Napa Valley Wine Tasting

Mo Wine Please

Travel Tips – Napa Valley Wine Tasting

One of my very favorite destinations for a trip with friends is Napa Valley. Wine tasting in general is festive, collegial, and fun. Napa wineries range from the super fancy to the super simple – something for everyone! The “experiences” they offer run the gambit from those geared toward novices to those for experts. Many wineries offer what I like to call the “belly up to the bar tastings” – no reservations required, just join the crowd! Some provide experiences like a group tour through the winery’s production facilities, a food and wine pairing, a small group tasting of specialty wines, or some kind of combination.

There are a million sites to help you plan the trip. A good place to start would be NapaValley.com . The site provides a nice overview and includes a couple of cool features – a downloadable map of the wineries in the valley (excellent for mapping out your strategy) and a list of wineries by area that provides a key showing lots of information you need to plan your visit: hours, cost, type of experience, if an appointment is necessary, etc.

In future posts I will share some of my favorite wineries, lodging spots, restaurants and more. But first, I want to throw out some general tips on planning your trip.

Number of People on the Trip

Is this a group of girlfriends? A few couples celebrating a special occasion? Here’s what we have learned: 6 is the magic number. Lots of places require reservations even for walk-up tastings if your group contains 8 or more. A party of 6 is big enough that they don’t necessarily want you to overtake their tasting bar. Sometimes you will be given your own little tasting area (a table, set of couches, library) and your own host. Be nice, show your appreciation, show an interest in learning and you will be rewarded with a wonderful experience. As with anything in life, good behavior brings good karma.

The party of six also works for transportation – cruising in a mini-van! With a designated driver.

napa winery tasting

Number of Stops per Day

Most wineries open by 10am and close about 5 or 6pm. Planning for no more than 3 or 4 stops in a day provides a nice, leisurely pace…relaxing and sane. If possible, share the tastings (pay for 3 tastings for 6 people) so, even if you sip rather than spit, the amount of wine consumed is minimal. The local police are always on the lookout – as they should be – for visitors who have been irresponsible in their wine tasting. Above all, be responsible.

The ideal scenario would be if one person in your group is a non-drinker but is happy to come along on the trip just for fun!  I’ve never tried this, but I bet wineries would be willing to offer the designated driver a free or reduced rate on tours or experiences. It would certainly be worth asking if you are lucky enough to have a permanent DD in your group.  And perhaps the drinkers could pay the tasting fee for the non-drinker as a show of appreciation. Renting a limo for the day is always an option, but be aware that some wineries have a “no limo or party bus” policy. I’m guessing they have had some problems with wild groups ruining it for the rest of us.

Protect the Wine!

You will want to have some sort of a cooler in your car so that any wine you buy during the day will not be ruined in the heat of a locked up vehicle. If you are driving to Napa you can bring your own. If not, you can either bring a couple of insulated, reusable grocery bags or pick up a cheap Styrofoam cooler at a store once you arrive. (There is a small grocery store on Washington St. in downtown Yountville that carries these.) Fill the cooler up with ice at the start of each day and you will be set. Consider bringing along some fruit, cheese and crackers, too. Many wineries will allow you to bring in snacks to enjoy while tasting their wine.

Educate Yourself

Even if you are on the trip just to hang with friends, it is possible to pick up bits of knowledge that will increase your future enjoyment of wine. Try to schedule a full tour and tasting on your first day. Look for one that takes you through the steps of the process from vine to bottle. Something like the Signature Tour and Tasting at the Robert Mondavi Winery

You will learn the basic steps involved, how the “terroir” comes into play (and you will be able to use the term “terroir” like a pro!), the different varietals, and so much more. This will be beneficial as you taste different wines in different parts of the valley. The hosts love to answer questions and love to share what is unique about their winery. They especially love having guests who are interested and engaged in learning!

The Winery Experience

Many wineries, especially those that provide “special experiences”, require advanced reservations. During the peak fall season and on weekends, these spots fill up fast. I’d generally recommend only one or two “scheduled” events per day, along with a couple of “drop-in” stops. Pay attention to the length of time required for the special experiences: when is your appointment, when do you check-in, how long is the presentation, how much travel time is required to the winery and to your next stop? The valley is larger than you think. Distance and traffic should be taken into consideration so you are not late for your appointments. It is crucial to know the requirements in advance and to plan your schedule accordingly.

