I. LOVE. NAPA. Seriously. It is like everything I adore, wrapped into the prettiest little package, with chocolate covered caramels and my name tied to it, complete with a glass of bubbles. There’s the sunshine, the grapevine views, the people, the amazing food…the history..the wine.. I could go on and on.
When we plan a trip down south, it’s not something I take lightly. I put an absurd amount of concentrated effort into all of the details. <scratching my head> this must be why my family relies on me to plan their vacations..which, is an entirely different topic all together. Anyway, back to wine country, it’s all down to a science of what wineries we visit, what food we consume, where we stay…how to get the best deal on everything and maximize our time while we are there. I’m relentless in my pursuit.
Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when two different, unconnected friends of mine approached me in the same week about what wineries to visit and where to eat while on their own trips to the Napa Valley. Therefore, here is my quick hackers guide to a long weekend in California wine country.
First, you need to decide if you are going to drive or fly. We prefer driving because when you come back with two plus cases of wine, it can be expensive to either ship it or check it…and then you cannot drink it till it settles out of it’s bottle shock*. But seriously? Who am I kidding. The real reason we drive is completely based around my love of Marie Callender’s cornbread (or is it the honey butter that I generously scoop with each bite consumed?)… And the nearest one to Eugene is in Redding. No judging please. Driving for the win!
Second, you need to figure out what kind of experience you want. Sonoma, slower-paced, laid-back, has wineries more spread out that tend to be more intimate, with fewer crowds and lower tasting fees. While in Napa you can expect to pay anywhere from $15-$50 per person in tasting fees, but you have the convenience of beginning on one end of the valley and tasting your way to the other along the Silverado Trail or Highway 29. There literally is tasting room after tasting room available for the picking.
Both regions, separated by a mountain-range, are far from equal. And honestly, don’t get too ambitious like we did on our first wine excursion south..just pick one region and save the other for your next trip. You’ll be grateful you did.
Once you’ve picked your region, begin to look for places to stay. This can be daunting..so narrow it down to what amenities you want. If you want to be able to walk to wineries and dinner, I’d suggest Yountville or downtown Sonoma. If you don’t care about walking to wineries, but want a downtown scene and great foodie choices then head to Napa or Healdsburg. Let’s say you are having a romantical getaway with the sig, then check out St. Helena or Calistoga. Both towns have some excellent spas and more intimate hotels, inns and resorts. Are you on a budget? Then check out the out-lying areas of American Canyon, Fairfield or Santa Rosa.
Okay, now to the best part. The wineries! I’ve come to realize we are a bit different and not everyone sits down and looks at their wine inventory like it was a financial analysis report before they go wine tasting. Which is why I’m going to stick to the basics on this one and give you some awesome wineries (in my opinion) in the Napa Valley that you will enjoy no matter what your wine-nerd status. Enjoy!
Do you plan things out and make appointments? You’re a bit regimented and like to know where you’re going before you get there? Then these are the wineries for you.
Palmaz: Gravity-flow wine making and one of the largest wine caves in Napa makes this one of the most impressive wine tours we have been on yet- the wine will definitely make you swoon.
Quintessa: Gorgeous setting, gorgeous wine. Be prepared- their wine is not cheap, but the sit down tasting is an experience in of itself.
Mumm: Bubbles anyone? Reserve a tasting on their Oak Terrace and enjoy small bites and bubbly…we love their library wines. Great way to start the morning!
Schramsberg: Whether you are a sparkling fan or not, this is where you come to learn the amount of effort that goes into each bottle. Wine is more than just a beverage as there is science and artistry..which you will learn about on the tour. The tasting is also a fave which ends with a grand tasting of the blanc de blanc (100% chardonnay), blanc de noir (89% pinot noir), J Schram, and Reserve.
Kuleto: If you could wave a wand and create a magical tasting experience..this would be it. . It is definitely a bit off the beaten path, in a good way. The drive up the mountain is fun and scenic, and the winery is picturesque and beyond breathtaking. A great way to spend 90 minutes.
Round Pond: The view. Seriously. Come for a tasting, stay for a evening nibble and enjoy their expansive patio. Worth it.
Hill Family: A small, family-run winery smack dab in the middle of Yountville. It’s our secret go-to when we want those intimate feels and good wine walking distance from our hotel.
Ma(i)sonry: This is the place is you want to only make one stop, but try a bunch of different producers. A winery collective, with an expansive art collection to boot. You could spend hours here.
Relic: Ever heard of a cult winery? A small production with distinct characteristics is what defines a cult wine and this place definitely lives up to the name. We are huge fans of their Archive line of wines, but who are we kidding everything is good.
Swanson Vineyards: Boutique Euro-vibe winery with a whimsical atmosphere and delicious wines. We spent half the day just leisurely enjoying a bottle of 2004 Merlot
Do you hate plans? Like to go with the wine..er wind? Then stick to some of these.
Caymus: No lie. This place was my husbands pick. And you know what? We now go here every time we are in Napa. It is too good to pass up. Their Mer Soleil Chardonnay is my particular favorite but they are really well-known for Cabernet and Zinfandel.
Turnbull: Do you like cab? Do you like Ansel Adams? What about together? This is your place.
Alpha Omega: This place. They have an unfiltered Chardonnay that is simply delicious and unrestrained. The view from their patio is also defined and not to be missed.
Sequoia Grove: One of my favorite places. From the feel of the tasting room to the huge Sequoia trees surrounding you to the wine, you cannot go wrong here.
V. Sattui Winery: This is the place to kill two birds with one stone. Drink wine and eat lunch here at their huge picnic grounds with Italian deli. Be warned! This place is always packed. But, the food is super tasty, the wine good and the people nice.
Okay…now it’s your turn. What’re some of your go-to favorite wineries in the Napa Valley?
<sidebar> Bottle Shock! You gotta watch the movie…but bottle shock is a real thing where your wine begins to take on muted or disjointed fruit flavors. Making the wine kind of taste blah. Generally, this condition occurs right after bottling, but it can also happen with handling or transport. No worries though, it is only temporary!