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Essential gear for wine country travel

Catalan vineyard tour with my khaki bag.

I've learned many lessons traveling to and from wine country. On my last wine country excursion, I was told, "You have so many cool gadgets. Where do you find them?" Instead of writing many separate posts, or dumping a bunch of advertising links on my posts, I have decided I need a central page devoted to the gear I use and like.

Which brings me to this page. My intent is to share with you what I use when I am touring wine country.

Like the Rothco Canvas Israeli Paratrooper Bag - Khaki I am using in the photo above. That bag goes with me everywhere. It's comfortable, holds my camera in a pinch, ipad, business cards, pens, phone charger, corkscrew, and marketing material from wineries. NOT WATERPROOF. It's canvas, so not waterproof (on rainy trips, I put my ipad in a zip-lock bag).

This list is already flowing and changing. I've added some photography tips below too.

Contact me if you have specific questions related to equipment for traveling and touring wine country. Create your own wine country adventures!

*Links are based. FYI: Several years ago, I worked briefly for in the International Kindle digital media support group. Customer first is their motto. 

- William

1. Stemware/Wine Service - Essentials to Proper Wine Appreciation

A. Riedel Ouverture Red Wine Glass

I've written about the importance of shape to wine appreciation. And I've written about a Riedel Glass Seminar and Trade tasting I attended. All of this has reinforced to me, that you must have quality stemware if you are even mildly serious about wine. At home I have many different wine glasses. They are of different sizes, shapes, brands, and are designed for many different types of wine. You don't need as many wine glasses as I own, you only need one proper glass at home to enjoy wine. A wine glass which shows the wine best; balanced, not heavy, with a proper lip.

Buy something of quality.

Which is why I recommend the Riedel Ouverture Magnum Red Wine Glass, Set of 8. This is the glass you often see in winery tasting rooms. It works well with reds, and will suffice for whites, and rose' wines. Plus, the shorter stem means it is less likely to be accidentally tipped over. This set comes with eight glasses, a perfect number for entertaining. Treat yourself and your guests properly. Very good starter set of stemware. And they look good in photographs too.


B. Save the Bubbles!

Friends and fans know I am totally into bubbles! And I want my bubbles cold, cold, cold. The best way to keep open bubbles cold is on ice, or the refrigerator. And the best way to preserve the bubbles and protect the wine of an open bottle is a Champagne clamp. I have several different closures for sparkling wine, my favorite is a logo'd Champagne clamp. You will not accidentally knock the clamp off a bottle of bubbles. Essential tool.

Several glasses I use for sparkling wine. (Luigi Bormioli far right.)

C. The Best Glass for Sparkling Wine?

I have hosted many sparkling wine tastings and food pairings. At home, I naturally have acquired a variety of wine glasses and flutes for my bubbles. When I review bubbles at home, I like some variety in my photographs, so every glass has a shot. I've also experimented with how well each of the above glasses work with sparkling wine. My favorite glass for showing off aromatics and flavors in sparkling wine is the Luigi Bormioli Prestige Champagne/Flute Glasses, 10 oz, Set of 4 glasses. Why?
  • It holds a proper amount of sparkling wine. Important to me.
  • It shows off the bubbles. Visual excitement.
  • The wine will not warm too quickly (fatal flaw of the Champagne Coupe.)
  • The shape focuses the aromatics and flavors. Really well. 
  • Value + Quality

My set is 28 years old. Terrific investment if you enjoy sparkling wine. $30 for four, a bargain.

2. Books 

A. Wine Folly Magnum Edition: The Master Guide

If you have questions about wine, I recommend Wine Folly. All the time. Her websiteyoutube channel and her books. Her newest publication is Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide. If you are curious or serious about wine, then this is the book you need. She's also a pleasure to meet in real life. Let me know what you think about this publication. Tremendous content.

B. Dummies Guide to Wine:

This book covers all the basics about wine. Service, storage, collecting, white wine, red wine, and drinking. I've recommended this book for over a dozen years. Excellent book to acquire as you begin your journey in wine.

3. Good Walking Shoes: 

A. Clarks Chukka Boot

I was hiking up to the Cathedral of Girona in Catalonia. We were visiting the site where several Game of Thrones episodes were filmed. Yes, I'm a fan. A beautiful place to visit, but a long, hard walk uphill on stone pavement, on a warm, slightly humid Mediterranean afternoon. By the time we returned to the car, the tops of both feet were shredded and bloody. I had on the wrong footwear. And no socks.

