Hotels are so 2010. Guest houses are the latest trend in wine country lodging – more specifically, winery guest houses. Previously unadvertised and reserved for wine country VIP’s, members of the wine trade and the press, many of these guest houses are now being made available to the general public as wineries search for new sources of revenue.
While never cheap, (rooms rarely go for less than $200/night) in some situations these guest houses may actually be a really good value! Here’s what you ought to know before you ditch your reservation at the Best Western in favor of your own private wine country cabin.
Winery guest houses (some wineries call them lodges or cottages) are remarkably uniform and there are two preferred setups: either you rent the entire property (your own wine country cabin!) or the house has been sub-divided into smaller rooms or suites that rent individually.
Along with the amenities you’d expect in a normal hotel room (smoking and pets are nearly always prohibited), you’ll generally find a large patio, full kitchen (hopefully stocked with coffee and snacks) and oftentimes a hot tub, fireplace, outdoor grill and picnic tables. Guests are also typically given VIP treatment at the host winery including special tours, free tastings and often a free bottle of wine or two in the room. We’re even aware of winery that sends the partial bottles from the tasting room up to the guest house at the end of the day!
Rates vary widely – expect to pay between $200 and $1,000 per night plus a cleaning fee. A 2-night minimum is pretty standard and the rate may vary based on how many guests you have. Some guest houses are only open to wine club members and their guests, while most others offer huge discounts (as high as 50%!) to club members. There are often off-season and mid-week discounts available and you may even discover a few extra bennies: I know of one particular winery that credits any wine you purchase from them against the cost of your room!
If it were me, I’d only consider a guest house if I was traveling with a group – say 4-6 people. If you can catch one for under $400 per night, it may prove to be a better value than the 2-3 hotel rooms you’d ordinarily rent for that kind of group. If you have separate bedrooms there’s still plenty of privacy and if you enjoy cooking you can use the kitchen and grill to save on meals.
Lodge-style guest houses (where you’re only renting one room rather than the whole house) are a pretty poor value in my opinion. I have found some happy-medium arrangements where the house has been split in half. For instance, rather than renting the whole house, you get the entire upper or lower level. These setups can be a good deal depending on the layout so it pays to ask.
To date, nobody has put together a central directory of wine country guest houses that we’re aware of. So to see if your favorite winery offers one you’ll need to check their web site. It’s usually found in the “visit us” or “wine club” sections. If it’s club-only, you may have to dig thorough your paper club newsletters for the info. If all else fails, a phone call to the tasting room might turn up an unadvertised room as some guest houses are still kept private. If the winery doesn’t have any official guests in town, they may be glad to let you stay with them!
As much as I hate spending unnecessary money, I’m really a big fan of guest houses – if the price is right. They’re a bit of a luxury, but a low-key and unpretentious one, and they can be a good value under certain circumstances. You’ll almost always come away from a guest house visit with great stories, a few new friends, and the feeling that you had a more genuine wine country experience.