First, I’d like to thank you, the readers, for joining me on my journey through the wine world. We are first starting out with some Napa wineries, but will soon see reviews on wineries/wine bars from Virginia, Oregon, and other locations. In the meantime, I wanted to take some time to touch on putting together a wine trip itinerary, as I hope you will feel inspired to take your own trips after reading my reviews. What follows is an analysis on my recent Napa Valley trip with friends and advice I’d give my past self.
Regarding Napa specifically, there seems to be a dichotomy to how it is perceived and experienced. Some people see it as the ultimate wine getaway where enthusiasts gather and enjoy the paradise created by many large properties (e.g. V. Sattui, Hall, etc.). Others see it as a microcosm of different terroirs, people, and methodologies that produce a culture almost as diverse and yet tightly knit as an entire country. Although I have enjoyed trips to Napa in the spirit of the former, this past pilgrimage was about taking some friends through the latter.
The schedule below is what we followed for our four-day weekend:
- 1000: Del Dotto – St. Helena Cellar Tasting, Appointment Required
- 1200: Lunch @ Brix
- 1330: Kapcsandy – Private Tasting with Owner, Appointment Required
- 1530: Darioush – Appointment Recommended
- 1000: Jericho Canyon – Private Tasting, Appointment Required
- 1130: Tom Eddy – Private Tasting, Appointment Required
- 1315: Lunch @ Hydro Grill
- 1430: Spring Mountain
- 1530: Fantesca / La Sirena – Private Tasting, Appointment Required
- Dinner @ Morimoto
- 1000: Beringer – Rhine House Private Tasting, Appointment Required
- 1130: Lunch @ The Charter Oak
- 1230: Clark Claudon – Private Tasting, Appointment Required
- 1430: Gandona – Private Tasting, Appointment Required
- 1630: Hall
- Dinner @ Don Giovanni’s
- 1000: Favia – Private Tasting, Appointment Required
- 1200: Lunch @ Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Copia
- 1400: Shafer – Private Tasting, Appointment Required
- 1600: Amuse Bouche – Private Tasting, Appointment Required
Lessons Learned (in relative order of importance):
- Hire a guide and/or a driver. Although it will add cost to your trip, it has its advantages in addition to preventing a DUI. They can help with scheduling (which is not trivial), keeping you ontime for your appointments, and giving you an out (e.g. Running late for the next tasting) when you feel pressured to join a membership / purchase bottles.
- Limit the number of tastings. If you are going to Napa to do walk-in tastings, you can fit 4 places a day in your schedule. If you are doing private tours, book no more than three a day, else you will feel rushed and it will negatively affect your experience. We definitely felt rushed and a little worn out by the fourth tasting on Saturday and Sunday.
- Co-locate your tastings/lunch. Organize your schedule so that the events of your day occur in the same relative region. E.g. Do not schedule a tasting in St. Helena, then one on Atlas Peak (8 miles apart, but a 30min drive). The same goes for your lunch – keep it along your scheduled route. This takes additional time and effort, but is well worth it.
- Book reservations for lunch. Napa gets a lot of tourists and although you’d think there would be more than enough restaurants to accommodate, it can be quite difficult to find a restaurant that can seat 6-8 people along your route during crunch time (lunch).
- Group size matters. If you are traveling with a group, many places require reservations (some even at 6 people). Some of the more private wineries don’t take walk-ins at all! At the other end, some places with private tastings may require a minimum number of people to even schedule the tasting. Be sure to make your reservations early so you aren’t scrambling when you can’t visit where you want!
- Money/Logistics trade-off is hard. At many places, combining orders can be to your advantage – if you buy a case, you’ll get X% off. At some, its mandatory – Del Dotto requires the person making the reservation to pay for all the tastings on their card. Keeping track of who owes what can get tough. Depending on you/your friends, it may not be worth it to get that X% off the case – know your group and math skills.
- Bring a camera (or a friend that has one). The wonderful thing about wineries (Napa, particularly) is that you are constantly surrounded by amazing, picturesque views. As great as phones have become, nothing quite captures the beauty and essence of vineyards and wineries quite like a solid camera. Pictures at wineries are also great for dating apps!
- Pace yourself (and your credit card). You may very well taste some of the best wine you have ever had in your life on this trip. The funny (well, maybe not that funny) thing is that you may think this at nearly every stop you make. Be sure to pace your spending so that you are not kicking yourself at your last stop because you already spent your limit earlier. You can always go back to places (or their website) and order more.
- Bring sunscreen and lots of water/snacks. It’s not a given that every place will offer you water or snacks during/after a tasting. Also, the thing about Napa is that it’s usually hot and always sunny. Protect yourself and keep rehydrating – every winery has a bathroom if you need it.
- Start your tastings @ 1000. You may have heard that your palate is better in the morning, but don’t discount how much this extra hour helps your schedule too. Private tastings usually last 1.5-2 hours – starting early helps get you to lunch at a reasonable hour but also helps you catch some amazing pictures with the morning, rolling fog.
- Friends will be friends. 15 minutes in the car with their phones is more than enough for tech-savvy friends to purchase (not) funny web domains, setup Wordpress and post your picture on it.