Last week I traveled to San Francisco and Napa Valley for a blogger retreat. To my delight, fellow blogger, friend, and Fall-Cookie-Week-Partner, Julie Blanner had also been invited! Since it’s not every day that we get to travel across the country, Julie and I decided to extend the trip a couple days in order to explore Napa Valley.
Julie had been to Napa Valley before, but this was my first visit. Regardless, both of us were excited about visiting an area of the country that’s known for amazing wine and beautiful scenery. It had also been a couple years since we got to hang out in person, so that was the real joy of our time out there.
We decided to stay in downtown Napa at the The Westin Verasa Napa. Thanks to Westin’s generosity, we were able to get the media rate, which we both greatly appreciated. (Thanks Westin!)
The hotel is centrally located, making it a great starting and ending point for excursions into wine country. We also appreciated the complimentary afternoon wine tasting and tapas. I mean, who wouldn’t.
Despite a few rainy days (which didn’t bother either of us), Julie and I had a wonderful time in Napa. If you enjoy good wine and stunning views, I can’t recommend it enough. However, being that it was my first time there, I was surprised by a few things. Let me explain.
First off, if you’re looking to taste at any winery in Napa, you will typically need to make an appointment. This means that you must call ahead and get a reservation. We had no issues getting same-day or next-day reservations. However, if you have any must-visit-wineries, it’s smart to call ahead. Also, keep in mind that most open at 10 AM and close at 4 PM. I’d say you can probably visit 4 or 5 per day without feeling rushed.
Second, most of the wineries we visited in Napa charged a tasting fee. And I’m not talking $5. The fees ranged from $25 to $75. Coming from PA, that was a bit of sticker shot for me since most wine tastings in my part of the country are free or only cost a couple bucks.
With that being said, the price is well worth it. Not only are you tasting wines that cost from $35 to $300 per bottle, you’re also paying for the experience. In most instances, you are given your own table and a personal guide to walk you through the flight of wines. I actually found it to be a nice change from having to force down as many tastings as you can surrounded by people trying to do the same.
Another thing to note is that many wineries will waive the fee if you purchase wine. We often asked how many bottles or how much money we needed to spend to get the waiver. Some wineries will also print that information on their menu if you’re uncomfortable asking.
Also, while you are tasting, don’t be afraid to ask to try other wines that are on the menu, but not part of the tasting. In most cases, the winery will have a bottle open and be happy to offer a sample. The vintners want you to enjoy their wines, and given that everyone likes something different, they want you to find what pleases your palate.
I also recommend checking out a few wineries that aren’t necessarily mainstream. Julie and I stumbled on Madrigal Family Winery at the end of our first day. Because they weren’t crowded, the host, Alejandro, offered us a walking tour through the winery and vineyard. While it’s fun to visit wineries whose names you know, I love getting off the beaten path and trying something new. Yes, it’s riskier, but I find that’s often where the magic happens.
Of the wineries we visited, I have to give a shout out to a few of my favorites. They include Madrigal Family Wines, Frog’s Leap, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, and Larkmead. (I found the property at Larkmead to be especially beautiful!)
All in all, we had a fabulous experience in Napa, and I’m looking to a return trip very soon.
If you’d like more tips for visiting Napa Valley wineries, check out Julie’s recap of our experience here.
Have you been to Napa? What are your favorite wineries or suggestions for tastings?