I don’t know about you, but when I thought about California’s wine country, I imagined it would be like I laughed at when watching Sideways. Lots of wine snobs looking down their noses at me, over priced everything and beautiful landscapes of grapes in every direction.
Laura and I had determined to take a vacation without the kids this year and I was tasked with making this happen. We wanted a single flight from Boston and to go someplace neither of us had been. I contemplated a lot of different locations, but when Jetsetter came up with a great deal to Napa I knew I had found our destination.
We boarded a Virgin Atlantic flight to San Francisco where we jumped into our rental car and headed the 90 minutes up the highway into the valley. It is an easy drive, but be warned that if you have a morning return flight, you’ve got to leave extra early or you’ll be stuck in the suck that is San Francisco commuter traffic.
Our first impression was less then we had hoped for. The visions of fields of grapes and rolling mountains were far from what we encountered. It was more like strip malls and chain restaurants. But, as we checked into the Milliken Creek Inn and Spa we set out to find the wine country we were hoping for.
Napa Valley is a lot smaller then we thought (map). On one side you have Rt-29 and on the other The Silverado Trail. There are multiple cut across roads between the two of them to help you get to wherever you desire. Our advice is to take Silverado whenever possible as it is a winding back country road, while Rt-29 might as well be a commuter road based on the amount of traffic it gets. Don’t even try to take a left and cross traffic or you’ll be waiting forever. Be sure to plan your wine stops with only right turns and you’ll have much more fun!
With so many wineries everywhere you looked we thought there would be more signs inviting you that yes you were welcome to stop by and check them out. Most don’t have this though, so don’t be afraid to drive in and check them out. We didn’t run into any secret handshakes or unwelcome stares. They just don’t advertise very well is all.
All of the wineries open late and close early. Most doors come open around 10 and then close by 5. So it is important to plan out your day at least a little bit and don’t try to cram in more than three in any day so that you can fully enjoy them. At night there is very little to do except have a great meal at one of the many tasty restaurants. We couldn’t find any real night life, but quite enjoyed the casual vibe that everyone has.
We were happy to discover that most wineries can ship the wine home for you so you don’t have to worry about trying to bring them on your flights. If you do buy wine, I’d suggest getting ones that are only sell at the wineries. We followed this advice and of course had to buy a new wine rack when we got home to store it all. Whoops!
Now that I’ve rambled a bit, let me give you some specific insights that I took away from this trip and tips that might help you have a great vacation:
- There are an endless supply of wineries and restaurants to go to. Ask friends ahead of time what some of their favorites are. My twitter followers gave me lots of great advice.
- Be sure to visit St. Supery Winery for their self guided tour that is free and gives a vast amount of information. Keep a look out for GG as you walk the grounds as she loves to say hi to all visitors. When you do the tasting ask for Rick or Joe who both took very good care of us while we were there.
- Plan to stop at V. Sattui for lunch one day. They have a full service deli and store to buy everything for a casual lunch on their picnic grounds.
- Sick of all the fancy dining and want something more simple? Grab a burger, garlic fries and milkshake from Gott’s Roadside. Trust me, the line is worth it.
- Don’t waste your time going to Opus One. For $30 you get a single tasting of their wine. It isn’t anything special and they are the epitome of wine snobs and being unfriendly. It is beautiful to look at, but the piss poor attitude of their staff turned me off.
- Book a tour and plan to spend at least three hours at Castello di Amorosa. Being someone that loves castles, I could have spent the whole day here. You can visit without doing a tour, but you MUST do the tour to fully appreciate the beauty of this location. Plus, doing a wine tasting in the dungeons of a castle is down right cool.
- Take a day and head over to Sonoma. It is only twenty minutes away and absolutely beautiful. To be honest, Sonoma is what I thought wine country would look like. I got to go to one of my favorite wineries, Ravenswood, and discovered B.R. Cohn’s Port that is a new love of mine. While there swing by the Glen Ellen Village Market and order the Call of the Wild sandwich. Mmmmmm.
- When you get sick of wine look for a frosty cold one from the Napa Smith Brewery. They did a tasting at the inn and I fell in love with their Organic IPA and red ale.
- The Wine Train is a nice meal, but not nearly as scenic as I thought it would be. Don’t waste your money on dinner. Lunch is just as great, but half the price.
- We used OpenTable to get reservations at all the restaurants we wanted to go to including Morimoto Napa which had just opened up an was a foodies wet dream!
- While Robert Mondavi is one of the biggest wineries and we worried they’d act that way, we found every member of their staff to be some of the friendliest we interacted with all week. For sure, never judge a winery by their size.
In the end, I loved our trip to Napa. I think any guy out there who loves good food, good drink and a good relaxing time would enjoy a vacation here.
Laura and I got to spend a ton of quality time alone with each other. This isn’t a place to go if you want high adventure or a busy schedule. It is a great place to chill out, reconnect and have a good time. From our balloon ride to sharing our in room bathtub we had a blast and have the pictures (minus the bathtub *wicked grin*) to prove it. I also did a video review of where we stayed so you could see more of it.
I think the one thing I’ll always remember and laugh most about was over dinner at Go Fish (thanks again to Chef Billy Parisi for pointing me there) on our final night, Laura turned to me and said, “Can you believe on our final night in Napa we are drinking beers?” I just laughed, raised my glass and said cheers!