1) Wine is not meant to be for only geeks and snobs.  Maybe that’s what they think in Napa , but in Sonoma the wine is only as good as the experience you have.  Don’t be intimidated.  Always feel free to ask questions, joke around, and make yourself at home at wineries and tasting rooms.  They are designed to be enjoyed.

3) No dress code. Be comfortable.  It gets hot some days.  Sandals are great.  Shorts are just peachy.  Don’t wear jean cut-offs.  That’s just a fashion tip, not a wine tasting tip.    

4) Don’t be afraid to spit.  It’s not just about being sober enough to communicate/drive.  If you drink too much during the day, you won’t have the energy to drink all night.  Spitting is just a part of the whole wine tasting thing.  But ask where you can spit before you go spitting into containers. **Feel free to ask for a spit cup. Most tasting rooms have these available, and it keeps your face away from the "dump bucket." Some might just be decorative vases. 

5) Bring some good music for the drive.  The lay of the land is scattered about and divided by hills and valleys.  A cool soundtrack for the little jaunts between wineries can make things two times better. 

6) Bring crackers and water.  Tasting a lot of red wine “bruises your palette” but it feels much better after a little bread and water. 

7) Don’t get wasted.  It’s poor sportsmanship.  Just go to a wine bar if you want to get hammered. (Or just don't get hammered; you loose the taste of the wine, they all start tasting alike. Tasting Room employees won't serve to someone who seems to be already intoxicated) **Limit yourself to visiting three to four wineries a day. Any more, and palate fatigue will set in.

8) Don’t feel like you have to buy anything…you don’t. **Tipping tasting room staff is not mandatory, and is always welcomed. 

9) But it’s polite if you take up a lot someone’s time.  If you taste the whole smorgasbord, think about buying a bottle or two.  But there are some pourers who are just generous.  If you've made an appointment to visit a smaller winery, where you are typically served by the owner and/or winemaker, this is the perfect time to be polite and buy at least one bottle.

10) Should you get a driver or drive yourself? Concierges get that specific question the most. Many tourists choose to "taste and drive". If that's your choice, do so responsibly and with care. (*It's definitely acceptable to use dump buckets, or share tastings, to cut down on your alchohol intake. If you notice the worker is giving you heavy pours, don't hesitate to ask for just a splash. You will even see seasoned wine tasters spitting out the wines, and feel free to do this if you're comfortable with it!)

That being said, drivers are (for the most part) knowledgeable, friendly, and they know Sonoma County (which can be much more confusing than Napa since there isn’t a “main drag.”).  Hiring a driver can also be expensive, especially on a weekend in harvest season. You don’t want to get a DUI on vacation (or worse...), but you may not want to pay an arm and a leg for a driver either. In the end, it’s about what your priorities are. Think about it and explore the options before you arrive.  (*Group tours will cut down on the cost, but you won't have as much control over the destinations as you would with a private driver). **If you hire a private car for your tour, be sure to consult a map beforehand. Sonoma County is a big place, and a first stop in Carneros with a second in Dry Creek could leave you with an hour in the car between tastings. 

11) Should you do the tour?  If you’ve been on one, you’ve been on all of them.  It goes like this: “Here are the vines.  Here are the tanks.”  (Exception: Sparkling wine producers like Korbel and J). But if you get the chance, chat with the winemakers and let them show you around.  Those people are great to talk to.  They know a lot about what most people are interested in. (* this isn't necessarily true, not all tours are created equal. Some wineries have more history than others, and some have the time and staff to show you the vineyards, the barrel room, how they press and sort the grapes. Some properties are different; some have caves included in the tours. Tours during the Harvest Season, September and October, will be especially interesting as you will oftentimes get to see the 'crush' in action. 

12) Temper your use of gum and tobacco.  This should be self-explanatory.   (*perfume too. Too many "other" smells will affect the way your wine smells, and the smell is an important part of the taste of the wine). **Specifically, don't wear purfume or colonge when wine tasting. Also, try to absain from wax-based lipstick and lip-balm - these adhere easily to glasses and are difficult to remove. 

13) Don’t get stuck on the town of Sonoma . When people say “ Sonoma ” they mean “ Sonoma County .”  Sonoma is a little town which, while historical, has ridden the name of the county to success.  Healdsburg, Windsor , Petaluma , Bodega, Jenner, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa are all awesome towns/cities with their own good and bad parts.  Healdsburg and Santa Rosa especially have so many cool restaurants, breweries, and wine bars that get overlooked because of the allure of the name of Sonoma .  Really, Healdsburg has the tasting rooms for most of the better wineries in Sonoma County .  Don’t believe all the hype. 

  (*The town of Sonoma definitely has plenty to offer too. Many great restaurants and lodging, tasting rooms on the square, and larger wineries in the Sonoma Valley. You will find more of the larger, more familiar wine names near the town of Sonoma, and more of the smaller, family wineries as you go north towards Healdsburg)