Napa, California is one of our favorite places on earth! Daniel compiled these notes, and I think they are great for those who are visiting the Napa area for the first time, or for the 10th. Before you go, I suggest watching the movie Bottle Shock. It will let you know the history of Napa, and how they got on the map. Cheers!
Since Napa offers such a relaxing atmosphere, we prefer to stay at a less expensive hotel versus a nicer, high end hotel. Most of our time was spent driving around to the various wineries or at restaurants, so we spent very little time in the hotel. Two that are convenient (both are right on Hwy 29) are:
Hilton Garden Inn Marriott
3585 Solano Ave. 3425 Solano Ave.
Napa, CA 94558 Napa, CA 94558
The weather in Napa can be absolutely gorgeous….therefore we prefer to rent a convertible. However, reserving a convertible is expensive. Here’s how I get around it - Get a reservation at 2 or 3 car rental agencies at the airport (we usually fly into San Francisco) for a standard or intermediate size car. Once you check in, ask the agent if they have any convertibles available….they usually do, and will typically upgrade you for only a few dollars more than for the one you reserved (and much less than if you had reserved a convertible initially).
The reason I have reservations at 2 or 3 agencies are for several reasons…..once you arrive, occasionally an agency doesn’t have a convertible available, so move to the next available agency. Secondly, the SFO airport can be extremely busy, and I’ve seen one agency with a huge line, while another had no waiting.
However, if you do not have a designated driver for the days you are doing a lot of wine tastings, I suggest parking the car at the hotel, and downloading the Uber app. The Napa police have gotten very strict about drinking and driving.
We usually drive the western route through San Francisco to go over the Golden Gate Bridge and through downtown San Francisco.
This also takes us to the splitting point for roads that go to Sonoma and Napa. Our first stop is at Gloria Ferrer, a sparkling wine vineyard. Sit on the patio, enjoy the sparkling wine along with their spicy almonds. It’s a great start to your time in the wine country!
Another stop just down the road is Domaine Carneros, another sparkling wine vineyard. The grounds and building are gorgeous, and worth the stop for another drink. Hey….that’s why you are here, so drink up!
Helpful WebsitesNapa Valley Wineries – an interactive map that has links to every winery. This will allow you to plan out your tastings. It helps to have tastings in the same general area so you are not crisscrossing all over Napa.
My personal preference is red wine….specifically Cabernet and Bordeaux-style blend, so my suggestions are biased toward wineries that primarily produce these types of wine. As for white wine, my theory has always been – “The best white wine is a red wine.” ☺
Elyse – ask for Rick, and tell him the McVeigh’s sent you!
Nickel & Nickel
Robert Mondavi (for first timers only)
Cult wineries, go just to say you went and get a souvenir
Robert Mondavi (unless this is your first time visit)
Sparkling Wine – aka, Champagne!
It’s hard not to find a good/great restaurant in Napa. Some of the best chefs in the world have opened operations here, and many of the places use fresh, locally grown ingredients. With great wine must come great food. Pick your palate – French, Italian, steaks, seafood, or yes…..even burgers or an old fashioned made-to order deli sandwich.
6525 Washington St.
6534 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
738 Main St.
St. Helena, CA
Gott’s Roadside (Burgers)
933 Main St.
St. Helena, CA 94574
587 St. Helena Hwy South
St. Helena, CA 94574
7856 St. Helena Hwy (Hwy 29)
Oakville, CA 94562
Cook (St Helena)
1310 Main St.
St. Helena, CA
Martini House (closed)
1245 Spring St. (@ Oak)
St. Helena, CA 94574
Heard good reviews, but haven’t been here
Bistro Don Giovanni
4110 Howard Lane (St. Helena Hwy)
Napa, CA 94558
The French Laundry
6640 Washington St.
Winery Notes (Alphabetical)
Baldacci – small, family owned winery across from an old red schoolhouse. Very friendly staff. Their IV Sons Cabernet is a great value, especially if you buy it on at close out prices (I’ve gotten it for as little as $15/bottle)
Boyd – Small winery, wine is good, kinda off the beaten path. Stan is building a good reputation for his wine, and tastings are on his front porch. He and his wife live on the winery grounds, and enjoys a good cigar if you are inclined to share one with him!
Buehler – Family owned. Page Buehler met us at the door as we arrived, and walked us around the property and had a 1-on-1 tasting with him. Since they are such a small operation (10-15 employees, including family), don’t be surprised if they cannot accommodate a tasting or tour, as they run a very lean operation. Great history of the property, and an absolutely great value wine as noted in Wine Spectator.
Chappellet – Gorgeous property at the top of Pritchard Hill, and the drive back down the mountain after the tasting is probably one of the most scenic in Napa. Great wines, and their staff is unbelievable friendly and helpful. The tasting is with a small group, and is in the storage area, so the temperature will be cool…..dont worry, they have jackets/light coats for anyone who needs warmth.
Chateau Montelena – This is the winery that put Napa on the world wine map. Historic property. Be sure to watch the movie “Bottle Shock” before going to Montelena, as it is the story of how they won the 1976 wine competition in Paris that sent shock waves around the wine world.
Cliff Lede – Beautifully landscaped property with topiaries, and a great art collection. Their covered outdoor tasting area is scenic and relaxing.
Darioush – Too over the top and commercial for me. The manse of a structure seems out of place in Napa. We signed up for a “Private Tasting with artisanal cheeses” of their reserve wines @ $50 a person, and were shocked to see that we were being joined by approximately 30 other people. We bolted and got a refund.
Elyse – One of our absolutely favorite places, and not just because my name is Elise! Small and family owned, tasting room is no frills, but they make consistent, very good wines. A great place to start your tastings as you are heading up Hwy 29.
