Weekends at wineries can make for fun, memorable trips. Not only do you get to tour a new area, but you get a closeup look at the complex process of how grapes are grown harvested and turned into wine. Every winery has a different approach, so you can tour a dozen different wineries and see a dozen different setups.

These weekends also provide valuable learning opportunities. If you’ve always wanted to learn more about why different wines have different taste profiles, and just what makes a good wine pairing, there’s no better place to go. And with the chance to taste many different wines, you may just find a new favorite.

While these weekends can be a great experience, there are some must-dos that will make your visit to a winery even better.

Research the Best Destinations

Start by researching the best destinations for a wine tasting. While you’ll want to go to a destination with great wineries, it helps if there are other activities that you can do, too. Think about whether a destination offers great restaurants and other tourist attractions to make the most of your trip. America’s best wine regions are located all over the country, so whether you feel like visiting Texas, New York, Oregon, Virginia, or of course, California, you can  combine your trip to a winery with some other must-do activities.

When researching your destination, also think about the time of year that you’ll be taking your trip. July and August are peak tourist season at wineries, so most wineries are likely to be busy. September and October are harvest season, and while this can be an entertaining time to visit a winery, you’ll probably be dealing with some crowds as well. However, autumn wines like reds and sweeter whites make for great tastings, and many wineries offer fun autumn activities and events.

If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, plan your winery weekend for the late winter through early spring, when wineries aren’t as busy. While the scenery may not be as picturesque and you might not have the chance to see the winery’s harvest in action, you may receive more personal attention and enjoy a more relaxed tour and tasting when you travel in the off-season.

One notable location, in particular, is the Pacific Northwest region. Thanks to its optimal weather, the PNW has been growing some of the best wines in the country for years. There are many smaller wine regions within it, such as the Willamette Valley on the border between Washington and Oregon, or the Sunnyslope Wine Trail in Idaho.

Many of the wineries in this area have been around since at least the 70s, such as Idaho’s Ste. Chapelle Winery. However, due to its “hot streak,” most wineries in the area require you to make reservations well in advance. You’ll be glad you did, though, with the plethora of outdoor activities that take place in the same region.

Plan, but Not Every Minute

You can plan out your weekend activities so that you check off some bucket-list items during your winery weekend. Think about

planning a foodie trip if there are great restaurants in the area (Napa Valley, hello!) or combine your winery visit with a trip to see family. Find out if there are things that you’ve always wanted to do in the region, like going whitewater rafting or hiking a certain mountain. You can incorporate these activities into your weekend for an exciting adventure with your friends or family beyond the tasting room.

Planning your trip so that you have plenty to do will help you make the most of your time, but be careful of over-planning. If you’re always rushing to the next activity on your schedule, it’s hard to sit down and enjoy a winery visit. As you plan your schedule, contact the winery to find out how long their tours and tastings last, then add on some extra time so that you can peruse their gift shop and enjoy the experience without being rushed.

Be Ready to Learn

When you visit a vineyard, you’ll have a great learning opportunity before you. Make the most of it by being enthusiastic and open to the experience. Vineyard staff can teach you not only about the vineyard and its specific wines but also about wine in general. Be respectful, follow their lead, and ask questions as you have them.

Be present during the wine tasting and tour. Stay off the cellphone! Try to be active in the tasting — rather than sitting in the corner and chatting with friends, pay attention to what the winemaker is saying. Don’t be afraid to provide feedback about what you think of each wine. Some winemakers will be happy to break out a bottle of something different as they get to know your tastes.

Know Your Manners

Just like at the dinner table, wineries ask that you respect winery etiquette. This means that you don’t want to get too overindulgent at wineries. Be sure to know your limits, spit, and dump out wine when you need to. However, enjoying yourself is still encouraged! Linger on the wine when it suits you. At the end of your wine trip, don’t forget to buy a bottle on the way out. It’s polite to the winery you’re visiting, and most times your tasting fee will be deducted from the wine you purchase.

And another quick tip: keep lip-gloss or lipstick in your purse! These can interfere with the taste of wines, so many winemakers suggest keeping them off if you want to fully experience the wine tasting. The most important manner to keep in the winery is to stay open-minded! You never know when a particular wine, or an entire winery, will surprise you by derailing all your preconceived notions. Sometimes, the best of times comes when we least expect it.

Capture Some Great Photos

Vineyards and wineries offer some amazing photo opportunities, but always ask permission before taking photos. Some of these businesses forbid photography during visits. Once you’ve gotten permission, feel free to take photos to document the experience. The scenic photos that you capture at a winery can make a great holiday card, or simply share them with friends and family back home through social media or email.

When you put in some time planning your winery visit, you’ll get more out of the experience. A winery weekend is sure to be one that you won’t soon forget, so make sure to schedule some winery visits this year.

By Frankie Wallace

Read more by Frankie in our Blue Lifestyle Blog.