Many stone steps, and places where Game of Thrones was filmed.

Steps up to the Cathedral of Girona, Catalunya.

Learn from my mistake. "Be prepared." Not only the Boy Scout motto, but solid advice when you are traveling wine country. And don't forget your socks. You need your feet in top condition when traveling and visiting wine country.

My Clarks Chukka Boot.

Wearing my Clarks in the desert of Eastern Washington.

My current favorite boots for walking wine country are the CLARKS Men's Cotrell Rise Chukka Boot, Brown Oily, 11.5 M US. They are comfortable on the concrete floors of tasting rooms and back in the wine cellar. They've been through security in airports and out to North Forks, the site of Force Majeurs new vineyards too. These are three season boots. Quite pleased with them.

*Note: But what about tennis shoes?
Mentally, I'm always thinking about wine country travel in Europe. Go figure. In Europe, they are a bit more formal than we are in the USA. Tennis shoes are frowned upon. I've also learned that Khaki pants are also frowned upon. So, I've eliminated tennis shoes, and khakis in my planning. I know, I'm wearing tennis shoes in the photo at top. 

B. Formal Footwear

One pair of shoes won't do for me, I always bring an extra pair. One pair for walking/hiking, and a second pair for more formal occasions. When I am touring wine country, I expect to dine out or meet important industry people at some point. For me, I need that second dressier pair.

I have a pair of black Dockers dress shoes, I wear them all the time. They are leather, with a synthetic sole and memory foam cushion. So comfortable, I can walk and stand for hours in those shoes. But I've had those shoes for many years and I'm worried they are not going to last much longer. I did some research and found something similar in the Dockers Trustee Leather Oxford Dress Shoe. Reviews are mostly positive, so they are on my list to try. I'm also looking at a pair of slip-on dress shoes. But I have try them on first. Suggestions?

4. Flexible Jacket for Tasting Rooms and Casual Wear: 

A. M200 Blazer

In Eastern Washington, I caution my guests about our diurnal shift. While our days can be quite warm and comfortable, the temperature drops at night. By as much as 50 degrees! So bring a sweater or jacket for the evening, even in the summer. I try to be prepared for the weather, but I also want to look good too. A sweater or hoodie is not always appropriate wear for some of the fancier wineries or restaurants.

I wear the M200 for a comfy, semi-dressy look.
Selfie in my Navy M200 jacket.

After much searching, I found a casual jacket made of warm, but stretchy fabric. It's styled like a men's sport coat, but the material is similar to athletic wear or a sweater. It dresses up in a pinch, and can be stuffed in your carry on luggage or backpack. I purchased the Deep Navy Port Authority M2000 Knit Blazer. It's comfortable, warm on cool nights, and dresses up a pair of slacks or jeans. I've received several compliments while wearing it too.

B. Insulated Vest

My friends Sylvia and Dave travel a lot. They just returned from a trip to France. I asked them to recommend clothing for wine country travelers. Sylvia shared that the puffy vest she was wearing, was about the only piece of clothing she needed to keep warm. She did not need a heavy jacket. I found this pink vest, which comes in many colors and sizes. Reviews are mostly positive.

5. Easy to Install Security Camera: 

A. Wyze Security Cam

Do you worry about your home while you are touring wine country? Are you intimidated by the technology or cost of installing your own video camera system? How about accessing your home security camera from your phone?

I've looked and looked for a simple, wireless, inexpensive and easy to install security camera. One which I can access from my cellphone. And one which does not have recurring monthly fees. An impossible camera to find. Until this year.

These Wyze Cam 1080p HD Indoor Wireless Smart Home Camera with Night Vision, 2-Way Audio, Works with Alexa are easy to configure and use. They work 24/7 via WiFi and can be remotely accessed via an easy to use application on your Android or iOS device. I use my Android cellphone and iPad to monitor my cameras. There's a microphone/speaker built in, so you can listen and talk via the camera.
Wyze Cam live feed.

*Note: Have a pet? 
I've used this camera to talk to my dog and to shut her up when she's barking too much. Not a bad idea to place one outside if you have a pet you would like to monitor.

