Recommend a great wine tour in Napa-ish areas
August 18, 2014 2:45 AM   Subscribe

We're looking to taste wines and see the pretty in October. Where's the jaw-dropping beauty and equivalent deliciousness?

My wife and I will be doing a west coast tour this fall (mid October). I'm from the central coast but she's never seen the sights out west, and we live in Seoul. One stop is wine country, where we will spend a night (bonus if you can point us to a good b&b or airbnb or hotel or sth!).

We like reds & whites (maybe more whites, honestly) but are not experts or fancypantses. On the bright side, we aren't particularly on a budget.

I don't want to walk up and down a lot of hills or stairs if it's avoidable. My vacations are rare and I like to cool all of my jets.

Have you been to any great wineries or on any really nice wine tours? Are you from there? Can you hope us please? I really want this to be great because I'm not sure when I'm going to have another chance to take such an extended vacay and do stuff like this.
posted by Joseph Gurl to Travel & Transportation around Napa, CA (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've never been on it, but I've heard good things about the wine train.
posted by Betelgeuse at 5:46 AM on August 18, 2014

Unfortunately, all of my wine experience is from the Paso Robles area, far south of where you'll be. However, the very best find for us was a designated wine driver. We met our driver at our hotel, signed some paperwork to let him drive our car, and he drove us around his neck of the woods. He even brought chilled bottled water and some snacks for us to eat halfway through our day. We were out as long as we wanted to be, got to see some beautiful sights and drink fabulous wine, and then were delivered safe and sound to our hotel. Our cost was hourly and by car, which turned out to be far better than the trolley tour pricing offered.
posted by ovenmitt at 6:30 AM on August 18, 2014

If you want to stay in the general area I much prefer Sonoma to Napa.
posted by JPD at 6:59 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you feel like going a little farther afield, you might consider the Anderson Valley. The area is beautiful and there are several quite good winery tours. Scharffenberger and Roederer make extremely tasty methode champagnois wines, Boonville is quirky, and Mendocino has some very good restaurants.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:30 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Depending on how wide your travel plans are you may want to consider a trip a little farther north to Oregon. We have a booming wine environment here in the Ashland/Southern Oregon area with nice amenities and the Ashland Shakespeare Festival still going in October. Here's some information on tours. Some great food available, also!
posted by uncaken at 7:34 AM on August 18, 2014

I second JPD: Sonoma is much more laid back and I find that the wineries are more playful with their wines. Everyone's not trying to make the same (albeit outstanding) Cabernet like they are in Napa.

We found a Sonoma house on airbnb that was quite reasonable. Our favorite wineries in Sonoma were Scribe (appointment needed), Gundlach Bundschu (nice place for a picnic), and Gloria Ferrer (champagne house with amazing views). We also loved Artesa and Domaine Carneros, which are between Napa and Sonoma. They are both beautiful.

Chris with CalNap tours gave us an all-day guided tour of some Napa wineries. It was not cheap, but we all felt like it was worth it. It's a nice way to see Napa if you're staying in Sonoma (unless one of you is the DD for the day).
posted by robstercraw at 8:22 AM on August 18, 2014

I agree with everyone above, Sonoma is better than Napa. In the past 20 years Napa has gone from wine drinkers Mecca to Disney-esque theme park of drunken louts and crass commercialism. It's pretty terrible.

I really like West Side Road, which runs along the Russian River and has some of California's very best small producers of small batch wines, esp. Pinot Noir. It's smaller, less commercial, friendlier and way more charming.

You can easily day trip between Napa/Sonoma, they are only an hour apart, it's easy to taste (and spit) in one valley, have lunch and then transition to the other.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:12 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have been on Platypus tours in both Napa and Sonoma. Both guides were excellent, providing a delicious lunch and entertaining local commentary while driving from winery to winery. The tours were smallish, 10 or fewer people. I agree that Sonoma is more enjoyable and relaxing than Napa. Paso Robles is fun too--even more laid-back than Sonoma.
posted by esoterrica at 12:51 PM on August 18, 2014

We had a lot of fun in Anderson Valley last winter. There wasn't a lot of up and down on foot. The drive down the valley is nice, and the coast is spectacular if you have the time. I'd highly recommend the drive out to Fort Bragg if you have a day to do so.
posted by bonehead at 2:40 PM on August 18, 2014

Best answer: Wow, okay. Everyone hates Napa. Great! If you still want to visit us, here are my thoughts.

