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California wine-country tours on a budget

Editor's note: The following blog entry was written by Editorial Intern Erin Liszewski, who is on her final college spring break. She will be writing this week from wherever the road takes her in California and Oregon.

Road trips are made for college students—unless you do not own a car. I flew into San Francisco and planned to drive north to Portland, Oregon, so I needed to rent a car, but rental companies charge the under-25 crowd an arm and a leg to rent.

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I realized that there was no way for me to get around the daily surcharge that comes with an ID with the year 1984 on it, but I chose Fox Rent A Car because they charge $20 per day rather than the usual $25 per day I found elsewhere.

Once we crammed the four of us and our four suitcases into the economy-sized car, it was time to leave San Francisco and head to Sonoma for some wine tastings.

While studying abroad in New Zealand last spring, I fell in love with not only the wine, but also with the culture of wine tastings. However, being a 22-year-old wine novice traveling on a student's budget, I learned quickly that I was not going to be taken seriously unless I played the part. I like to don pearls, a polo, and a cardigan and read up on the vineyard before heading into the tasting room. "I've heard you make an excellent Chardonnay," just rolls off the tongue better when wearing argyle.

In all seriousness, even the most intimidating vineyard can be accessible to beginners if you are willing to learn and you use a bit of charm. At Schug, which does, in fact, make an excellent Chardonnay, one of my travel companions explained right away that it was her first-ever wine tasting, and the owners were excited to demonstrate the proper way to taste as well as let us try four complimentary wines.

Keeping our trip budget-friendly, we chose Sonoma Valley over Napa because the tastings are generally less expensive. After our free tasting at Schug, we headed to the bustling Benziger family winery. Although tastings cost $5 per person, it was worth it because we sampled a reserve Chardonnay (which I ended up buying) and a Chardonnay from Benziger's sister vineyard, Imagery Winery. The friendly staff even gave us each a card for a complimentary tasting at Imagery, which we plan to save until tomorrow. Conscious of the fact that drinking and driving is always a concern in this region, we limited ourselves to two vineyards today, but we know there are always more tomorrow.

Road Trip by the Numbers

  • Vineyards toured: 2
  • Bottles of wine purchased: 4
  • Miles driven: 375
  • Speeding tickets avoided with charm and wit: 1
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