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.

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

 

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!)

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

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.

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

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.

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

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.

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

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.

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

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.

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

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.

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

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!)

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

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.

A Visit to Napa Valley | inspiredbycharm.com

Have you been to Napa? What are your favorite wineries or suggestions for tastings?

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Comments

  • Ronda at

    Yes, I have been to Napa Valley many times since I used to live in Lompoc, CA (near Santa Barbara). It has been many years ago (before the tasting fees surfaced), but I agree with you about the trip being an experience. Your pictures are beautiful and they brought back fond memories. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  • Rachel at

    I grew up riding my bike up and down the highway, before Calistoga – St. Helegant became famous. The number of vineyards I love are too long to list. This summer I explored Chateau Montelena and “The Castle”, Castillo de Amorosa. Chateau Montelena is not as popular as The Castle but is the most historc, in my opinion. This year was the 40th anniversary of The Vote. This put the Napa Valley on the world wine map. The wine is still thoughtful created and the grounds are brilliant! The Castle is newer but no less amazing. They create Italian style wines. The setting takes you back 500 years. My friends and I had the best time on the guided tour and exploring the castle on our own. All 8 ladies found a wine that suited their tastes…Which is a miracle. It just proved how well rounded their selection is. I hope you come back for a visit. Oh! And stay at Indian Springs in Calistoga. It’s close to both and the mineral pools are perfect after a day of tasting.

    • kathleen at

      Your mention of Chateau Montelena brings back wonderful memories… my husband and i spent our honeymoon up in Napa & Sonoma valleys 25 years ago and we had the unique experience of being able to use one of the little islands situated in the lake behind the winery for the day. We had a lovely picnic and just relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful grounds. I don’t know if they still allow guests to use the islands, but it was certainly one of the highlights of our trip. I’m not familiar with the Castle – we will have to put that on our list for the next time we head up there.

  • Julie Blanner at

    Gosh your photos are gorgeous – you have an impeccable way of capturing beautiful moments. Thanks for the memories!

  • kathleen at

    my husband and i spent our honeymoon in the Napa & Sonoma valleys – 25 years ago plus a couple of trips over the next couple of years. What a wonderful time of year to go. It sounds like things have changed tremendously since then. We didn’t have to deal with tasting fees or reservations. Thank you for sharing your experience – it’s good to know for when we head back up there.

    another really nice wine area to visit is the Santa Ynez valley which is just north of Santa Barbara, CA which is more central. It’s not as well known as Napa & Sonoma but they produce some very nice wines there. For us in Southern Calif it’s a very do-able weekend trip – we just did a grape stomp a few weeks ago at one of our favorite wineries up there. loads of fun and great wine!!!

  • Michelle at

    Living in the Bay Area, we visit Napa and Sonoma several times a year. There are so many wineries now I think it’s imperative to have a plan. Do your research online ahead of time, allowing for time to picnic and explore the vineyards and property (if permitted). Fall is my absolute favorite time of year…the harvest is mostly complete and the vines are starting to turn colors!

    Should you ever have the time, by all means check out some other wine growing regions in Northern California! Whether coastal, mountains or anything in between, each has it’s own unique terroir and climate-specific varietals. Many are small and family-operated, and trust me, there are some gems. You’ll also find the fees and costs a bit more palatable outside of the Napa/Sonoma area.

  • Kim at

    Gorgeous photos! NAPA Valley is on my bucket list. 🙂

  • Irish Mimi at

    Your photos capture the beauty of Napa!!! I enjoyed visiting there a few years ago. Hope you were able to visit one of the famous eateries in Yountville: French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro or Bakery, Ad Hoc + Addendum. You, Michael, would probably enjoy even more than I did and get inspiration for more of your wonderful cooking.
    As much as we enjoyed Napa, we enjoyed Sonoma even more — and I think you would, too, Michael. We stayed in Healdsburg (at the Healdsburg Hotel & Spa — you’d love it, but there are other places including wonderful B&Bs, which I’m sure you’d enjoy w/ your history). Loved the vineyard tours (lots of different ones for different tastes; we were driven around so that we could safely enjoy “tasting” many wines at many vineyards + we weren’t familiar w/ the area AND got great tips), the town’s “wine rooms” & bakeries, art galleries & antique shops. Also visited the “Bubble Room” at the J winery/vineyard (quite an experience & learned a lot about sparkling wine). Had some incredible meals AT some of the vineyards. Two most memorable: a “picnic” lunch on a vineyard patio where we were served grilled-in-front-of-us meats & garden grown produce & home-baked bread plus pizzas prepared in their patio clay/brick oven; and dinner at another vineyard that included a special demonstration & tour of the pressing & barrel rooms (not usually open to the public). Plus we made time for some kayaking one morning and a spa treatment one evening AND a swim in the pool each evening before bed.
    We found Sonoma to be more “approachable” and less intimidating than Napa. We’ve also visited CA’s southern wine areas — they’re not as “organized” (for lack of a better word) as Napa & Sonoma, probably because they’re “younger”.
    I just know you’d LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Sonoma, Michael, so I highly recommend it for a future California wine tour visit. (I live in NY & KS — have no connection to any area or business in CA). Looking forward to your blog about that visit (and more inspiration you have from your wine tours)

  • Leslie at

    Beautiful, beautiful pics!!! Makes me yearn for the open road….glad you got to go.

  • Rhianon at

    Beautiful photos! I love Napa Valley, and feel fortunate that I live close by. I love how much there is to do around there- much more than people initially think! I really enjoy taking kayaking tours along the Napa river- such a great way to relax and soak in the beauty of the valley!

  • Rexanna Hood at

    Any news on if they were affected by the fires?

    • Michael Wurm, Jr. at

      I’m not sure. I haven’t checked myself.

      xo Michael

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