Cakebread pairing

A Word about Wine Clubs

Virtually every winery offers some type of wine club to build brand loyalty. As a member of the club you will receive a shipment of wine periodically (monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly depending on the club). You can cancel at any time. Often the wine club shipments include wines only available to members. Membership provides benefits such as free tastings at the winery, discounts on purchases, discounts at hotels in the area, and more. The clubs really are geared toward customer loyalty so they treat their members well. If you find a winery you like, you might want to consider trying their wine club.

Where to Stay

I would definitely consider renting a house or condo if you have six or more in your group. This set-up gives you the opportunity to hang out at the beginning and end of each day, more bonding time. We have rented houses from VRBO and a condo at The Silverado Resort. If you prefer a hotel, there are lots to choose from. Think about location. And decide if you want something luxurious like The Villagio or something cozy and romantic like The Wine Country Inn.

There really is something for everyone.

Dining

Plan ahead!! The most popular restaurants fill up fast but there are many wonderful places to choose from. Check Open Table for reservations. As I said, most wineries close by 5 or 6pm giving you time to go back to your room, relax, take a nap, freshen up, and then head out to dinner. One big tip: while you are out tasting during the day, pick up some wine to bring to dinner. Napa restaurants allow guests to bring in wine. Even with a corkage fee, the price will be less than that of a comparable bottle on the restaurant’s wine list. Plus it is a great way to enjoy your new discoveries.

Bringing Home Souvenirs

If you buy extra bottles of wine to bring home with you, you have several options. Unfortunately, some states restrict shipments of wine so you should check ahead of time to see if your state allows this rather than getting the disappointing news at the check-out register. Generally if you buy 6 bottles or more, it is most economical to have the winery ship directly to your home. Upon delivery, the package will have to be signed for by an adult, 21 or older.

If you are picking up a couple of bottles here, and a couple of bottles there, you can consolidate them for shipping. There are lots of “pack and ship” places available in the valley (we have even shipped through the business office at The Silverado). Many wineries sell 6-pack or 12-pack shipping boxes. I’d wait until towards the end of your trip to get the box(es) because it is hard to judge how many bottles you will collect. Obviously we can no longer bring wine on airplanes as carry-on luggage, but many airlines will let you bring a case of wine as a checked bag. (Contact your carrier for restrictions, prices, etc.) You will want to be sure the wine is securely packed in the correct shipping boxes. TSA might open the box but they will seal it back up. If you just have a couple of souvenir bottles you can wrap them up VERY carefully, put them in your checked luggage and keep your fingers crossed! Lots of wineries sell nifty bubble wrap packs for single bottles. These work really well.

Girls trip to Napa 069

I hope these tips help you to plan the perfect Napa Valley wine tasting vacation – complete with wonderful wine, delicious food, and beautiful views shared with dear friends!

You Might Also Like:

Thanks for stopping by!

Comments

  1. What *wonderful* tips! You’ve made EXCELLENT recommendations. I’ve only ever been to Napa with my husband, but it was one of the most fun trips we ever took. (It was before kids, so that might have something to do with it, too!!). –Lisa

  2. Great post! I am dying to go to the wine country. Just added you to my blogroll so I will have it on file if I can talk the Mister into taking me! Have a wonderful day!

  3. I am all over wine trips! This is great advice, one of my favorite birthdays ever was me and a bunch of my friends renting a limo and traipsing all over Sonoma Country singing to 80s music.

  4. I went to Napa Valley in 2008, and visited 3 wineries, I think? I loved it. Also had lunch at a cute little restaurant (I forget the name), and you’re right, reservations are essential!

  5. Sounds like a fun trip. Themed group trips are always enjoyable. Have a great SITS Day.

  6. Great tips, Mo! I went to Napa Valley once six summer ago…it was part of the first big trip my (now) husband and I took together. In general I really enjoy wine tasting and going on tours. I hope to make it back out to Napa again, it’s such a beautiful area!

  7. This is just so cool!! I am not a big wine drinker… do they have a “Bacardi Country”?? “Rum valley”?? LOL 😉

    It looks heavenly and the information you gave is awesome Mo!

  8. Love Napa Valley and love your tips. All the wineries are so pretty and unique. I love that there are so many to visit. Happy SITS Day!
    Raquel recently posted…Simple Hot Apple CiderMy Profile

  9. What a great quick guide to the wineries! We’ve only visited a few on a trip to CA years ago (before kids). I’m hoping to one day go on a wineries tour in Napa, it’s a dream for now.
    Anna recently posted…Garlic Herb Crusted Rack of LambMy Profile

Trackbacks

  1. […] Napa Valley Wine Tasting Tips […]

Speak Your Mind

*

CommentLuv badge