These cameras are not rated for outdoor use, but at this low price, I can afford to replace them. I did purchase an outdoor housing for my camera, which made installation look more professional, and protects the camera from some of the weather. I also purchased a 25ft USB cable for long runs to power.
Wyze Cam alerts and video clips.

B. Wyze Cam Pan and Tilt

There's another Wyze Cam security camera model available. It's an indoor only camera that pans and tilts. Yes, I have one of these. But I only use it when I'm not home. It allows me to listen to my home, and I can rotate and tilt the camera from my phone or iPad. For that little extra re-assurance.

*Note: What you will need to get these cameras working.
You must have WiFi running, so yes to an Internet router at home.
The setup directions are easy to follow, plug included usb cable into the camera and included wall wart, install the app, create an account, point the Wyze Cam at the code on your phone or tablet and presto! Your phone or tablet will also need Internet access for the app to see your camera feed.

6. Favorite DSLR Camera Gear

Canon camera with EF 50mm f1.4 lens, ES71II lens hood and sling strap.

A. Canon Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

I take a lot of photographs. A lot. My trusty Canon DSLR is almost always with me when I travel wine country. It's also the camera I use for bottle shots for this blog. Like many cameras, mine came with a couple of lenses. Those lenses I almost never use. What do I use?

Holding my camera in the field.
My favorite lens is a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens. It's prime, because it does not zoom in or out. It's a fixed 50mm lens. That f/1.4 means it's sharp and can take pictures in low light. A wonderful lens I can't do without. If you've never owned a prime lens, I encourage you to try one. You will be forced to move your body to compose your shots, but it's second nature for me. I am the zoom!

What else can you do with the 50mm f/1.4?

Play around with depth of field and create warm, fuzzy bokeh. This lens will add new capabilities to your artistic photos. Bokeh is when the background is out of focus, and light has that soft, pretty, shallow depth of field . This lens is a natural for portrait photography. (See three photo examples below.)

Anecdote: When I was in college, my brother lent me his Pentax KM 35mm film camera, it had a 50mm f1.4 prime lens. That's when I became fond of using the 50mm lens. Truly enjoyed using that film camera. When I finally purchased my Canon DSLR, the 50mm prime was my next priority. Had to have it.

B. Best Accessory for EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens: ES71II Lens Hood

Once I had my 50mm prime lens on my camera, I knew I had to have a lens hood attached too. The lens hood I use is also from Canon. It's made of metal, with a soft velour material inside to prevent reflection. The hood screws onto the lens and protects the lens from light glare. It also helps to keep rain off the lens. This hood is one of the best ways of protecting the lens from damage. It also makes the camera look cooler too. That's a bonus.

C. Favorite Camera Strap: Quick Release Shoulder Sling Strap

One of the other items I cannot do without is my camera strap. I detest the camera strap which came with my camera, and likely came with yours. Hate when the camera bobs on my belly, uncomfortable and always in the way.

Detail of camera strap quick-release.

The solution is a sling strap which puts the camera on your side, next to the hip. Far more comfortable, and feels more natural. The camera is out of the way and easy to grab for photos. The sling model I have screws onto the cameras tripod mount, on the bottom of the camera body. It's easy on and easy off. There's also a little pocket on the shoulder padding for an extra memory card or two.

D. Favorite Camera Backpack: Altura Photo Backpack, Wanderer Series

Camera gear adds up. In no time at all, I outgrew the included camera bag my Canon came with. My priorities for a new bag, must hold what I have and some extra, must be comfortable and not shout CAMERA GEAR! And must be able to hold up to extended use and travel.

Altura photo backpack, Wanderer series.

For me, the Altura Photo Backup was perfect. Holds my camera, three lenses, flash, flash hood, lens brushes, batteries, tripod/monopod, and room for my ipad or a thin laptop. Perfect. The handle at top and chest strap are bonus. Good size for airplane overhead bin. I'm not checking my camera as luggage. Never, ever.

E. Photo Examples Using 50mm f/1.4

I decided to include some photo examples using the 50mm f/1.4 lens above. It was evening, so I used a tripod, the kitchen lights and a hand held halogen light. My preference is to use natural light when possible. As this was an impulse photo session, I used what was on hand. Click on photo for larger image.

