A visit to the wine counties of California is often a place to visit and splurge a little bit. Wine tasting by nature is a higher-end affair. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and a few too many samples and blow your budget, but it doesn’t have to. Visiting Sonoma on a budget is possible and still very enjoyable. Here is how we visited Sonoma on a budget.
Use your apps
A big part of the reason most people visit Sonoma is to go wine tasting. Over the past few years, the tasting fees have drifted up to around $10 per tasting and as high as $30 at a few high-end wineries. Sampling your way around Sonoma can add up quick. One of the best ways we have found to cut the cost of wine tasting is to use apps like Foursquare and Yelp. Simply by checking in on these platforms can score you a free tasting (usually for two people). There are always new wineries coming into Sonoma and in order to get their name out there, they offer tastings on these platforms. Not just the new guys in town are on these apps plenty of established wineries will hook you up as well.
Talk to your Wine Pourer
Another place to save on tasting fees is at the wineries themselves. At the end of each tasting its good to ask your wine pourer (the person serving you wine) where to go next. They are very knowledgeable and will let you know where to go based on what you liked from their tasting. The best part about this is that more often than not they’ll give you a card for another winery with a comped tasting there. The wineries work on a referral system, so it’s in their benefit too. Most pourers are talkative and interesting people, so chat with them. It’s a great way to learn about wine and it helps the budget.
Pack a lunch
As side from the wine, another big expense is food while out wine tasting. Save yourself and pack a picnic to have in the middle of a vineyard. There is no better setting that I can think of for lunch in Sonoma than eating while surrounded by rows of grapevines. Pick up some cheese and meats and save your money for a nice bottle of wine to enjoy with it. Some wineries have great outdoor spaces with tables that make for a great lunch spot. Buy a bottle or a tasting and just enjoy the beauty of the valley.
Stay at L&M
There are plenty of options when choosing where to stay in Sonoma. If you’re like us you’d rather save your money for more wine or an activity than on a room, then stay at the L&M motel. Located just outside the main square of Healdsburg, the L&M motel is just off the 101 HWY and in walking distance to the square with 100’s of tasting room and restaurants. The rooms are nicely done with comfortable beds, a pool, a cute outdoor space, and everything you need. Another bonus is that the rooms are equipped with kitchenettes. We cooked a few of our diners to help stay on budget in Sonoma. Oh, and for breakfast, they have the best blueberry scones I have ever had.
If you prefer to stay in a Vrbo there are tons of condos for a fraction of the price available. Plus there is some amazing Airbnbs in Sonoma, you can stay on a vineyard for under $100 a night, Staying in an Airbnb will also help save money on meal costs as you can easily make breakfast before heading off wine tasting in Sonoma Valley.
Don’t Get Sold
Generally, the whole purpose of going wine tasting is to find a bottle of wine you enjoy and bring it back home, or for some people, it’s not. If you do find a wine you like and purchase it, then the tasting fee is always waived for at least one person if not both. However, tasting wine at a particular winery doesn’t mean you are obligated to buy a bottle of wine. The wine pourers may try and talk you into taking a bottle, but that’s their job. Wine tasting is the wineries best form of marketing but doesn’t obligate you to buy.
Another recent trend in Sonoma is the wine club. Every winery wants you to sign up for their club where you get 6 or 12 bottles at 3-4 times per year and discounts on buying bottles. It can get a little complicated and expensive, the clubs can be a good value if you really like the wine at a particular winery. It’s also a way for the wineries to get money from you long after the buzz of your trip has worn off. Signing up for a club after several wine tastings might not be the best idea. Come back the next day and signup and make sure it’s not just all the wine opening up your wallet.
Lastly, this article is on visiting Sonoma on a budget, but if you are thinking of visiting Napa along with Sonoma, you might want to think again. Napa and budget are words that don’t pair as well as Sonoma and budget. Average tasting fees are approaching $20+ per person and bottle prices nearly twice that of Sonoma. Napa is a beautiful place and home to a lot of great wine, but it’s much harder to do on a budget.
If you follow even a few of these simple tips on how to visit Sonoma on a budget, then you are sure to keep a little bit more money in your pocket for your next trip.