Get a hotel in the Town of Napa. I have no idea where to stay, but I can ask around if you like. (And I'd be more than happy to, with some budget and expectation clarity.) Drive up the beautiful Silverado trail after getting some lovely breakfast at Oxbow Market. Drive all the way up to Calistoga. Enjoy the insanely beautiful drive, please go at least 55, and look out for bicyclists!!! ( You can do both, but bicyclist, obviously, take priority!). Now, here are a couple of different lists, and I can't promise I know for sure whether everyone takes walk-ins. It's really best to make an appointment, or at least call to consult for timing, etc.

First day/First Idea- some are pretty touristy, but tourists really seem to love these experiences. YMMV
From the Silverado trail, turn into Calistoga, maybe stop for some strolling, or the really great farmers market if it's Saturday, and turn south onto 29.
-Start at T-Vine. They are lovely, the wines are great, it's very Calistoga. (Kinda hippy, very relaxed, not disney-esque. but really class act!)
-Move south to Castello di Amorosa. Tourist trap. Disney-esque. Poeple frikkin love this place! Everyone goes here. It's like...yep-the Disney of Wine. I honestly think if you just want to people watch or check out a crazy castle and cave tour, it's probably worth a trip. JUST ONCE, you know? (not quality wine...for my money- still suggesting for the WHOA)
-Then you will be hungry. Eat at Farmstead. The food is so good it's absurd. California all the way, with a "bbq" flavor. Mini Ham Sammies for the win! It's also beautiful, and they have a great tasting room (quality wine)as well. Two birds!
- Then you go to Inglenook. Don't think about missing it. Go to Inglenook.
-You might have time to hit Heitz. You should really try to. Free tasting, tiny sweet dogs, old-school but super classic. Very, very nice staff.
-You will now be surprised how late it is, and decide to go back down to Napa, to Maisonry. Great wine, great hospitality, close to your hotel. Fancy.
-Have dinner at Oenetri (first pick!) or any of the other wonderful restaurants in Napa...take uber home and find your car in the morning.

Second Day/Off the beaten path-

- call uber again to get to your car. get coffee from Oxbow, again, but vow not to eat. Drive up route 29 to St. Helena, and eat breakfast at the adorable, home town locals joint, Gillwoods. It will be harvest and depending on how it's going it will be all talk about brix! and hang time! and flavor! If it's raining...everyone will look...possibly grumpy. It's interesting. Giggle a little at all the farmers. Continue north- yes. Back to Calistoga. Go to Chateau Montelena. As classic as it gets. Now turn south, but head down the Silverado trail this time.
-(Come visit us at Failla! We make Sonoma wines, in Napa! Whee!)We are chardonnay and pinot and we are super relaxed and not Napa "Disney at all!" also, make an appointment!)
- Or for some super hippy, old school Napa throwback, (or in addition) you can visit Casa Nuestra. Goats. 100 year old vines. No pretense WHATSOEVER. Beautiful chenin and riesling, when available- pretty limited production (after what the goats eat! ;))
-You have to go to Frog's Leap. You have to. (appointment, but super easy, they just generally want to get set-up for you) snacks, sit down, you can walk through the gardens, do a self guided tour, they leave you alone with all the wines, the view is spectacular, and it's just a great tasting experience.
- if you are up for more Pinot (they also make cab and chard and pinot gris and other whites too!)Go to Robert Sinskey. The property is absolutely lovely, the tasting room is great (no appointments!) great place.
-Stop at the little Soda Canyon store on your way south for lunch. Great food, totally a local vibe, again, but very high quality.
- You could then hit Stags leap, or Signorello (big wines, but beautiful property.)
- Go back to Napa, eat at Morimoto.

