We Asked the Experts: How to Pack for a Wine Country Vacation

Courtney Schiessl We Asked the Experts: How to Pack for a Wine Country Vacation

5 minute Read

As buds appear and vine shoots sprout, who doesn’t want to plan a getaway to the source of their favorite wines? A wine trip is the ultimate escape for anyone passionate about what goes in their glass. It’s also a great way to organize an entire vacation around drinking.  (It’s not taboo to crack open a bottle at 10 a.m. if you’re tasting, right?)

Packing for said trip can be tricky, though. Wine tours often involve full days of hopping from winery to winery, transitioning directly into late nights. If you’re tackling a serious wine trip, you may even be moving from hotel to hotel within a region, necessitating a bag that isn’t the size of Texas. How can you pack supplies for dusty vineyard visits, chilly cellar tours, and four-star restaurants, while leaving room to bring back your favorite bottles? (For those curious about rules, regulations, and strategies for transporting wine, we’ve got you covered.)

We spoke to three experts who have criss-crossed the world in pursuit of vino for their secrets to stress-free wine travel. The only task left is to figure out where to go. Need some ideas? We’ve got a few on our list.

Clothing

Layers are key.

“One of the great things about the world’s best wine regions are fluctuations in diurnal temperatures — hot during the day, quite cool at night — but those conditions can create a packing conundrum,” Jennifer Raezer, founder of Approach Guides travel and wine guides, says.

In other words, how is a person supposed to dress for a mild 60-degree morning if the daily high is forecasted to surpass 90 degrees?

Layers are the answer. In addition to light, space-saving T-shirts and tanks, pack a sweater or two, which can be reworn throughout the week.

“Better to be warm and have to shed layers than the alternative,” Brian McClintic, Master Sommelier and founder of Viticole Wine, says. McClintic also notes that weather can be unpredictable in wine regions (ever hear stories of 15-minute hailstorms that destroy an entire harvest?), so he opts for a waterproof outer layer.

Dark colors fare better.

You may be tempted to opt for easy-breezy, light-colored outfits that will flow among the vines, but think about the reality of wine tasting. “I rely on dark colors which still look good after several visits to the vineyard — and spitting on the cellar floor!” Raezer says.

Even if you perfect the art of the swirl and sip, another oenophile might not be so coordinated. A friend once told a story of keeping her white jeans pristine throughout an entire evening of wine tasting, only to find that the back of her pants was covered in spills from other guests.

Look for versatile footwear.

Footwear is the biggest problem to solve when packing for a wine trip. Most tasting room visitors want to look polished and put-together, but it’s imperative to find shoes that are practical enough to tromp through the vineyards or hold their grip in a wet, slippery winery.

The key is to find shoes that are practical without looking like you just stepped out of a tractor. McClintic swears by Oak Street Bootmakers, which makes weatherproof boots that are nice enough to wear to dinner with a pair of dark jeans. Dark, waterproof sneakers can also do the trick.

Just remember that a winery is a working operation with plenty of mechanical equipment, heavy barrels, and cleaning chemicals. “I leave my open-toed shoes at home,” Raezer says. If you’re hell-bent on wearing sandals or low heels, Dansko makes closed-toed, non-slip options that transition well from day to night.

And, in case we hadn’t said it already, wineries and vineyards can get dirty. Throw a plastic bag or two into your suitcase in case you need to wrap up terroir-dusted shoes.

Make your clothing do double duty.

What’s better than layers? Layers that do double duty. “A scarf can double as a blanket to sit on outdoors during the day or as a wrap to stay warm when temperatures drop at night,” Jen Rubio, co-founder and chief brand officer of Away, suggests.

Packing cubes make a difference.

As Tetris taught all of us as children, a suitcase can fit a lot more when things are arranged strategically. Rubio, a self-proclaimed over-packer, swears by packing cubes so much that Away started producing some of its own. “I can easily fit a long weekend’s worth of outfits into a single carry-on with plenty of space left to bring a few bottles home!” she says.

Other Essentials

Keep study materials digital.

There’s no better time to study up on your favorite wine region than when you experience it in person, but don’t waste space by lugging along huge textbooks. “The World Atlas of Wine” and “Wine Grapes” both have digital versions, and smartphone apps like Wine Maps, Approach Guide, and GuildSomm Compendium are handy as well.

Don’t forget a water bottle.

“Dehydration is a big one out in vineyards and in the cellar tasting,” McClintic says. Amidst all the wine, it’s easy to forget all other beverages. Avoid a post-vacation hangover by bringing a refillable water bottle, like this liter option from CamelBak. Just be sure to empty it before you go through airport security!

Portable charger.

Vineyards and cellars aren’t known for their cell phone service. If you don’t put your phone on airplane mode, the battery can drain to zero before you’ve even had a chance to make your friends jealous with an elaborate Instagram story. A portable charger like this one from Anker takes up very little room and holds a full phone charge.

Staying Healthy

Small items can lead to big sleep rewards.

“Jet lag can be a monster and I’ve learned the hard way, especially when dining with Spaniards — dinner starts at 10 p.m.,” McClintic notes. The shape of this Travelrest pillow packs small while providing comfort even if you don’t have the window seat, and melatonin is an excellent, natural sleep aid for those who struggle to drift off.

Sneak in fitness supplies.

Wine trips may be all about indulgence, but you’ll feel a lot better if you take some time to burn off some of that richness. Exercise bands take up little room in the suitcase, as do dark-colored sneakers that are nice enough to wear to dinner but suitable for walking or running. Raezer notes an extra benefit of the yoga mat that she always totes along. “Not only does my yoga mat help me to stay fit when I travel, but it provides the perfect protection for those wine bottles I inevitably carry home,” she says.

BYO snacks.

Many wineries boast restaurants alongside their tasting rooms, and we love a good cheese plate. Still, at a certain point, nonstop dining out can start to feel overindulgent. Packing small, healthy snacks, like almonds, to nibble en route to tastings will keep you from overindulging on cheese and charcuterie at every stop.

Luggage Solutions

Hard-shelled suitcases offer protection.

While Raezer swears by soft suitcases, Rubio prefers the hard shell. “Choose luggage with a hard shell so that the exterior holds its shape even under pressure, helping to ensure your bottles won’t break in transit,” she notes. Wrap the bottles within the suitcase in dark, washable clothing — or use Raezer’s yoga mat trick.

Prepare for the worst.

In case a bottle does break in your luggage, you can save yourself a dripping suitcase by sealing wines (especially reds!) in soft padding. WineSkins seal and pad bottles, and most fit in a regular old gallon-sized Ziploc bag.

Pack wine separately.

Don’t feel like you need to hide the wine from the airline. It’s perfectly legal to pack wine in checked luggage. If you’re traveling with more than four bottles, it might make more sense to check them in their own cardboard wine shipper. Ask the winery where you’re buying them if they might be willing to gift or sell one to you.

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