers to. Wineries may get preferred treatment from the restaurants they send diners to. And hotel concierges? They are literally in the business of doing favors. So who’s looking out for whom?
That said, here are the benefits of using a private concierge to plan a trip to Wine Country:
- A private concierge can make the most of your time by plotting the shortest distance from Point A to Point B.
If you’d never been to Wine Country and were just looking at a map you might think, “Napa and Sonoma look like they’re right next to each other. Let’s book a morning tasting in Napa, run over to Sonoma for another winery stop, then back to Yountville for lunch.” Unless you’re traveling by Hyperloop, this plan makes no sense whatsoever. For one thing, most wineries don’t open until 10am. Some, not till 11:00. Tastings generally take an hour, throw in a tour and it could run an hour and a half. And the drive between Yountville and Sonoma is a good 3o minutes. Best case scenario you’re eating lunch at 1:30. Worst case, you fill up on cheese and crackers at your second winery stop. See how easy it is to blow the basics?
A savvy planner, on the other hand, will know the drive time between your destinations and how to schedule your day to make the most efficient use of your time.
Here’s another example. Say you’ve booked a hotel in Napa and you really like Chardonnay and Pinot. You might have a swell place to stay but your options for the kinds of wines you actually prefer are limited. A private concierge would have placed you in a hotel closer to your happy place, like say, Russian River, Carneros or Anderson Valley.
- A private concierge can match your tastes, interests and disposable income with a short-list of wineries.
There are nearly 1,000 wineries between Napa and Sonoma counties. A thousand. Beyond the sheer number, wineries differ in so many ways – some are open to the public, others are by appointment only; most have basic cheese pairings, a handful offer elaborate multi-course tasting menus; some have caves, some don’t even have their own vineyards. A concierge knows who has what and can narrow down the list so you can have the experience you want.
Another example has to do with money. Long gone are the days of free tastings. That’s off the table. We’re talking about wineries that taste you through their hundred-dollar-a-bottle wines and, ahem, expect you to actually buy them. Was that your intention? If not, it can be an uncomfortable moment.
A concierge will vet both the visitor and the winery to make sure any buying expectations are clearly understood by both parties. It’s the concierge’s job to determine if you’re a Collector or just a Taster and convey this to the winery. That way nobody is under any pressure to buy wine they don’t want or can’t afford.
- A private concierge knows that Wine Country isn’t just about wine.
Spending a few days in Napa or Sonoma only tasting wine can get tiresome for all but the serious oenophile. Happily, there are many non-winery things to do that a concierge can steer you to.
For instance, there are dozens of ways to experience Wine Country’s food culture without ever stepping into a restaurant. There are farmer’s markets and cheese purveyors and olive oil mills. There are oyster bars and apple festivals and bakers of every stripe. Fitness buffs can ride a bike or take a hike or stand-up paddleboard. They can zip line or fly trapeze or take a vintage plane ride. And if you want to shop, well there’s no shortage of places to spend your money. Got kids? A good concierge can keep them entertained by day – horseback riding, wild-animal safari, amusement parks – and well looked-after by night.
Finally, say you’re thirsty for something other than wine. A concierge knows where all the craft breweries, spirits distilleries and apple cideries are hidden.
- A private concierge knows the best time of year to visit Wine Country.
Harvest is the literal and figurative climax of the growing season. It’s when everything happens and why everyone comes. So while there is a lot to do, there are a lot of folks here all trying to do the same things. Unless you’re okay standing three-deep at a tasting room or eating dinner at 5:30, advance planning is a must. Cue the concierge.
And while winter months are slower, the notion of a “slow season” here is a bit misleading, given the difficulty of getting a table at Morimoto or the French Laundry on a Saturday evening in February. A smart concierge, planning a February trip, might actually steer you away from some of the more exclusive wineries, as many of them are located well off the beaten path at the top of either of the mountain ranges that flank the valley. Why? Because winter rains and the fog that accompanies them can lead to less than ideal driving conditions and can reduce what should be a magnificent view to a foggy, rain-streaked windshield. As for vineyard tours, you can pretty much forget about it in an El Niño winter.
The seasons aren’t the only circumstance for visiting one time of year over another. Sometimes it’s events. Say you want to come to Napa to celebrate your May wedding anniversary. A smart concierge would encourage you to book early in the month in order to steer clear of BottleRock, our annual 3-day music festival, and Auction Napa Valley, which this year occurred on back-to-back weekends.
- A private concierge knows how to deliver private services.
Not everyone who comes to Wine Country stays in a hotel. Larger groups tend to want to rent a whole house where they can spread out and enjoy communal activities. While many rental homes offer cleaning services, it usually goes no further than that. A private concierge, on the other hand, can hook you up with chefs, massage therapists, baby sitters and more. People whose services they can vouch for. A concierge can also help large groups get into places they might not ordinarily get into on their own. As in all things, relationships matter.
- A private concierge works with you – your budget, your schedule, your needs.
In the end, it’s about personalization and customization. A private concierge will take the time to get to know who you are, when you’re coming and what you want see and do while you’re here. Some visitors are very specific and have a list of wineries and restaurants they want to go to. Others have a block of time and are looking for help deciding what to do. In either instance, a concierge will do everything they can to understand their preferences and passions, their needs and constraints.
Your time is precious; you need a solution that will make the most of it. A concierge who is attentive, intuitive and respectful of your needs can make your time in Wine Country
memorable and, most importantly, exactly what you want it to be.
Written by Melanie Schwartz, founder of Booker & Butler, a private concierge based in Sonoma, California.