In my humble opinion, the perfect wine tasting trip to Napa Valley consists of a combination of “belly up to the bar” tastings and special experiences. These experiences can range from small group tours to super fancy, over the top food and wine extravaganzas.
Each time we visit Napa, we try to add something new to our list.
Here are my 5 all time (so far) favorite Napa experiences.
CAKEBREAD CELLARS WINE AND FOOD PAIRING
The Cakebread Cellars Wine and Food Pairing starts with a short tour of the winery – including the fabulous outdoor kitchen area – before sitting down to enjoy an array of delicious bites paired with Cakebread’s wines. Fresh local ingredients go into each dish. Your guide will lead you through each pairing helping to understand why each works so darn well.
Cakebread Cellar’s wines are pretty widely distributed so it is quite possible you have seen them at restaurants or in your local wine store. But, Cakebread also makes some very small production wines that are only available at the winery. Some of these will be included in the pairing.
Funny story…Our “Girls’ Special Birthday Group” went to Napa for one of our birthday trips. One member of our group has celiac disease (obviously not the funny part). When she saw Cakebread on our itinerary she said all she could think of was “Gluten-Gluten”.
But we visited the winery, everyone loved it and we even got to meet the charming Dolores Cakebread. Or, as we have come to refer to her, Mrs. Gluten-Gluten.
The Wine and Food Pairing is offered most Thursdays and Fridays at 11 am. The experience lasts 90 minutes and costs $45 per person ($20 for wine club members).
FAR NIENTE GUIDED TOUR AND TASTING
Far Niente is best know for its killer chardonnays but their Cabernet Sauvignon deserves equal praise. And then, of course, there is Dolce – the gold standard in sweet dessert wine.
Far Niente does not offer walk-in tastings. The only way to taste their wine on-site is to schedule a guided tour and tasting. Let me tell you, it is soooooo well worth it!
The tour takes you through the historic winery including the aging cellars. You will learn the history of the winery and the story of building the cellars on this lovely property.
The bonus stop on the tour, what makes the Far Niente experience different than any other, is visiting the Carriage House where you have the opportunity to see the late founder, Gil Nickel’s, incredible collection of classic cars.
After the tour (and taking a million pictures with the super cool cars), guests sit down to a tasting of Far Niente’s current releases, some select wine from prior vintages and Dolce.
Just a note, even if you think you don’t care for late harvest or dessert wines, do yourself a favor and TASTE THE DOLCE! I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.
Each wine is paired with cheese which magically brings out the best in the cheese and the best in the wine.
The Far Niente Guided Tour and Tasting is by appointment only, daily between 10am and 3pm. Allow a couple of hours – you don’t want to rush through any of this! The cost of the experience is $65 per person but wine club members receive four complimentary reservations per visit.
Special tip: At the end of the tasting, politely ask if they have any extra empty Dolce bottles. These bottles are absolutely stunning and make an excellent vessel for olive oil.
Hendry Wines Owner-Winemaker Seminar Tour
George Hendry, the owner and winemaker at Hendry Wines, is an interesting guy. His father passed away leaving George in charge of the family farm. They had been growing a bunch of different crops but pretty quickly George figured out that the only crop making money was the grapes. Then he figured he should try his hand at winemaking. Good call.
By the way, when he is not making killer wines, George Hendry is a nuclear physicist. I’m just sayin’…
The Hendry Wines Owner-Winemaker Seminar Tour covers everything you could possibly imagine: the history of the land, the winemaking philosophy, the business of winemaking and whatever George feels like talking about. After the tour you sit down to taste 8 or 9 wines – everything from Albariño to Zinfandel. (I’m pretty sure we tasted at least 12 because George just kept thinking of another wine he wanted us to try.)
George is also a super-foodie. With every wine he poured, he described the dish he makes as the perfect pairing. By the end of our visit we were ready to invite ourself to dinner.
I love this experience because of the passion George Hendry has for his land, his grapes, the winemaking business and his wine. The visit lasts 2 1/2 to 3 hours and costs $75 per person, but the fee is waived if you purchase an equivalent amount of wine. By appointment only at 10am each day.
Darioush By Invitation Only
Even if you don’t sign up for this amazing experience, you should definitely make Darioush one of your Napa wine tasting stops. The winery itself is beautiful and the wines are exquisite.
Not kidding…this place is amazing.
During the Darioush By Invitation Only experience, your host fills you in on the interesting story of Darioush Khaledi’s journey from being a civil engineer in Iran to a grocery store chain owner in California to starting the winery in 1997. All this while enjoying small bites prepared by the resident chef and enjoying wines from Darioush Khaledi’s personal wine cellar. On our visit this included a variety of wines from the Darioush vineyard and some from France to show the influence they had on Khaledi’s winemaking philosophy. These are wines that we would never have access to on our own.
Peter and I splurged on this experience for a special anniversary trip. At the beginning of the event our host asked each person in the small group to introduce ourselves and tell our connection to the wine industry. All the other participants were part of “the trade” – wine store owners, wine distributors or restaurant sommeliers. When it came to be our turn to introduce ourselves, the host asked how we were connected to the wine industry.
Peter’s response: “Consumers?”
This fabulous event is available by appointment at 11am daily. It lasts two hours and costs $150 per person.
Kathryn Hall Rutherford’s Appellation Exploration
The most beautiful tasting room in all of Napa Valley.
It’s impossible to capture the grandeur of the chandelier. Designed to look like the roots descending from the vineyards above, this chandelier is adorned with jillions of Swarovski crystals. It. Is. Breathtaking!
As you wind your way up the one lane, narrow driveway to the top of the hill to enjoy the Kathryn Hall Rutherford Appellation Exploration, you are in for a once in a lifetime experience.
Starting with the gorgeous, sweeping views of the valley from the patio, your host will take you on a tour of the Rutherford facilities and into the vineyards including the 100-point Sacrashe Vineyard. A perfect score…doesn’t get much better than that.
The tour takes you through the caves lined with bricks reclaimed from Bavarian castles then ends up in the uber-luxurious tasting room where you will enjoy a comparative tasting of Hall wines from different appellations throughout Napa Valley paired with gourmet food bites prepared to complement each wine.
Every participant from the novice to the pro will enjoy the glorious wines but the true wine aficionados will appreciate the opportunity to compare wines created from the same vintage, subject to the same climate, handled by the same winemaker with the only difference being the plot of land from which the grapes have come. This is the kind of thing that wine geeks live for.
By appointment only, this 90 minute experience costs $125 per person ($100 per person for wine club members).
If you are traveling to Napa Valley and looking for a memorable experience to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, retirement or other special occasion, any one of these will fit the bill and make your trip.
I’m always looking for new ideas – what is your favorite Napa experience?
Now for the technical stuff…
Thanks for stopping by,
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