Wine & Travel

Snooth User: sambuca

Napa Tips for a Rookie...

Original post by sambuca, Jul 7, 2010.

The wife & I are making our first trip to Napa for a two day excursion.  We have been doing a lot of research, including reading up on the previous forum posts, thanks Honda John for your informative essay!  We're a little worried about going during the summer, and on a weekend, but it was the only time it worked for us, especially since we live in Nebraska and happen to be in the area of Napa...given those factors, do any experts on snooth have some tips for do's/don'ts for Napa on a late July Friday/Saturday excursion?  We're staying at the old world inn located in Napa.  We're thinking of making our first stop at Chateau Montelena on Friday morning, then working our way south.  Thanks! 

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Replies

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 9, 2010.

That is great info, I love a good Zin.  Thanks! 

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 9, 2010.

There are a number of past threads on the same subjects that will richly repay reading. Two of them are:

Going to Napa

Going to Sonoma

 

I'm going to recommend against splitting your already very-limited time by trying to cover both Napa and Sonoma this time. Too much driving and not enough time to be able to relax, sink into even a little of the vibe, and discover the unexpected. Wouldn't you rather spend the time tasting or relaxing at restaurant (or picnic) rather than fighting traffic to get to a relatively distant area that you'll barely be able to scratch the surface of, even if lucky? But then again I've never been a fan of six-cities-in-three-days type of travel.

Since you've seemingly heard the Napa name and sensed the mystique from afar, that might be the place to start. Save Sonoma for another trip. And book more time for it if at all possible. I'd also recommend starting with the southern part of Sonoma (Russian River Valley) when you do go there, since there's perhaps more action in a denser concentration there than up to the north. Again less driving.

 

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 9, 2010.

Very True, DCV might be too much distance to cover, especially since we're staying in Downtown Napa. 

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 9, 2010.

We'd like to do at least one cave tour.  Any good rec's for one that won't cost $40 a person like Del Dotto charges?  Thanks. 

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Reply by John Andrews, Jul 9, 2010.

Time for me to jump in ... for cave tours I'd recommend Schramsburg.  It's bubbly but a good tour and one of the oldest 'caves' in Napa.  

I do agree with D above saying that both Napa and Sonoma might be tough but it has been done.  If you are sensible you can make it work.  One thing to be aware, Sonoma is a series of valleys and appellations and is MUCH bigger than Napa.  If you are going to do Napa one day and Sonoma the next you need to select one appellation within Sonoma to make it worthwhile.  There are some that border each other that you might be able to visit a couple in each but all of Sonoma in one day is impossible! ;-) 

@Sambuca, I did get your PM ... will respond soon.  

However, based on where you are staying, Sonoma Valley would be good as from the town of Napa you'd be able to drive across Hwy 12/121 to get to Sonoma Valley easily.  Doing that you could stop in at Domaine Carneros (my fav Cali bubbly), continue to Gundlach Bundshu on the south end of Sonoma Valley, stop in at my buddies at Tin Barn, do lunch on Sonoma Square, then head to Loxton and finish up at the reserve room at Chateau St. Jean.  

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Reply by tommar, Jul 9, 2010.

I have two great suggestions, White Rock Vineyards a perfect choice for a first time visit, this is a small family run vineyard Henry the owner gives the tours personally, this is a very informative tour and is located off the Silverado Trail. Also, Pride Mountain Vineyards check their websites for information and reservations, We didn't spend a penny for great cave tours and tastings!

 

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 9, 2010.

Good call on Schramsberg, John, and it ties in fairly nicely with Montelena (mentioned earlier) at the north end of the valley. Your suggestion to get up early and jog on over to those places in Sonoma, though, is getting me tired just reading it, and it's only morning and I've just finished two cups of tea with breakfast (and I've got stamina with the best of them). Sounds almost like a traveling salesman's run (at least half a day's worth, anyway)... ;-)

With all these suggestions, Sambuca, you really need to think about what you really want to do, and what are the aims of your trip. Are you like a Japanese tourist getting all the famous temples stamped in their pilgrimage book, as many a day as possible? That combined with potentially not-nice traffic and lots of time in the car? Or do you want to smell the earth and vines of a locale you're visitng for the first time, and take your time experiencing, as deeply as you can, some tastings at a few vineyards within vicinity of each other, in a specific 'terroir'? And have time to unwind around meal time in some very nice eating and drinking establishments where you can even hear the people who make the wine talking while they're unwinding if you're lucky. All this is well achievable in Napa, with minimal frustration, and a modicum of intelligent planning...

