Wine & Travel

Snooth User: sambuca

Napa Tips for a Rookie...

Posted by sambuca, Jul 7, 2010.

The wife & I are making our first trip to Napa for a two day excursion.  We have been doing a lot of research, including reading up on the previous forum posts, thanks Honda John for your informative essay!  We're a little worried about going during the summer, and on a weekend, but it was the only time it worked for us, especially since we live in Nebraska and happen to be in the area of Napa...given those factors, do any experts on snooth have some tips for do's/don'ts for Napa on a late July Friday/Saturday excursion?  We're staying at the old world inn located in Napa.  We're thinking of making our first stop at Chateau Montelena on Friday morning, then working our way south.  Thanks! 

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Replies

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Reply by outthere, Jul 7, 2010.

Good choice to go south from CM because n/b traffic on Hwy 29 entering St Helena is just plain ridiculous in the summer. Then again, leaving St Helena going south isn't much better. That's why you cut across to Silverado Trail after you are done in St Helena and take it through Rutherford (hang a left at the Rutherford Grill) or Oakville (left at the Oakville Grocery), Yountville and Stag's Leap for a real nice drive into Napa.

As a side trip/walk, your Inn is about 3 blocks north of Wine Spectator on the corner of Jefferson and 1st.

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Reply by outthere, Jul 7, 2010.

Another fun side-trip. When entering St Helena on Hwy 29 southbound the first traffic light is at Fulton Ln. Turn left on Fulton and go down 1 block. On your left is Acme Fine Wines which is a great place to find exceptional bottles from boutique (Mark Herold, Hayfork, Upstart Crow)  to some semi cult/cults (Bryant, Rivers Marie, Grace, Hundred Acre, Levy & McClellan) to others like Robert Foley, Switchback Ridge, Outpost, DuMol, Orin Swift, Arnot-Roberts etc...

Great mid-morning visit before waiting in the longest line ever for  burger at Taylors Refresher (Now Gott's Roadside) just south of downtown SH. Ahi Burger w/sweet potato fries. Mmmmm.....

Or not ;-)

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 7, 2010.

Thanks outhere!

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Reply by John Andrews, Jul 7, 2010.

I'd throw in going to some out of the way wineries in the mountains as well like Keenan and Viader.  

By Calistoga I always recommend Larkmead (note: I am friends with Dan the winemaker there).  I also like Honig for a mid-sized family winery.  Right across Honig is Round Pond which I like.  

For bigger wineries, I do like St. Supery.

Do call ahead and make sure you have appointments (if needed).  I usually allot 90 to 100 minutes between tasting appointments (tasting and travel time).  

Lastly, avoid turning left Hwy 29.  Go north and south on Silverado Trail.

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Reply by John Andrews, Jul 7, 2010.

I'd throw in going to some out of the way wineries in the mountains as well like Keenan and Viader.  

 

By Calistoga I always recommend Larkmead (note: I am friends with Dan the winemaker there).  I also like Honig for a mid-sized family winery.  Right across Honig is Round Pond which I like.  

For bigger wineries, I do like St. Supery.

 

Do call ahead and make sure you have appointments (if needed).  I usually allot 90 to 100 minutes between tasting appointments (tasting and travel time).  

 

Lastly, avoid turning left Hwy 29.  Go north and south on Silverado Trail.

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 8, 2010.

Great, thanks HJ! 

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Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 8, 2010.

if you are on hwy 29, i'd recomend visiting grgich hills... mike grgich has played a huge part in the development of the napa valley.... there's a timeline at grgich.com that details mike's development into a great winemaker... he's getting up there in age, but can still be found hangging out at the winery and in the tasting room.... the staff is well educated and they make for a fun tasting....

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 8, 2010.

The Barrel Tasting looks like good fun at Grgich, thanks! 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 8, 2010.

I concur that you want to stay on Silverado whenever possible.  If you are up for doing it on a bike, that's my preferred method.  I have trunk bags that hold wine securely--and you can ride through the vineyards at a few spots, which should be great this time of year. It also excuses you from buying bottles--"hey, I ran out of room on my bike"--although most wineries will hold it aside for you to pick up in your car. Hwy 29 is even somewhat okay on a bike, which allows you to go up the side roads and see wineries there, but you have to watch out for impatient drivers who are not looking out for bicyclists.  One thing I don't recommend on the bike: The hill up to Rombauer is a challenge when your bags are already carrying a few bottles. I would probably skip Rombauer on the merits, too, but that's just me.  Last time I tasted on bike like this, I sat next to Coach K of Duke at Duckhorn--his Amex ad mentioning his love of red wine and wine tasting came out a couple weeks later. 

Some of this advice is new to me, and I think I will follow it when I am next up that way in October. 

Although there are fancier restaurants with bigger reputations, I try to eat at the bar at Tra Vigne at least one night when I am in Napa.  Chances are good that there will be someone interesting from one of the wineries there, and the bar staff will often let you know who they are. Just eavesdropping on their conversations with the bartenders can be an education.

But my number one piece of advice as a NorCal resident: If you want to avoid traffic, go to Sonoma County, where the tastings are less expensive and less crowded and the wineries are more likely to be family owned.  Chances are excellent you will get to hang out with a winemaker or two.  Silver Oak, J, and a host of equally meritorious smaller wineries (Talty, Mauritson, Bella, Preston, I could go on) will welcome you like Napa never will.