"It takes a lot of beer to make wine." anonymous

a. Flat and boring:
1/30 sec exposure
ISO 400

Does the job. Not an interesting photo. Notice my white background is wrinkled from use.

a. Nice and crisp and boring photo of Kirin Beer.

b. More interesting, shallow depth of field:
1/40 sec exposure
ISO 100

For me, this is a more interesting photo. Emphasis is foreground. Background is softer. And my wrinkled white background is now smooth.

b. Adjusted settings to reduce depth of field, focus is on Kirin Beer

c. Added elements, peanuts:
1/40 sec exposure
ISO 100

Similar comments as b. but with peanuts for some contrast. However, notice in this image the light reflections are soft, fuzzy circles of light, that's the bokeh. Yes, beer and peanuts were good.

c. Same settings as b. but added peanuts for contrast.

Question: Buy a DSLR or keep using your cellphone?

Thinking of buying a DSLR? That's a subject a bit larger than this page will accommodate. I'll share with you that the best camera to use, is the camera you have with you. Before the battery in my Samsung phone died and bricked that phone, it was a wonderful companion on my wine country trips. Great lens, fast, and the electronics smart.

If you have a higher end cellphone, I will assume that it takes wonderful photos. Therefore, a great camera for your trips. Just watch the charge on the battery. If you are getting more serious about your wine country photography, considering spending some money on a real camera.

DSLR and cellphone can be used as needed.

When I purchased my Canon DSLR, I had specific criteria. And still do as I'm looking for another Canon camera. Following are some of the criteria I follow when shopping for a good camera.

a. Buying into an Ecosystem. 

I want my camera and gear to be as professional as I can afford. And I want that to be a real investment that will work with other cameras. Interchangeable lenses are expensive. I bought a Canon knowing that it would be an investment in the Canon ecosystem. My next camera will be a Canon and my Canon lenses and gear will work with it too.

b. Features Required.

Long story short, any modern DSLR camera you purchase today, with interchangeable lenses, will have all the features you will likely need to take good photos. What will vary are specifics, resolution, speed, capacity, GUI, metal vs plastic, etc. Since you will be buying into an ecosystem, do your research on the parts, pieces, and quality of the gear for that brand.

c. Form and Fit.

Don't skip this part. You MUST physically hold and test the camera before buying. When I go shopping for a DSLR, I must physically touch and see it fits and works with my hands. I tried several different brands of DSLR cameras before selecting the Canon. What I learned was that Nikon DSLR cameras have buttons where my thumb naturally rests. Every time I picked up a Nikon, my thumb hit a button which activated a feature/menu item. Really annoying.

When I tried out the Canon cameras, I found that there's a thumb rest for my thumb. You would not believe how wonderful it felt that my thumb did not interfere with my photography. A little thing, but made the difference between enjoying or hating my camera.

Weight. The camera I bought also has a good weight, not too heavy, not too light. A friend of mine has a more expensive model Canon. He let me try it out, my first comment was, "Too heavy for my wrist." His Canon fit my hand, but the weight put too much strain on my wrist. As much as I liked his Canon, it would not work for me. Too heavy for extended use.

Menus: There are a lot of features and settings embedded in digital cameras, accessing those features can be a major frustration. I strongly suggest you test the camera menu and settings. Are they easy to access? Are they logically, for you, structured? Do the physical buttons on the camera also make sense? If you think the camera is too complicated to use, don't buy it. Or, buy a user guide for the camera. Which is what I did. I have, "The Dummies Guide" for my camera. Helped with some of the embedded settings, and terminology.

"The best camera to use, is the camera you have with you."

At SEA-TAC airport waiting for connecting flight.

Travel Tips

I was speaking with my friend James The Wine Guy, and I asked him for travel advice. He had plenty to share, here's the key takeaways I try to follow.

a. Shoes: I already discussed at top of page.

b. Spare Clothes: When flying to a wine country destination, have extra clothes in your carry on luggage. Spare clothes in case your luggage is lost, but also spare clothes to put on when you arrive at the airport. James mentioned that a clean t-shirt, underwear and socks, can make a big difference in feeling refreshed and comfortable after a long flight. Thanks James.

*I also bring with me moist wipes. For a quick clean up as needed.

c. Dress for Success: James also stressed how important it is to dress for the destination. I also touched on this above. We tend to be more casual in the USA. Europe tends to be more formal. Do a little research on dress code before arriving. And find out what the typical weather is for the season and bring appropriate clothing.

Well, I'm thinking about what else I should share here. Several ideas.

More soon regarding: Stemware, Books, Technology, or whatever is on my mind.



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