Join me, if you dare, for an exclusive inside look into my legendary central California limo bus wine tours.
ABOUT PHOTO: California operator Jim Luff explains to wine tour clients the importance of the "safety pole," which protects the integrity of the roof in case of a bus rollover.
As 2008 came to an end, I realized that our weekend bus business was way down as the economy tanked. Our weekend wine tour charters of central California had dried up like a raisin. I knew I had to do something different. Since we already had a sightseeing permit from the California Public Utilities Commission, I decided to start selling wine tours by the seat rather than the bus. I set up private tastings at the wineries, bought box lunches to serve at a winery, and started marketing on Facebook. I serve as the host along with a few girls I like to call “wine angels” to assist. Together, a wine angel and myself create what we believe are lifetime memories.
The party starts with breakfast at a local restaurant. We mix and mingle with our guests and get to know them during breakfast. Once on the bus, the wine angel gives a safety speech and we are off and running. As we travel through the day, I dance with the ladies and the wine angel dances with the boys and sometimes we dance with each other just to get things going. Since we do have an “entertainment pole,” one of us will give some initial lessons. We both drag people from their seat to engage in a show of talent. Before the day is over, new friendships are born and new dance partners take to the pole. Lap dances are commonplace and almost all trips see someone give a total stranger a lap dance. Both sexes are inclined to do it and we are not sure why. Then again, we give them too!
It is almost a phenomenon of sorts as we watch people change during the day. The passengers are mostly quiet as the bus pulls away from the restaurant. We recommend they introduce themselves to the person next to them and let them know by the end of the trip they will be best friends. We literally get to watch that happen during the day, and the funny thing is, we call it “work.” It has to be the most fun job in the world.
As the bus cruises through town to the desolate long and straight stretch of Interstate 5, we pour Bloody Marys and Mimosas to our guests. Once the beverage pouring is done, we take our seats with the still quiet crowd until a signature song comes on and we bust into a dance, almost shocking the passengers. Next we select a male and female in the group to come dance with us. By the time the bus is heading home, everyone is dancing with everyone.
During the day we visit wineries with different flairs, from the peaceful and tranquil wineries to the all-hell-breaks-loose rowdy winery of Clautiere Vineyard where guests must don outrageous wigs during their tasting. New friends are made during patio lunches overlooking miles of vineyards. A leisurely game of pool can be played in the tasting room of Chronic Cellars where the reigning wine is their Sofa King Suite Cabernet. It always seems to make people go crazy. I am not sure if it is because of the name or the taste of the wine.
I think the most satisfying part of the trip to me is when we kill the music as we enter the parking lot and ask people if they had a good time. They shout back a resilient, “YES!” Sometimes they want the music turned back on and don’t want to get off the bus. Many come back over and over. We can announce a trip on Facebook three months out and fill the bus within three days. We always have to tell our passengers, “IT IS TOO A JOB!”
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