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Reply by Runningwineguy, Jul 9, 2010.

C'mon nobody mentioned the winery that started it all. Robert Mondavi. Great tours and even better wines

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 9, 2010.

Okay, my recommendation is JUST go to DCV! Seriously, you can spend less time driving because the traffic is nowhere near as bad, and the wineries are friendlier, the vines are right there... And no one can claim that you are visiting the famous temples and getting stamps. But when you go home and the folks who haven't been to either place ask, "Hey, Wine Loving Friend, did you go to Napa?" you'll have to hang your head and say no.  Then serve them a bottle of French wine with a drawing of a castle on the label, and maybe your reputation as a wine afficionado will be revived in their estimation.  Sorry, but I have a thing about those castles.

Funny that all our recommendations seemed to assume that you were starting from the Calistoga end of the valley.  Heck, if you were, you could go up 128 out of Calistoga and land right in H'burg.

I do think you can do one day of each, and your chance to see the temples of Napa and the actual winemakers and terroir of Sonoma County without exhaustion is not bad. (But not the city of Sonoma! Why do people keep suggesting it! There's hardly any good wineries there, just about four tasting rooms and a lot of traffic in the square that will keep you from getting to the wineries.) The key is to drive SR-12 across the bottom of Carneros and get on 101 going north.  It's not a bad drive, either, and if you have a little time and money at the end, you can stop in at some Carneros wineries on the way back.  There are also restaurants--good ones!-- in H'burg.

But we all agree on one thing, don't we?  Have a meal at Tra Vigne.

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Reply by outthere, Jul 9, 2010.

Ok, well here's a plug for the Russian River Valley. Just over an hour drive from Napa. You could leave early in the morning between 7:30 and 8:30 and be there for breakfast/brunch (tasting rooms open around 10:00am).

Take the drive from Napa to Occidental where you can have the best breakfast in the county at Howard Station Cafe. While taking in the breathtaking scenery of this redwood and fir studded hamlet. A real West Sonoma County Gem.

After breakfast you travel 2 blocks north to Graton Rd and turn right. Go up over the hill and go 4 miles to Marimar Estate Vineyards. You could be there by 11am for the first pour. After Marimar, or if you are an early bird and miss their tasting, you continue East on Graton Rd, through the town of Graton, past the ultra hip Underwood Bistro, till you reach Hwy 116. On your left at the intersection is the brand new tasting room of Dutton-Goldfield.

South on 116 1/4 mile and on your left is Merry Edwards Winery where you will taste some of the best Pinot and Sauv Blanc in the RRV.

Leave Mery Edwards and backtrack to Graton Rd and 116. Turn rt on Frei Rd and go 3/4 miles to Lynmar Estate Winery.Wow isn't this tasty?

Leave Lynmar and continue on Frei till it ends at Guerneville Rd. Turn rt on Guerneville Rd and travel 1.6 miles to Olivet Rd where you turn left. Olivet is host to De Loach, Hook and Ladder, Sunce, Harvest Moon and Pelligrini Family Vineyards.

Further north on Olivet the road bends left. Just after the bend is Viking Rd. Turn rt on Viking and travel 1/4 mile to the dirt driveway leading to Tara Bella Winery where you can taste one of the best Russian River Cabs and meet the wonderfully charming owners, Tara and Rich Minnick, who will make your visit a memorable one. Make an appointment in advance for this visit.

North from Tara Bella one block to River Rd. Turn left and travel west on River Rd 3.6 miles to Wohler Rd. Turn rt and follow Wohler to the left of the Radford In B&B over the rise and across the Historic Wohler Bridge spanning the Russian River to the stop sign at Westside Rd. A left on Westside takes you to Gary Farrell Vineyards. A right brings you past the breathtaking MacMarray Ranch and on to Porter Creek Vineyards. From Porter creek you continue on Westside to Thomas George Estates and further to Arista. From Arista continue on to J Rochioli Estate Vineyards.

Continue north past Hop Kiln Winery, Joyn Tyler Wines, Toad Hollow, Twomey Cellars, Matrix, Armida, past the stately Madrona Manor and onward to downtown Healdsburg where you can wrap up your Russian River Valley tour with a dinner at one of many fine dining establishments such as Dry Creek Kitchen, Cyrus, Zin or just relax at the Bear Republic and have a great burger and home brew.

