This past Labour Day weekend, I embarked on my first journey to beautiful Napa Valley Wine Country in Napa County, California – a haven for wine drinkers and foodies alike.
After a weekend watching a volleyball tournament in San Francisco, we rented a car and embarked on our journey. We went up and down the hilly streets of San Fran, through Lombard Street’s multiple zig-zags, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and towards Napa Valley for the day.
The drive to Napa was unforgettable: endless hills of vineyards that glistened and sparkled in the Californian sun (some vineyards attach silver shimmering cards to their vines to keep birds away). We visited the Robert Mondavi Winery where the green fields of vines were stunning, the vineyard’s architecture was classical seaside Mediterranean, the walkways were deeply serene, and the 2005 Moscato D’Oro was like honey to our lips.
The next time you’re in California or the surrounding area – don’t forget to take the unforgettable journey through to Napa Valley and Sonoma County for some of the best wine the world has to offer.
About Napa Valley
Napa Valley is an area in Napa County that has been designated as an American Viticultural Area because of its optimal geographical and climate conditions for vineyards. It dates back to the mid 1800’s and today is the most popular tourist destination after Disneyland with 4.7 million visitors annually.
Currently, there are over 200 wineries within 30 miles, as well as hotels, spas, bed and breakfasts, golf courses, wedding facilities, and world class restaurants in the area. The Napa Valley Wine Region is about 50 miles north east from San Francisco, a little closer than Sonoma County, another world-celebrated wine growing district. The drive from San Francisco is approximately 90 minutes without traffic delays and it’s a good idea to leave earlier (9 or 10am) rather than later.
What You Need to Know for Your Wine Tasting Visit To Napa Valley:
3-5 Wineries per Day is the recommended number if you have a full day. Any more and you’ll be more worried about getting to and from each one and won’t be able to take in and really enjoy the wine and vineyards. You’ll want to be sure to take the time to have some snacks and eat – a wine-only diet is probably not a good idea.
Wine Tasting Etiquette. Swirl, sniff, sip (and spit, if you’re really just tasting). Appreciate the beauty and the intricate nature of the wine you’re about to taste – and don’t be afraid to be honest with the wine-tasting professional about what you think. They will be able to better gauge what you’ll like better. Most vineyards are extremely welcoming and are flexible in what they charge. You’re not required to buy any wine, but if you like a certain wine, the plus is that it’s often usually much cheaper on site at the vineyard than in your local wine store.
Food & Fine Dining. A few of the top 50 restaurants in the world, as rated by Restaurant Magazine as well as The Michelin Guide are situated in the Napa Valley area. One of these is called “The French Laundry” by Chef Thomas Keller, and is found in Yountville. Reservations are required (available up to 2 months in advance.)
Winery/Vineyard Tours. Most vineyards/wineries offer tours of their fields, cellars, historical buildings, and processing methods. It’s always fun and educational – I’d suggest you do one of these tours at one of the vineyards you visit, but not every one.
Napa Valley Wine Train. The train departs from Napa and travels through the beautiful valleys to St. Helena. Throughout the ride, all aboard are offered the very best of Napa Valley’s wine and foods while they take in the scenery. Each car has its own theme and lunches and dinners also have themes like murder mystery and jazz.
Operated Tours. There are many tour operators that offer both individual and group tours throughout the vineyards, with both set and customizable itineraries. This is a great way for you to not have to worry about planning or driving from San Francisco or Sacramento, and allows you really enjoy some wine!
Customs/Taxes. Be sure to check your government or airport’s website to see what the limit is for bringing back alcohol or liquor from another country. If you’re willing to pay extra taxes, then find out how much you’ll have to pay for what quantity of wine.
Have fun and drink responsibly!