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Wineries and vineyards have been popular places to visit since at least the early Roman era. Today, hundreds of these sites operate in California's storied Wine Country, and many of them are open to the public. Here's what you need to know before your trip to a Napa Valley winery or vineyard.
Wineries are manufacturing facilities that produce wine, usually located in or adjacent to a vineyard where the grapes are grown. Wineries are often artisanal producers that host tours and wine tastings for the public.
Vineyards are farms that primarily grow grapes for making wine. They can be large or small, and they may produce other crops, but they are mainly producers of the primary ingredients for wine.
Wineries and vineyards are closely associated and often built in the same location, but the terms are not interchangeable. Wineries are facilities where grapes are pressed and the juice is fermented into wine, while vineyards are farms where the grapes and other ingredients are grown.
Wineries make wine in the facilities they operate. It's very common for an individual winery to produce just one brand of wine, which isn't made anywhere else. However, some wineries are part of larger operations that produce brand-name wine under license from the parent company.
During the planting season, vineyard workers lay out grapevines in the fields and tend to them like any other crop as they grow. At harvest time, the workers collect the grapes and deliver them to the winery for pressing. Some wineries rotate their crops and grow other items during the off-season, such as lavender.
Most people visit a winery as part of a tour. Tours typically start with a presentation about the grapes and the wine-making process. After this, visitors usually get a tour of the winery, where they can see the presses and fermentation equipment. Some wineries have cellars to visit where the wine is aging in casks. Tours frequently end with a wine tasting and a visit to the gift shop.
Farmers who manage vineyards are called vintners. This term is sometimes also applied to the people who operate wineries. These are often the same people, but that's not always the case.
The state of California leads the United States in wine production, both in quality and in quantity. As of 2021, the state was home to 3,674 licensed wineries, many of which offer tours to the public.
The Napa Valley Wine Country is home to more than 375 wineries that offer tours to the public. In addition, the cities of Napa, St. Helena and others have at least 90 urban wineries within their city limits that are open to the public for tastings and tours.
Visitors to Napa wineries have a lot of options for touring the local attractions. The Napa Valley Wine Train tours three of the oldest wineries in the Wine Country. Several bus and van companies take groups to local hotspots throughout the tourism season in summer and fall. Visitors who would like to enjoy the outdoors can sign up for biking tours that take in several local vineyards and wineries.
Most people who visit wineries dress somewhere between office attire and casual. Business suits would stand out as too formal for most tours, while leggings and sweatpants are too casual. Anything you would wear to a nice restaurant is acceptable for most events held at wineries. Day tours are generally tolerant of cargo shorts and boat shoes as a minimum of formality. If you have questions about a specific winery, you may want to check their website or call ahead to make sure your outfit is appropriate.
Appropriate attire for a wedding is almost entirely up to the couple planning their special day. While custom suggests wearing formal attire to weddings, you can ask the bride and groom for pointers if you have any doubts about what to wear to their event.
Starting a winery is similar to starting any other business. First, you have to set up a company with the state and file for an employer identification number from the IRS. The next step is to secure financing. You may want to work with a small business finance professional to get the best loan terms possible. Once you get that out of the way, you can choose a promising spot and set up your operations. Be sure to budget for lots of specialized equipment and at least a year of operations before you can start selling your wine.
Vineyards average between 2 and 10 tons of grapes per acre, which crushes into between 4 and 20 barrels of wine. Each barrel makes about 300 bottles of finished product. As a very broad average, each acre of grapes that goes to a winery can produce between 600 and 3,000 bottles delivered to the market.
Planting a vineyard starts with breaking up the soil, ideally in late fall before the rain. When the soil is loose, plant a cover crop of clover or another nitrogen-fixing plant to prepare the soil. Plant your vines in spring in regular rows that have some southwest sun exposure. Set the rows 8 feet apart, and the plants 4 feet apart in each row. As the vines grow, train them up trellises to keep them off the ground.
Experienced vintners recommend starting with at least 5 acres of good soil. If you are planning a wholesale operation, plan on a minimum of 10. Larger properties generally benefit from economies of scale that make their operations more efficient and profitable.