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Reply by chadrich, Jul 8, 2010.

At the risk of illuminating the obvious.....If you're thinking of buying bottles along the way, make sure you pick-up a cheap cooler and a bag of ice.  At 90ish degrees, your newly acquired wine will roast in the car as you make additional tasting stops if you don't protect it.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 8, 2010.

Another advantage to the bike: The bag doesn't heat up very much if you cover it in something light colored and you can carry it, up to a point.  When you reach that point, you just arrange to pick them up on the way out of town.  Again, it's not an answer for everyone. But, yep, don't leave them in the car.  Better still, arrange to have them shipped back to your home state under ideal conditions, if the winery has a provision, or use a wine shipping company.  Or just take note of what you liked and buy it when you get home, assuming someone near you has it.  JJBuckley in Oakland and K and L in SF can also ship stuff if you buy it from them.

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 9, 2010.

Would it be silly to spend one day in Napa & one day in Sonoma?  I know there's too much to cover, but if we're going to be there on a Friday / Saturday, maybe it would be better to do Sonoma on a Saturday. 

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Reply by chadrich, Jul 9, 2010.

I actually think that's a very good idea.  Since you haven't been before, you'd get a basic overview and have a better idea of where you might like to focus on a return trip.  And while I don't think you'll find Napa un-busy on Friday, it will be crazier on Saturday hence smarter to avoid.

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 9, 2010.

Hmmm, sounds like a good plan.  Thanks.  Open to ideas for Sonoma. 

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Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 9, 2010.

i second grabbing a bite at tra vigne... and maybe tasting/touring at cackebread right across the way.... but again thats on the hwy 29 side....

on the silverado trail side, robert sinskey would be a must stop... they have an on site chef that prepares food pairings with your wine....

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Reply by chadrich, Jul 9, 2010.

Hopefully HondaJohn will weigh-in, as he's the resident expert on Sonoma. 

I think you certainly have to visit the square.  Gundlach Bundschu is a fun and laid-back tasting room just a bit off the square. 

I also really love the Russian River Valley area; specifically Iron Horse for sparkling wines.

Depends a bit on (a) what kind of wines you like and (b) whether you'd prefer to do more driving but see a bit of everything, or do less driving but become more deeply familiar with one sub-area.

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 9, 2010.

Great, thanks!  I PM'd HondaJohn to get his input. 

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Reply by WineoftheMonthClub, Jul 9, 2010.

Be sure to visit at least a few of the main spots: Mondavi, Coppola, Chateau Montelena (takes you through Calistoga). Get a good map and head for the hills. Visit Tre Vigne in St. Helena for lunch or dinner. Another famous place is Mustards (really hard to get dinner reservations).

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Reply by sambuca, Jul 9, 2010.

We plan to start at Chateau Montelena, thanks! 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 9, 2010.

Okay, since I suggested it, I will weigh in:  One day in Napa and one in Sonoma is a great idea.  Don't worry that you won't get one or the other "covered" by splitting.  That won't happen anyway. They both are too full of wineries. 

Sonoma County is great, but I differ from Chadrich on going to Sonoma proper.  Not where the action is, and you can get stuck in the traffic.  Head up to Healdsburg and get off at Dry Creek Road. 

The advantage to going to Sonoma is to try wines different from what you will find in Napa.  Dry Creek for its Zins, Russian River for pinot and chardonnay, Alexander Valley for cabs.  But pick one, because there are tons of wineries.  J does food pairing at their tasting room just outside Healdsburg, and Silver Oak has rooms in Napa and Sonoma (Alexander Valley) if you want to compare the cab styles from each location.  In DCV, it's mostly Zin, and if you haven't had the smaller production single vineyard Zins, you ought to go--even if you don't like Zin, it could change your mind.  Talty is a little more refined, Mauritson owns a good deal of Rockpile and does amazing single vineyard wines from there.  Unti grows Syrah and Grenache as well, and provides grapes to other wineries, so you can get a real taste of what the others are starting with. (Steve McLaren, a Scot, is making syrah in a St. Joseph style from Unti grapes at Talty. Great stuff at $25 or so.) Bella makes some outstanding single vineyard Zin.  Dan Teldeschi and his family have been in DCV for almost as long as Clay Mauritson and his, and it shows.  His field blends and Zins are worth a visit. (Teldeschi is the brand; his zin grapes show up in other folks wines as well.)  Amphora made a cab franc recently that I tasted on a visit and it was a standout.  Their outfit is in a cluster with some other wineries including Papapietro-Perry, whose Zin I had recently and loved. Preston makes Rhone style wines, including a white Rhone style called M. Preston that I reviewed here.  I'll let others weigh in on RRV and Alexander Valley, and I don't mean to slight anyone by their omission here.

Because Sonoma is less traveled and virtually everything I have mentioned is family owned (every time I have tasted at these outfits, the family was present--big advantage), you should check for hours and whether you need a reservation.  A good place to start is the Sonoma Wine Road website.  Most of these wines are either not available in stores, or are available on a limited basis.  But the smaller crowds, and the minimal traffic are Napa the way it used to be.  And odds are very high that you will get to talk to a proprietor/winemaker or two, which is unlikely in Napa.

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