From Healdsburg US 101 takes you south to your connection back to Napa or you can take 128 through Alexander and Knights valleys back into Calistoga and then on to Napa.

One hell of a day in the Russian River Valley.

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Reply by outthere, Jul 9, 2010.

If some of my linked maps show no route try panning out. Seems some of the views are off juts a touch.

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 10, 2010.

Great itinerary, outthere, and has several elements of what I'd do in the area, though it again seems like a lot of hustling when that's not really what wine tasting, learning, enjoyment, vacationing is about, is it? Frankly if I were going now, I'd be skipping Napa and doing only Sonoma, myself, though likely for many, many days in a row. Sambuca, I assume, can't lengthen his trip and wants to see Napa. So my recommendation remains for only it, or only Sonoma, whether your or Foxall's itinerary spread over two days (and I think RRV has more to offer firstimers than DCV). Better trying to do less, well, than too much, poorly, for enjoyment and understanding of what's encountered.

Think I've probably made my views clear enough, so I'll bow out here... ;-)

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 10, 2010.

Wow!  So much great info, thanks a million.  We'll definitely have to schedule another trip to the area, hopefully next spring.  We're actually leaving San Fran early Friday morning, with the original plans of starting at Montelena.

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Reply by SilverOakAnnie, Jul 10, 2010.

If you have time try a new release cab from Meyer's made by Justin Meyers son and his wife. It's a great release.

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Reply by outthere, Jul 11, 2010.

My itinerary was meant to be as much a way to see the varying geography of the area as it was a wine tasting tour. Wineries were suggested but the route is one that should be savored for its' natural and epicurian beauty.

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 11, 2010.

Greatly appreciated Outthere, thanks for taking the time to link together all the google maps! 

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Reply by sophiehudson, Jul 11, 2010.

You could spend an entire day (or two) on Silverado Trail. There are some fabulous smaller vineyards that can blow your mind away...we usually start in the morning at the north end and go south and then end up taking a lunch break at Rutherford Grill (where if there's a wait go to Elizabeth Spencer across the street - amazing wines).  Patz & Hall (way north) Black Stallion, Darioush, Stag's Leap, Krupp Brothers (appt required - but really beautiful wine tasting spot), Baldacci (appt needed but really worth it), Duckhorn, Steltzner, Sinskey (if you are lucky Maria is there cooking) Joseph Phelps (appt needed), Pine Ridge, and Miner are some great stops.

We've been going to Napa and Sonoma for years. This last time we finally decided to go to Schramsberg and were amazed...absolutely loved it and in fact, joined their club.  After that we went to Chateau Montelena and were disappointed in the wine (I know I may be a minority in this) but it was just okay...the grounds however, are breathtaking.  We plunked down our $20 and left without buying anything...took pictures and then went to St. Clement and Hall before cutting over to Silverado Trail. In Yountville there's a wine tasting room called Ma(i)sonry that is amazing...you can sit outside if not too hot, or wander through their art gallery.

As far as restaurants go, Ad Hoc and Redd's are amazing and not outrageously priced. French Laundry and Cyrus (Healdsburg) are amazing but more on the pricey side.

Wherever you decide to go, just remember to take in the scenery and ask lots of questions of each vineyard's wines and ask where some of their favorite wines (other than their own) are located.

 

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 11, 2010.

Thsi is Foxall--didn't sign in yet:

I had Mondavi in my first post but took it out because we were all leaning toward the Silverado side of the valley.  I haven't been in a long time, probably 20 years, but if you want to know how they make wine, lots of it, and really well, they do a thorough tour.  But the traffic right around there is terrible.

dmcker: Just when I thought I had you on my side of the argument--Sonoma County instead of Napa--you sideswiped me with RRV over DCV.  ; - ) Guess that's what's so fun about wine.  Keep in mind that Sambuca loves Zin--maybe DCV is still the right call. 

Better idea: Come out here again with a little more warning and some of us will join you in Sonoma.  I'd join this crowd to increase my RRV exposure, and I would happily introduce all of you to my favorite DCV folks. 

One thing I know:  I am going back to this post before I head up to Napa in October.  Tons of great ideas for places that even locals haven't been. 

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Reply by Jelliman, Mar 26, 2011.

Be sure to check out www.cellarpass.com. It's a website that launched about a year ago and is much like OpenTable where you can book reservations for daily tastings and learn more about exclusive events- both at the winery and offsite.

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