When I envisioned my 30th birthday, I pictured myself lying on a beach in Mexico in a big old straw hat and bikini with piña coladas being handed to me by Jason Momoa. Sadly, we can’t have everything we want – Jason Momoa for one, and Mexico as number two. I know a few friends who have traveled to Mexico during the pandemic, but when we originally started making plans for my 30th in March, it didn’t seem feasible to us quite yet. We just weren’t comfortable with traveling out of the country when there was no guarantee at that time that we would be vaccinated (we are now – woohoo!).
So, the search turned inwards to the States, and after almost booking a weeklong stay in Utah for Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, we settled on Napa, because hey, I still wanted some form of drink to be handed to me by somebody.
Napa may be one of the smallest wine regions (it’s only about 30 miles long), but it has about 500 wineries. To put that in perspective, Virginia – the whole state of Virginia – has almost 300. So that means this tiny stretch of valley has more than Virginia, another top wine-producing state. Needless to say, it can be overwhelming to plan and select which wineries to go to.
Here are some quick tips if you’re planning an upcoming trip to Napa:
- Consider what winery experience you’re looking for. Classic Napa wines? Beautiful scenery? Unusual vintages? This will help you narrow things down. If it’s your first time like me, you can’t go wrong with a mix of different wineries!
- Check locations as it may only be 30 miles for the entire valley, but wineries can still be spread apart, and you don’t want to rush between tastings. Book wineries that are close together on the same day.
- That said, some wineries are only open on the weekends or Thursday-Sunday. Be sure to check their hours, and book a reservation in advance!
- This goes without saying, but don’t skip lunch or skimp on drinking water. For recommendations on restaurants, check out my previous Napa post.
- Finally, don’t overdo it! You might be tempted to cram in 4-5 wineries, but I’m telling you, all wines will just taste the same, and you’ll be exhausted. Try booking one in the morning (wineries tend to open around 10 AM), and then 1-2 in the afternoon after lunch.
So without further ado, below are some of the wineries we visited and recommend as part one of my winery recap!
I came across Far Niente Winery online and thought the entire winery looked like an English fairy tale with its lush greenery, small ponds, and walkable paths over the estate. I was not wrong. Far Niente is simply gorgeous and an incredibly detailed and thoughtful experience from its iron gates when you drive in to the glass of chardonnay they welcome you with to the correct wine glasses for each pour (the ONLY winery to do that! Everybody else just used standard Riedel glasses). Our host, Britton, was a delight, and overall, it was the best experience we had in Napa.
Good for: Overall experience – views, wine, and service
Napa has no shortage of castles (..seriously), and there’s two big ones you can choose between: Castello di Amorosa or Chateau Montelena. Castello di Amorosa was our choice, and it was another fantastic experience. You start with a tour of the castle, which is a 13th century Tuscan castle that has dozens of rooms, including a chapel with a mural of the seven deadly sins. Their tasting was the best out of them all – you could select which wines to try from their full list, which made it customizable and personal. Our host Michael was phenomenal and the wines? All were delicious. All of them. This is the first winery I would actually consider becoming a club member, because it was that. good.
Good for: Wines and unique experience
Not to be confused with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. But really, don’t confuse the two. In the late 1970s, the two wineries had a legal battle over who could use the Stag’s Leap name. Eventually it was settled, and Stags’ Leap secured their name as they had “more” wines, leading to the plural apostrophe.
That is the least interesting thing about its history. The winery was originally owned by the Chase family (as in, Chase bank). Eventually it was sold to a woman, Frances Granges, who is frankly, my hero. During the prohibition period, officials were concerned that Stags’ Leap was providing alcohol to its guests (it was a resort at the time), so to throw them off the scent, Frances built a post office at the resort to explain why it was so busy all the time. Genius.
The tasting is filled with the winery’s history, and the winery itself is off a secluded road, which creates an incredible view for the tasting. The wines are solid, the views are priceless, and the history is unique. Be sure to tour the house during/after your tasting, and check out old memorabilia from the Chase and Granges families!
Good for: Off-the-beaten-path views and history
Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll review Round Pond, Ashes and Diamonds, Duckhorn Vineyards, Del Dotto and include some additional recommendations 😉