Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN

Survival of the Tipsiest!

Wine Country Bachelorette Dos & Don'ts

I saw it coming, but still I wasn't prepared. The wine country bachelorette party had been on the calendar for months before I finally went into heavy planning mode, spurred on, as you might expect, by its imminent arrival. Which is how I found myself, just two weeks shy of the big weekend, with a pressing need to find transportation, a fabulous gourmet lunch, and a full roster of winery appointments for 12 excited young ladies.

It didn't help matters that "C Magazine" had just called me "San Francisco's Most Wanted Wine Guru" in its May, 2007 issue. Instead, this fortuitous piece of press had simply served to heighten the girls' expectations of my planning savvy, something that - I had to stop myself from pointing out in the giddy train of emails that ensued - had absolutely nothing to do with my ability to put together a decent bachelorette party.   

Desperate Times...
Still, the party was nearly upon us, so I did what any other resourceful wine writer would do: I sent out some lifelines. In an act of unusual planning savvy, I reached out to a few of wine country's top PR mavens and begged for tips on where to take a gaggle of ladies at the last minute at the peak of wine country's busiest travel season. Thanks in large part to insider tips from these all-knowing sources, things turned out beautifully in the end.

Read on for the low-down on how to plan, execute, and - most importantly - survive a wine country bachelorette excursion. Based on actual events.

Planning & Execution
Plan Ahead - Due to laws regulating the number of visitors they can accommodate, wineries often require advance booking for large groups, and reservations can book up weeks if not months in advance during the busy season. I learned this the hard way and had to call upwards of a dozen wineries to find two spots that could accommodate our group with just a couple of weeks' notice in June.

As you might imagine, transportation options (e.g. limos, mini buses) also book up in advance. I highly recommend renting a limo or mini bus, as these options not only alleviate the need for anyone to drive but they also allow everyone to be together en route, which makes for a fun party atmosphere.

Mind the Time - Unless your group is down with a mega-regimented schedule, it's better to under book rather than over book appointments. This is because it usually takes more time than you expect to travel between wineries, and traffic in wine country can be busy on weekends. My group's original plan to visit four wineries was ultimately scaled back to just two (including an extended tour at the first and a leisurely lunch at the second), which was perfect for us.

Those looking to visit more places should be prepared to keep their guests on a tight schedule - something that gets tougher as the day (and the drinking) goes on. No matter how many wineries you visit, be sure to be prompt. Wineries plan ahead to accommodate large groups, and your being there on time enables them to meet your needs and manage their own flow of guests.

Get Good Grub - One of the best things about being in wine country is enjoying a fabulous lunch among the vines. The highlight of my group's trip was tucking into a delicious spread of goodies from Napa's Oakville Grocery at a choice picnic spot with sweeping valley views. With enough notice, spots like the Oakville Grocery can create elaborate picnic lunches that you can literally drop in and pick up on the way to your picnic spot.

My group followed a superb tour and barrel tasting at St. Supéry with a tasting and picnic lunch at nearby Rutherford Hill Winery. Just up the hill from posh Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford Hill is a lovely spot with lots of outdoor tables that are perfect for picnicking. Just be sure to purchase any wine you plan to drink while there from the winery, as it's forbidden to bring in wine purchased elsewhere (this is standard at most spots). Call ahead to see if the places you'd like to visit allow picnicking - it's well worth it!

Prepare for the Outdoors - Especially if you'll be visiting wine country during the summer months, it's a good idea to take along some sunscreen and extra hats for ladies who may forget to bring these items. Even a 15 minute walk in the vineyards can translate to some serious sun exposure in summer, and while many picnic spots are shaded, there are invariably some that are not. It's a good idea to take along a few blankets, too, in the event you wind up picnicking on a lawn.

Bring Libations - Having some bubbles or - better yet - a custom cocktail (Kir Royale, anyone?) to sip in the limo on your way to wine country kicks the day off on a festive note, but be careful not to serve your guests TOO much booze. Excessive mid-morning cocktails followed by a few winery visits are a sure-fire combination for overindulgence. I was fortunate enough to partake in a party where everyone minded her intake, but I've heard some nasty tales of groups where that was far from the case.

Monitoring folks' alcohol intake will help you avoid nursing an overly tipsy bachelorette or reveler circa 12pm in the restroom at winery #2 - which sounds like a real drag. For the same reason, be sure there's plenty of water on-hand throughout the day.

Have Fun - Just because you're planning this thing doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy yourself! By following these simple tips and making your plans in advance there's no reason why a wine country bachelorette can't be a blast for you, too. Just be sure someone takes pictures, so you can all continue to enjoy the day for years to come.

St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery, 8440 St. Helena Hwy, Rutherford CA Tel (707) 963-4507
Rutherford Hill Winery, 200 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA Tel (707) 963-1871
Oakville Grocery, 7859 Hwy. 29, Oakville, CA Tel (707) 944-8802

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