Planning Your Time

Many first-time visitors to the Wine Country pack as many wineries as possible into a short vacation. Besides being exhausting, this approach goes against the area's laid-back ethos. So you can experience the region without running yourself ragged, we've put together a few strategies for maximizing your wine-tasting fun.

Avoid driving during rush hour. From roughly 4 to 6 pm on weekdays the cars of tourists are joined by those of commuters, resulting in traffic jams. The worst bottlenecks occur on Highway 29 in both directions around St. Helena and southbound between Rutherford and northern Napa.

Get an early start. Tasting rooms are often deserted before 11 am. On the flip side, they're usually the busiest between 3:30 and closing.

Slip off the beaten track. When Napa Valley's tasting rooms along Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail are jammed, those just to the east in Coombsville and Chiles Valley might be nearly deserted. If you're based in Healdsburg, you might find the wineries in the Russian River Valley packed, whereas the ones in the Alexander Valley are comparatively quiet.

Think quality, not quantity. Spend most of your time at a few wineries each day, focusing on your interests. Perhaps you'd like to sample wines from a particular type of grape, or are curious about the different varietals offered by a certain vineyard. Wine-and-food seminars are also a good idea.

Visit on a weekday. From May through October, roads and wineries are less crowded on weekdays. Year-round, tasting rooms are usually the least busy on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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