Someday, I’ll get to Napa Valley. I would really love to spend days just visiting the wineries and restaurants in the region, discovering new wines and learning more about wine and winemaking.

But I know that I don’t have to fly all the way across the country visit a winery. There are plenty of wineries within a short distance from my home and many of them are a part of a wine trail.

What is a wine trail? It’s a group of wineries in a region that have banded together to offer some sort of pass or ticket. Purchasing one wine trail pass gives visitors the opportunities to visit all of the wineries on the trail for one price. It ends up costing less than paying the individual fees at each tasting room. Many times other things are included in the pass like food and wine pairings or complimentary wine glasses.

Visiting a nearby wine trail is the perfect little weekend getaway for wine lovers or a relaxing way to spend a free Saturday afternoon. To find a wine trail in your region, use a search engine to search for the state or region you’re interested in visiting and the words “wine trail.”

Some tips for enjoying your wine trail experience:

  • Make sure you have a good meal before you head out to the trail. It’s not wise to do this on an empty stomach.
  • Take it easy at each winery. Sure you’re only drinking a small amount of each wine, but it all adds up. Make sure you’re okay to drive before heading to the next winery. If it’s possible, have a designated driver.
  • If you don’t know a lot about wine, resist the urge to say something clever about the wines. Simply saying, “I really like this” is acceptable.
  • Ask lots of questions. The tasting rooms of wineries are great places to get an education.
  • Learn the history of the winery. There are fascinating stories associated with most small wineries. You’re bound to learn about some immigrants who bought land three generations ago who were told that grapes would never grow on their soil, but they were determined to make a go of it. And they did. Stories like this are good for the soul.
  • Try a wine even if you think you don’t like that particular variety. You may be surprised.
  • If you find a wine you love buy a bottle or two or a case.
  • If you don’t find a wine you like at a particular winery, don’t feel obligated to buy anything.
  • After your day of following the trail, take a bottle of wine that you picked up at one of the local wineries to a local BYOB. Ask those who run the tasting rooms for a recommendation if you don’t know of a BYOB in the region.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Follow the wine trail
Visiting a local wine region is a perfect choice for a weekend getaway or a free Saturday. Find one near you and follow the trail.