Napa Valley wine region is arguably the place that has put California wine on the map. Blogger, Rachel DiMattia, made two journeys to Napa in search of its best wineries. She discovered some great places along the way including boutique wineries and larger ones and shared her findings with us.
The First Journey
The first time I journeyed to Napa, it was a rainy day and my brother was kind enough to be the designated driver for my friend and me. We had big plans of visiting 5 or 6 wineries, but we quickly realised , having had a late start, that was a tough task for a day trip.
We left close to noon from San Francisco on a Saturday in February and it took over an hour to get to our first stop, Robert Mondavi. My friend, being the good tour guide that she is, thought that we should see one of Napa's very first wineries, so that morning we called Robert Mondavi to ask if we could schedule a tour. The winery happily hosted the three of us for just $30 each.
The tour was wonderful! Our guide was very friendly and the group was intimate with only five guests. Our guide started with some history of the Mondavi family and showed us around the grounds and the fermentation rooms. It was my first time seeing such a large production winery, so I was really impressed by the size of the tanks and the vast number of oak barrels.
After we walked around the winery, we had a sit-down wine tasting at a long table in their dining room which was paired with a few small food samples.
After learning about the foundation of California wine country, we moved onto our next stop: Peju, a red wine dominated winery. It was much smaller than Mondavi and we didn’t take a full tour. We did a tasting at the bar upstairs where we were treated to generous portions. This was where I bought my first bottle of Napa wine!
Finally, we went to Cakebread, one of the most popular wineries in Napa.
The Second Journey
On my second trip to Napa and Sonoma wine country last year, I stayed in San Francisco in June with three friends for a three-day weekend and aimed to cram as many activities in as possible.
We decided to go to Muir Woods which was on the way to Napa and Sonoma from San Francisco, but then our four mile hike turned into a nine mile hike because we got lost on the trails. I apparently had not yet learned from my first trip that it’s not a good idea to get a late start when going to wine country. Since most wineries in the valley close around 5 or 6 pm, I again did not get to see as many as I set out to. In fact, we only managed to go to one winery, Domaine Carneros, a beautiful Chateau focused on sparkling wine. We each tried a flight of refreshing bubbly with the most amazing view of the grounds.
After Domaine Carneros, we tried to stop at other wineries but they were already closed, so we went to Sonoma to find some food. There was a wine shop still open so we stopped in there for a tasting. The experience wasn’t the same as being at an actual winery, but it was nice to try some more samples from the area. We bought some wine at the wine shop and went to dinner across the street at Hurley’s who let you bring your own wine (makes sense in wine country!), but they also have a fully stocked bar. Hurley’s had great food and we were able to sit outside. I highly recommend it!
What I learnt
From my two trips to northern California wine country, my biggest suggestion is get an early start! If you’re staying in the area, try a winery or two in the morning, have a big lunch, and then hit a few more. I think it’s best to spend multiple days in the area as there are SO many options. Another factor to consider is your ability to continuously drink wine. After sampling five or more at each winery, it’s easy to get intoxicated very quickly. I find that on any wine tour I go on, I set out to do much more than I can handle.
If you’re staying in San Fran, just realise that some of the wineries can be pretty far and you may have a really long drive back. There are some buses that go, but in my opinion, the times weren’t very convenient, so either stay in the valley or find a wonderful friend who is willing to sacrifice themselves for your drunk self by driving.
Happy wine trailing!
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