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Nothing like planning a trip to God’s Country to get my heart beating a little faster (in anticipation of all that resveratrol, no doubt.) Problem is, even vets can forget the basics when planning an exciting wine country jaunt. So I decided to write it down, for both of us.

• OFF-AIRPORT RENTAL CARS – If you weren’t able to fly into my favorite airport of all time and are forced to get to Sonoma via SFO (San Francisco International Airport) you can save yourself a bundle of cash by renting your car from one of the off-airport rental agencies. All the rental car agencies are accessed via a multi-stop tram ride from the main terminal. Once you get to the rental car building, if you’re going with one of the “bigs” (Hertz, Avis, etc.) you’re set. But, if you’re willing to add an extra half hour or so, you can save big and take a second shuttle to one of the off-airport rental agencies.

I was actually referred to our off-airport rental agency by an agent at Hertz when I was booking a busy holiday weekend. They recently purchased a company called Advantage that carries Hertz cars (maybe they’re a little older? Ours only had 11,000 miles on it) but at half the price ($173 for aChevy Malibu with free GPS for a busy holiday week versus double that at Hertz.) That brings me to my next must…

• GPS…AND DIRECTIONS – GPS is an absolute necessity on the windy, not always well-marked roads of wine country. Maps are annoying and often useless. Rent or bring your own GPS. And whatever you do, DO NOT depend on the GPS on your cell phone or Waze, or any cell-dependent service that does yeoman service in the big city. Cell service is notoriously spotty in Sonoma and will inevitably leave you hanging at some inopportune time. Once you’ve achieved GPS, you should STILL get directions. GPS is excellent at getting you to the right general area, but more often than not, you need to know that you “cross three cattle guards then take a right at the wagon wheel” to actually get where you’re going.

• ADDRESSES – Another reason to ask for directions and confirmations is that many wineries, especially smaller ones that don’t have formal tasting rooms, often have multiple addresses. One might be the actual vineyard, one the winemaker’s private home and another the space they use for tasting, sometimes a barn, storage facility or space in an office park. Call or e-mail ahead and make sure you’ve got the correct information. I remember years ago scheduling a tasting at Merry Edwards before she opened her tasting room. The Mister and I followed our trusty GPS to the address we’d found online and were quite confused when we found ourselves on a leafy suburban cul-de-sac, no vines in sight. But when we “arrived” we did see Merry Edwards…unloading groceries from her car. We’d gone to her house!  Not only embarrassing, but made us late for a private tasting with their gracious tasting room host, Ron. You don’t want to be late for Ron, trust me.

• TRAVEL TIMES – Just as your “citified” cell phone GPS will do you no good in Sonoma, neither will your big city/suburban notions about travel time. “10 miles away” in Los Angeles is a completely different animal in wine country when you’re talking about twisting one-lane roads, being stuck behind a bike tour or a combine, and the inevitability (even with the GPS and spot on directions) of getting lost. Pre-program your GPS to see what the estimated travel time is from point A to point B and then add at least 50%.

• DRINKING AND DRIVING – Obviously, if you’re visiting tasting rooms there’s going to be at least one person in your vehicle who has been drinking. The legal limit in California is %.08 BAC. You obviously don’t want anyone to get hurt or arrested. There are ways to keep that from happening. The most effective are hiring a car service (any hotel can arrange this for you, or you can look online) or designating a driver. If the person who is driving is going to have a few sips, these are my suggestions —

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Lucy at Hartford Family, know “when to say when” Lucy!

– A standard pour at a tasting room is going to be about 1 ounce. A standard glass of wine is about 5 to 8 ounces. Depending on your sex, height and weight, you’re able to metabolize between half a glass to two glasses in an hour. Here’s a blood alcohol calculator that isn’t intended as gospel or binding legal advice, but at least gives you a good idea so you can be conscious of where you stand and then make sure you stay well below your limit.

– Swirling and spitting is completely acceptable (of course ask for a bucket or cup, spitting onto the floor is considered gauche even in laid back Sonoma!)

– Drink LOTS of water. Stash big bottles in the car and sip as you go.

– And my personal favorite, share a tasting. Just because the tasting sheet specifies a price “per person” or “per tasting” doesn’t mean that everyone in your party has to do their own. The Mister and I share tastings all the time and no one ever bats an eyelash. Then, if you find yourself dying to have more, buy a bottle (or a few!) Most places will comp your tasting fee when you make a bottle purchase, and it will give you something to look forward to when you get home, and something to sip on as you plot your next adventure in God’s Country!

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