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The only way to travel


Trips to wine-producing areas not only offer an education in winemaking and special perks such as dinners with vineyard owners, but can also include surprises as people get to know their fellow travelers.

“Kyl (Cabbage) was an excellent host, and he does a wonderful impression of Rodney Dangerfield,” said Gary Ordway, a Des Moines attorney who has taken two group trips to California through Cabbage’s store, The Wine Experience. “The bus trips in between wineries get to be more fun as the day goes on and people start to have some fun with the PA system.”

The Wine Experience started offering wine trips several years ago to the Napa Valley and Sonoma regions of California. The trips are scheduled for May, July and September.

Last fall, Summerset Inn & Winery near Indianola took its first group of travelers to Italy for a to see landmarks and wine lovers’ destinations. Summerset’s owners, Ron and Linda Mark, are planning another Italy trip in October. The Marks took 48 people last year, but expect around 30 for the upcoming 10-day trip.

“You’re eating dinner with a different group of people every night, and you make a lot of great friends,” Ron Mark said.

Mark said he tries to incorporate time for sightseeing in cities such as Rome, Naples and Florence, along with visits to smaller towns he first visited while stationed in the country for five years with the U.S. Army.

“A lot of people, if they travel to Europe, they go to see the big stuff and that’s it,” he said. “They miss the little stuff. With our last trip, the comments we heard most often were that people said they would want to go back to the Cinqueterre region, these five little villages carved into the bluffs of the Mediterranean Sea. You have a beautiful vista there of the Mediterranean below you and vineyards up above.”

Mark said the Italy trip doesn’t revolve around vineyards, because “you can only take so many wineries.” But he does take his group to a couple of wineries, and because it’s harvest season, they get to see loads of grapes being harvested and processed.

The Wine Experience, on the other hand, fills its four-day, three-night trips to California with three to four winery visits per day.

“It’s a full schedule, and in some ways, it’s an endurance test,” said Ordway who went on The Wine Experience’s tours in the fall of 2000 and again in 2003. He said he and his wife both liked having the trips planned out for them.

“We liked the ease with which you have a wonderful travel experience to California, get to eat really wonderful food, see beautiful wineries and taste wines,” he said. “You show up at 6:30 a.m. on a Thursday to catch a plane in Des Moines, and all you have to do is bring your clothes. Everything’s taken care of until you get back to Des Moines. It’s that simple.”

Ed Goff, who owns two UPS Stores in Greater Des Moines, took the same fall trip to California in 2003 that the Ordways took, and he and his wife are going on The Wine Experience’s September trip again this year, along with several people they met on the earlier trip. Goff said visiting the Pedroncelli Winery in Sonoma County was a highlight of the trip in 2003, and something he is looking forward to again this year.

“At the Pedroncelli Winery, we had dinner catered in the barrel room with Mr. Pedroncelli and then we got to play bocce ball outside with him,” Goff said. “It was a real VIP tour.”

Goff said he and his wife visited California wine country by themselves in 2000, but after traveling with Rhe Wine Experience, they decided group tours are a better for this type of trip.

“When you go by yourself, you’re going to be making some mistakes and going to the wrong places,” Goff said. “There are no wrong turns on this tour, and you see a lot more than you would get to see otherwise. Plus you have the camaraderie with other people on the trip.”

With visits to several wineries per day, Goff and Ordway said it’s also nice to put the driving in someone else’s hands.

“You don’t see people who are intoxicated, but people are doing research to see what they like and what they don’t like,” Ordway said. “The secret to one of these trips is that you have to pace your tasting and drink a lot of water and eat a lot.”

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