Garjuilo – Subtle property from the road, but opens up to a wonderful view from a small hill once you are at the house. Wines are great, and the staff is very helpful. Screaming Eagle wine is supposedly sourced from the grapes on the other side of the fence from Garjuilo.
Girard – Love their wines, but their tasting room is in town, so you don’t get the ambiance of tasting their wines on the vineyard. Great wines, good value.
Hall – Two separate properties and tasting opportunities. The main property is for the general public. The other property is at the Hall’s house and is used for small private tastings ($50). Great wine produced by a couple from Dallas.
Joseph Phelps – Icon of Napa. Wines are great, but expensive (you buy the name/reputation), the back of the property for the tasting overlooks a valley and is very scenic. Staff seemed to be a little snotty/arrogant.
Kuleto – A unique, breathtaking property at the top of the Hennessey Basin mountins. The drive up/down the mountain is not for the faint of heart – a narrow, winding road takes you up to the estate. The tour is not your typical wine tour, but of the property to see the spectacular views and hear the history and significance of the estate. The wines are very good, and the tasting is done with cheese and crackers. Staff is very energetic and knowledgeable.
Mai(s)onry – A tasting room for a consortium of wines.
Merryvale – A bit more ‘commercial’, but not too much. Tasting room people are very fun and engaging. Wine is good all across the board. I actually bought a Savignon Blanc (I RARELY buy white wine). They have a gift store with lots of wine-oriented trinkets for purchase.
Miner – On Silverado trail just north of Oakville Crossroad. I wasn’t impressed with the wine or the staff.
Peju – The tasting room guys are absolutely hilarious….Scott Neumann was our guy. Very engaging, and he even sang to us. The winery is a bit commercial and has a good-sized store trinkets. Wine is ok, but worth the ‘fun factor’ due to the tasting room guys.
Plumpjack – Small tasting room and the staff was friendly. Wines are really good.
Robert Mondavi – If you have never been to Napa, this is the best place to start, as they give one of the best tours of how wine is made from ground to glass. After that, it’s another Wal-Mart of wineries. They have some good reserve wines, but you have to fight the masses during your visit.
Silver Oak – The “Mecca” for uninformed wine people. Wine is ok, but they are still pricing it based on their past accolades. It’s a tasting factory there, as everyone wants to stop by Silver Oak, so you will be one of the masses, and there is little personal interaction with the staff, as they are too busy trying to accommodate everyone pouring into the tasting room.
Stag’s Leap – Another cult winery that has good wine, but albeit overpriced based on their past accolades. Tasting room staff were arrogant and seemed as if we were bothering them. Not worth the $25 tasting fee.
V. Sattui – The Wal-Mart of tasting rooms. They have a ton of different wines, along with a good food market, but you will be there with the masses.
Sparkling Wine Notes (Alphabetical)
Domaine Carneros – Could be your second stop from SFO to Napa just after Gloria Ferrar. It is located in a beautiful French chateau building with gorgeous landscaping. Order the sparkling wine flight on the patio, and imagine you are in France.
Domain Chandon – The most commercial of all the sparkling wineries. Tastes really good, but you are part of the masses.
Gloria Ferrer – A wonderful place to stop on your way from SFO up to Napa. The patio overlooks the beauty of the vineyard. Great staff, and their seasoned almonds are to die for!
Schramsberg – I was initially put off by the fact that we were required to take a tour in order to taste the sparkling wines…….trust me, it is worth it! Completely different than any wine tour, you go down into the caves, and see the sparkling wines in storage.
Mumm’s – A great place to end the day, as they stay open later than most. Stop by for a drink before heading off to dinner or passing out at your hotel. It has a very fun atmosphere.
Restaurant Notes (Alphabetical)
Bottega – Italian. A fun and casual atmosphere. Chef Michael Chiarello does a fantastic job with Italian fare. Great place to relax and have comfort food after a long day of wine-tasting. Relaxing outdoor patio. Located in Yountville.
Bouchon – French. Tom Keller’s elegant, white-table cloth restaurant, and a notch down from the fru-fru French Laundry cousin in town, and you’ll swear you are in Paris. Romantic. Staff was very attentive. Extensive list of French wine (along with Napa wines) as well as a long list of fromage choices. Located in Yountville.
Cook – Italian. Simple restaurant. Good, solid rich Northern Italian cuisine. Relaxed atmosphere. Located in St. Helena.
Farmstead – Seasonal American. You feel like you are back home in the country, with large portions, and hearty food. Most (if not all) ingredients are grown locally and organic, making everything very fresh and delicious. Lively atmosphere, can be very casual. Great outdoor seating area, and they make a very strong cocktail! ☺ Located in St. Helena.
Gott’s Roadside – Burgers. Oh. My. God. There will be a long line, and yes, it’s worth the wait. Don’t worry, the line actually goes pretty quickly. Don’t be surprised to see people having their burger with a $100 bottle of wine next to you. That’s how Napa rolls. Located in St. Helena.
Oakville Grocery – Sandwiches/refreshments. You’ll step back in time when you walk through the doors. Everything is fresh, made to order, and the proportions are usually more than you can eat in one meal. Stop by to grab a sandwich in between wine tastings, and find a picnic table at the next winery to enjoy your meal. It’s the oldest continual grocery store in the state of California. Located in St. Helena.
Press – Steak/Seafood. If you are looking for a staple, this is about as close to a Dallas steakhouse as you will get. Atmosphere can either be fun and noisy, or elegant and quiet, depending on the time/day you are there. Located in St. Helena.
No need to tip the people who pour you the wine. If you pay for a tasting, do not feel obligated to buy any if you do not like it. If you do not, then buy at least a bottle, or a trinket in the gift shop. Also do not feel obligated in any circumstance to join a vinyard's wine club.