Napa Valley, CA.
Over the years, my husband and I have developed an appreciation for wine: the time, the care, the precision, the creative labels, the diligence of hard work, and the increase of value with age. Ever since watching Parent Trap as a young girl I wanted to go horseback riding through a vineyard, and while we didn’t check that exact item off my bucket list, we did more than satisfy my itch to learn more about the delicate beverage we have come to enjoy.
When planning our lodging for Napa, I knew I wanted a quaint stay in the heart of the city rather than in a chain hotel. We wanted to be able to stroll through the charming town, eat at local cafes, and take our rental car to as many vineyards as we could pack in a day. We landed on The Old World Inn Bed and Breakfast.
Might I also recommend paying Napa’s neighbor, Yountville, a visit. The Bouchon Bakery in Yountville is absolutely worth the stop. It was there I fell in love with fluffy, light macarons, perfect in every way. We went back to this bakery a couple times over the course of our stay. Across the street from the Bouchon Bakery was the V. Market where we discovered Ottimo, a local café /restaurant with fresh meats, cheeses, and house-made delicacies from chef Michael Chiarello. I picked up a few Dusti Treasures here, including an antique egg beater and a broken piece of a grapevine.
When researching which Napa vineyards to tour I will admit I found myself a bit overwhelmed. They all looked incredible but there was no way we could see them all. The timing of our trip actually helped make this a less stressful discussion. Because we traveled in March, slow season, many venues which would otherwise require a reservation were available for walk in tours and tastings. There were no grapes on the vines, which was slightly disappointing, but the private tours and freedom of a spontaneous schedule more than made up for it- especially for first time Napa travelers.
Jarvis was the first vineyard we booked. Worth every penny! By the end of our trip, Jarvis was among our most memorable of tours. Jarvis is nestled off Highway 121 and the entire facility is underground. Employee offices, tours, wine tastings, barrel rooms, mixing tanks, and the bottling line are all carved into the side of one of Napa Valley’s rolling hills. It was beautiful! This ended up being a private tour, which allowed us to ask questions and learn the rich history of Jarvis Vineyard.
There is a natural waterfall that runs through the center of the cave from the hills above. This water is recycled and used for irrigation throughout the vineyard.
Later that afternoon, we decided to tour V. Sattui Vineyard which came with a tasting of their favorite bottles, including the Madeira. Madeira is wine mixed with a portion of the old port found in the walls of the vineyard house from before prohibition. The taste was less than pleasing to me, but the history was worth the swallow. Attached to the V. Sattui Vineyard is a meat and cheese market where we gathered yummy treats to enjoy back in our room later that evening.
The next morning, we went to tour Stags’ Leap…not to be confused with Stag’s Leap or the Stags Leap District (note where the apostrophe is). Apparently, Stags’ Leap was the first vineyard in the district yet didn’t trademark their name. There was a large lawsuit over the strikingly similar vineyard names and wine bottle labels. The conclusion reached was Stags’ Leap labels would have the leaping stag and Stag’s Leap would have the standing stag.
The tour, again, was absolutely worth it. Not only was the property beautiful, but the history of the building and vineyard name were rich with exclusive details. One little detail we were let in on was the old speakeasy located beneath a trap door in the house floor, leading into the basement.
That afternoon we toured Frog’s Leap Vineyard. The vineyard house at Frog’s Leap is a converted barn which gives it a homey, southern feel. The owner and his wife know a thing or two about southern hospitality as they frequent their vineyard to mingle and sip wine with their guests at the conclusion of a tour.
On our final day in Napa we were disappointed the rainy forecast canceled our hot air balloon ride, however, this did allow us to squeeze in one more tour, Castello di Amorosa. This old castle was actually brought over stone by stone from various European countries. The owner of the vineyard was a wealthy man who loved castles so he combined all his favorite medieval features to recreate this one, and a fine job he did! We toured the castle, the wine caves, and were able to taste a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from the barrel just before it went to the bottling line.
Our conclusion: Anywhere from 3-5 days, excluding travel, is time well spent in Napa Valley. We originally thought after one tour there wouldn’t be a need for more, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. Come to find out wine is actually crafted a bit differently at each vineyard. If you are planning a trip to Napa Valley, book the tours! Each vineyard is rich in history, and they will open exclusive bottles to pour you a sip of what you can’t find on shelves back home. We learned to appreciate the time and care that go into producing a good red blend wine and about the levels of barrel toasting on American or French Oak, which makes a noticeable difference to the taste buds.
I am certainly no Sommelier, but I did walk away with a better understanding of what goes into producing a bottle of wine, a finer appreciation for what I am tasting, and the ability to recognize labels on the wine aisle of the grocery store.