- call every place you plan to attend beforehand. Knowing is half the battle. You can do the "start at the top and work your way home thing" from either direction, I just chose Napa because it's easier to find housing.
If you are...ehem, loaded, and want to start up in Calistoga and reverse the idea, stay at Solage. WOW. If not, Indian springs has hot springs! The mud baths in Calistoga are classic, the Taco Truck on the corner of Tubbs lane is crazy fresh, tasty and can't be beat for some real Cali flavor...

Day three/GET WEIRD and ARTSY-
Well, you get the drift about making the loop...I won't bother with that tired theme. (though its the right, safe way to travel, unless you get a car!)
- Schramsberg. You must book this ( a month?) in advance, it's expensive and 100% utterly worth the wine, the tour, the experience. A friends daughter is currently working as a harvest intern there- I might be able to soignee that tour too...don't know
Smith Madrone- these guys are as weird as it gets, utterly lovely Riesling. Not to be missed. (Same for Stony Hill, but they make chard as well.again...two birds, appointment only both)
- probably eat at Farmstead again because it was so good, or you could do Goose and Gander (great food, great patio) or just relax with some Cali-Mexi and the utterly wonderful and locally adored Villa Corona.
-google the library. Drive to it. Walk around in the crazy vineyard (which will have been picked by then) to see some of the most incredible, oldest vines in California. (Turley makes the wine "Library Vineyard" of course!"
-Then take some time up at the Hess Collection. Good wines and a really great, eclectic art collection. It's, again, a really beautiful drive. Another 'not to be missed"
-Domaine Chandon? For the bubbles? Maybe? If I was from far away, I'd do it. Dinner early in Yountville at Redwood? Maybe?

So, in conclusion, do this for sure:
- SPIT! SPIT IT OUT! It's cool. It will save you. Just having all that wine in your mouth will seep in, do not drink the wines. Not a good plan. If you have a driver, spit out at least half or you won't remember your trip. True dat.
-Frogs Leap
-Chateau Montelena
-Farmstead (and their Long Meadow Ranch wine)
-Hess Collection
-Robert Sinskey
-Come see me and drink 5 diffent Chards from 5 different AVA's (and pinot and syrah, too!) and you can totally play the METAFILTER card and we will give you the royal treatment. Taste fermenting wine out of a concrete egg! Yum!

- Be sure to tell everyone when you call or arrive that you are white wine drinkers. Everyone will love this and be grateful and pull cool stuff for you to taste. October is busy, Id suggest a mid week trip- and traffic is terrible. Cut over to the trail if you start to lose it.
-do not be intimidated for a second by "appointment only" You will not be sitting in some hushed room, while they tally what you while buy...sometimes it's just old laws that force certain wineries to advertise that way. Sometimes it's because they are super popular and want you to have a good time. Call everyone, CA is super nice.

Memail if you hate all these suggestions, or they are too low/high brow. I have all sorts of other options if these aren't in your wheelhouse. I know it gets a bad rap sometimes, but it's absolutely amazing and beautiful here. Mayacamas Range, and their distinctive wines, Vacas Range, and their utterly brooding wines, valley floor can be great depending on the alluvial fans...but the views are great, it's probably going to be raining! If it is, we will all have out GLEE faces on.

Hope to see you soon!
posted by metasav at 8:42 PM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I love both Napa and Sonoma, but if you prefer white to red then Sonoma is the better place, I think. Lots of wonderful chardonnay and plenty of funky little white projects.

Whatever else you do, I suggest making an appointment for Scribe. Lovely place, gorgeous view and very nice folks. The wines are stellar as well. They make some of the oddball little whites too, like their sylvaner and a skin fermented chardonnay.

Another wonderful and relatively new option is Fog Crest. They are pumping out some really tasty chardonnay.
posted by FlamingBore at 5:33 AM on August 19, 2014

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