One month ago today, my mom and I were California-bound, starting our trip with a mother/daughter weekend in the fabulous Napa Valley. I’ve already shared my thoughts on the Meritage Resort & Spa where we stayed (read about it here), as well as our dinner at the girl & the fig a short drive away in Sonoma.
We only had about a day and a half to experience Napa, so I did everything I could to research and plan in advance to ensure we made the most of our time. I found some great reviews of wineries and restaurants, but finding sample itineraries was near impossible, so I’m hoping that this post will help you plan if you’re trying to figure out what to do in the area!
Saturday was our only full day in Napa and we wanted to make sure we squeezed in as many wineries as we could and not have to worry about where we were going or making any reservations on time (note: some wineries require reservations in advance). In order to help us keep moving at a good pace, we hired a driver for the day. It is a little pricey – most drivers in the area charge $35-40 per hour with a 5 hour minimum, but if you can fit it into your trip budget it, I highly recommend it! We knew this was going to be a big splurge for us but it saved us from having to navigate/figure out where we were going, drinking and driving, and circling parking lots for a spot to park.
Our driver Wes DeBow (visit his site here) picked us up at our hotel, prepared for the day with a cooler filled with waters at hand any time we needed them. As a local, he had plenty of great insight into the area and would drop us at the entrance of each winery and was waiting for us out front as soon as we stepped outside, ready for the next stop. This provided us peace of mind for everything we had on the list for the day!
Our first stop of the day was at the Robert Mondavi Winery for the 10 a.m. Wine Basics Class/Tasting (reservations required). I’d heard rave reviews from just about everyone I talked to that’s ventured to Napa, especially since Robert Mondavi has been deemed the “father of wine” in Napa. The Wine Basics Tasting cost $35 per person and included a tasting of a few of RM’s wines, and gave us a little wine education/etiquette to start our day (including a paper with a cheat sheet of descriptive words to describe each type of wine). Some interesting things we learned that you may or may not know:
- The date on each bottle of wine is the harvest date (when they pull all of the grapes) – not when the bottle is released
- When a waiter asks you if the wine is good/how it tastes at a restaurant, they’re not asking if you like the flavor, it’s to see if the wine has gone bad (1% of wine is lost due to cork failure – you can’t tell if it’s gone bad until it’s opened)
- Don’t judge a wine on the first sip – sip 3x to allow your mouth to adjust to the acidity and take big sips so it hits all of your tastebuds
- Merlot grapes have the highest amounts grown on the planet
- Fermentation takes 30-40 days in the barrel
- Stomping on grapes (like we see in TV/movies) is just for kicks – those aren’t used to actually make the wine
As far as reservations go, that was it for the day! We had a list of about 10 other wineries that we wanted to get to, but picked our top ones and decided to wing it for the rest of the day. Since it was vacation, we didn’t want to feel pressured to leave one place and head to the next, especially if we were really enjoying ourselves (like our Round Pond experience)!
Stop #3 was Caymus Vineyards. This wasn’t originally on our list, but it was right across the street from one of the others we were planning to go to and our driver Wes recommended the winery. Mom and I loved the green + flowers everywhere so we took quite a few pictures at this spot. We enjoyed the wine as well, but didn’t care for the standing room at the bar atmosphere so we shared a flight of wine and then moved along.
Frog’s Leap was our 5th winery of the day and one I really enjoyed. Especially as the day goes on and you’re drinking more, eating is important! I loved their assortment of apple butter, crackers, nuts, and best of all, cheese! We sat outside on a porch overlooking fields of grapes and mountains and it was so peaceful. We didn’t have a reservation for this winery, but they do accept reservations so to be on the safe side, you might want to make one when planning a visit here!
We kept a pretty good sense of humor about things as well when a bug actually flew into one of the glasses on the table. We thought it gave a whole new meaning to Frog’s Leap’s slogan “Times Fun When You’re Having Flies!”
The flies didn’t keep us from enjoying our day! Next, we moved along to Alpha Omega, one of the many wineries directly off the main highway/road in town. The wine was good, but this was my favorite view from a winery, hands down. We lounged in chairs right in front of this fountain, looking out at the mountains. It was amazing. And ironically we ran into a couple visiting from New York – right near where I went to college. What a small world!
Our last (and 7th) stop of the day was Peju. This was the only winery we had a wait for, but no reservations were required in advance. I’m assuming our 30 minute wait was because most of the other wineries in the area had closed already (the majority close at 5 p.m.), so we were hitting Peju at closing time. Another standing at the bar tasting,
To end our fabulous day of tasting, Wes dropped us back at the hotel and we decided to freshen up and drive over to downtown Napa to check out the scene. There were a couple restaurants that I had on my list in the downtown area, but we weren’t too impressed with the area. We were definitely spoiled during our brief visit to downtown Sonoma. Now THAT is a downtown! We settled on Azzurro Pizzeria and shared pizza and salad before heading back and turning in for the night.
Day 2/Sunday Funday was our last day in Napa. We started our morning at the spa at our hotel and it was AMAZING. Afterward we packed up our things and went back to the downtown area in search of some souvenirs. You’d think there would be a ton of Napa Valley branded items, but surprisingly it was slim pickings. Most of the souvenirs were of specific wineries.
The Oxbow Public Market is a really famous spot in Napa with fresh foods and all kinds of delicious treats. It kind of reminded me of the market at Grand Central in NYC – buzzing with excitement! We ate lunch at Gotts, popular burger joint in the area which had a line out the door. Definitely worth the wait though, it was delicious!
An exciting end to our weekend as we headed to San Francisco for the next leg of our vacation (more on that to come), was spotting what looked like the real-life version of Mater from Disney’s Cars. I could sit around and quote Mater all day long so I was VERY excited to spot the car on the side of the road. I’m curious if anyone else passing had the same reaction.
We had such an incredible weekend in Napa and I can’t wait to get back one day! I’d definitely like to spend a bit longer in the area, as well as exploring more of Sonoma. It’s definitely not a cheap place to vacation to, but it’s worth saving up and splurging!