Napa Valley is Northern California’s most famous wine region. Endless wineries brewing smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, jammy Zinfandel and oak aged Chardonnay are set amongst a backdrop of hillside vineyards. Expert sommeliers swirl, survey and sip their creations as guests are invited in to sample some of the finest wines in the world.
At the heart of the region is the charming town of Napa. Boasting cosy lodgings, quaint bakeries and fine dining restaurants, it’s the ideal place to relax after a day of tastings.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the cute and cosy Napa River Inn, a small B&B tucked away at the end of Main Street. The rooms were spacious, the bed was super comfy and they delivered a basket of fresh bakeries to our room every morning for breakfast. I can think of worse ways to wake up! Prices from £330 per night including breakfast.
Where to eat
A small market with a wide range of delicious food from oysters to barbeque options, this is a great place to grab a bite to eat and soak up some of that vino – or wash your meal down with another glass! They have bars offering wine and beer tasting if you’d like to wet your whistle during your lunch.
An upmarket dive bar, complete with wooden benches, a stag’s head mounted on the wall, and a classic rock soundtrack to boot, this is one of my favourite restaurants in Napa. We chowed down on brisket sandwiches and cheese plates, washed down with one of their wine flights, and a delicious bread pudding to finish.
A group tour
This is definitely my preferred way to explore Napa Valley. We’ve done two wine tours – with Platypus Tours and Green Dream Bus Tours – and both experiences were amazing. I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not the biggest wine buff, so if like me, you love wine but don’t really know that much about it (other than it comes from a bottle and is red, white or pink) a group tour is the way to go.
Priced at around $110 for a full day including tastings and lunch, a dedicated guide will pick you up from your hotel (some even travel out to San Francisco for collections) and take you on a whistlestop tour of some of the best wineries Napa has to offer. As clean and comfortable buses (stocked with endless supplies of water) drive you from winery to winery, the guide will explain the climate of Napa, the best spots to eat in town and tour you around 4-5 wineries, each its own unique personality. In my experience, the smaller wineries like Judd’s Hill and Rutherford Ranch give the best, most personal tour and offer a little something extra – like pairing their wines with chocolate and barbeque sauce (trust me, it works)!
Group tours are a fun way to learn more about wine making whilst also getting to meet some new people. Groups are usually around 8-10 people in size and with the wine flowing, you’ll leave with lots of fun memories, and some new mates in tow.
Although I’d highly recommend booking a guided tour, seasoned wine experts may prefer to head to the many tasting rooms in Napa Valley.
How it works
Tasting rooms are open to everyone (over 21 only) and are small showroom-style bars with a few tables and chairs laid out. Guests can pick a selection of wines from the menu to taste at their own leisure – usually around $30-$70 for a flight (3 small glasses of wine). We visited Vermeil wines and ended up buying two bottles to take home, but there are many more to pick from – ranging from the relaxed to more formal.
It’s entirely possible to do a self-guided tour of Napa’s wineries and many hotels are equipped with maps and bikes to help you along your way. Whilst this isn’t something I’ve done before, it’s a great option for the more seasoned wine expert as it allows you to select your favourite wineries and travel around at your own pace. Pick your favourite mode of transport – bicycle or car (designated driver essential) – and make your way from vineyard to vineyard.
Ok, so I know I said three ways, but there is a fourth way to sample the many wines of Napa Valley. A wine train! Get dressed up in your finest, sit back and let the knowledgeable waiters serve you delicious California cuisines with their expert wine pairings.
Napa may take its wine seriously, but it sure knows how to have fun. It’s a brilliant area of California to visit if you get the chance. You’ll leave knowing how to taste wine (no more awkward moments when you’re asked to taste at a restaurant hurrah!), your wine questions answered, and if you’re anything like me, your suitcase will be 5 bottles of wine heavier.