The first time I paid a wine tasting visit to Napa Vally I knew I was in trouble right away! We drove up after some business meetings in San Fransisco and Cris and I spontaneously, and randomly, began stopping at wineries for tastings. We had no plan. We didn’t know what we were doing. But before we even checked in to the Wine Country Inn the trunk was full of wine! Napa still holds a special place in my personal wine world.
When you visit Napa it’s easy to get over-whelmed by the sheer number of wineries since there are about 400 or so with tasting opportunities. As tempting as it is, don’t try to do then all in one visit! There are lots of different tasting and touring experiences you can have, whether you are a first-timer, as I was those many years ago, or a veteran of the Silverado Trail. But the main thing to remember is that it’s best not to over-schedule yourself. Not only will your palate get worn out during the day, meaning your ability to really taste and enjoy the wines will decline, but you’ll end up consuming too much alcohol, even before you head out to dinner and bring that bottle of wine you just discovered with you. It’s really easy to over-consume, even if you discipline yourself to spit your tastes into the dump bucket in the tasting room. Unless you’re a wine pro odds are you aren’t there to spit, but to enjoy the full range of experiences that your wine country visit offers. And then there’s driving. Getting a car and driver is best and it’s the safest way to fully embrace your winery visits.
Back to Napa. Napa Valley is only about 30 miles long, and it’s narrow – just about 5 miles across at its widest. This means that a few days will give you ample opportunity to wander it to your heart’s content. I always suggest that first-timers do a blend of tours and tastings to include both large producers and small, stopping within the different AVA’s of Napa to get a sense of the diversity of wines and styles, and ending up with a fairly broad set of sipping experiences. And don’t do more than four stops a day – frankly three is ideal since that gives you time to spend in each place, perhaps a nice picnic on the winery grounds, or even more selective tasting experiences. And consider a booking a car and tour to jump start your time there one day.
If you’ve been wine tasting and winery touring before then you know the drill, so plan ahead with reservations at places that are must visits for you. Over time I’ve enjoyed deep dives into the Napa AVAs, concentrating on particular subregions and varietals. There are any number of special experiences you can participate in, including things like vertical or library tastings, winemaking seminars, component tastings, cooking classes, even getting your hands dirty during the harvest. Here are a couple of really good websites to help you plan your time:
And here is our favorite “insider” tip… wherever you visit and taste be sure to ask the person doing the pouring where they like to go – what are their own favorite smaller producers or off the beaten track wineries. It’s a great way to discover some gems.
There are lots of ways to fully experience Napa Valley and all it has to offer in wining, dining and simply soaking up the whole ambiance. From the city of Napa itself to the mud baths of Calistoga, from the quiet of the Silverado Trail to the winding roads above St. Helena, from savoring some local cheese with a lovely Napa Chard in a wooded glen to the relative buzz at the Rutherford Grill and all of those wonderful wineries to give you sips, Napa is ready whenever you are.
I think I need another visit real soon!