Falling in Love with Napa
One of my many New Year's resolutions is to be more content in the present. It has been a resolution every year since I can remember due to my tendency to always be looking towards the future. I have a bad (or good, depending on who you ask) habit of always looking to the next thing, usually looking forward to what trip I can plan next. As I sit drinking my coffee this morning, I realized that the first half of my year of trips is somewhat planned out - but I don't have anything planned for the Fall!!! Woe is me. (I also realize this makes me sound super bratty, but my passion is travel. I don't splurge on fancy cars, clothes, or material items specifically because my priority has, and always will be, travel. I also don't have children so I am taking advantage of this responsibility-less time of my life.)
This got me thinking about some of my favorite fall trips that I have taken in the past, which brings me to today's post. My friend's parents decided to surprise her for her birthday and plan a trip to Napa with all of her friends. I remember excitedly waking her up at 6am to help her pack for our flight that she knew nothing about! Still a bit queasy from birthday celebrations the night before, she rushed around and kept asking if we were pranking her. Little did she know her parents had everything all planned out!
We stayed at a lovely hotel that was close to all of the most popular vineyards and wineries. Next time I go, I would like to find a Homeaway or Airbnb as they always feel more homey and allow for at-home cooking - great for saving some money on meals while allowing you to splurge on a nice dinner here or there. A quick note about transportation, some of the wineries are quite far apart so I would absolutely suggest either joining a tour group, or simply taking Uber or a taxi to all destinations. It is simply better to be able to enjoy every tasting without compromising safety. Luckily, my friend's mom was the designated driver for us the whole trip so we could all safely imbibe.
We grabbed a quick breakfast and some coffee at the Oxbow Public Market, which has numerous restaurants, shops, wineries, coffee shops, etc all inside one open market. There is also a local farmer's market outside on certain days as well. We tasted different olive oils dipped in bread, smelled gorgeous hand-made local soaps, ate some sample cookies, and sipped on our coffees while strolling along. A full list of companies represented at the market is listed on their website (link above).
*Disclosure : the photos below are a mix of my silly iPhone photos and a friends photos from the trip. I didn't have my camera at the time :)
After fueling up, the ladies were ready for our first tasting of the day!
Cakebread Cellars was our first stop. We were all a little green on how to act at a tasting, so of course we all tried to act as fancy as possible - pretending that we knew everything about the "notes" and "tanins" that we were taking in. The Somm was very friendly and knowledgeable as he gave us tasting after tasting of the incredible Cakebread whites and reds. These were by far my favorite wines of all - so I ended up going back and purchasing a few bottles for friends and family.
We had the most fun at the Robert Mondavi Winery. We had a fantastic private tasting in the barrel room underground which made for a really cool experience - they had vintage wines from every year since the winery's conception! The Somm went out of his way to provide a super entertaining experience, letting us climb on the barrels to take pictures and letting us eat some grapes fresh off the vine in the vineyard. Their grounds are expansive and have a lot of interesting history: they established the Napa winery in 1966 and are renowned for their Cabernet Sauvignon.
We were all getting a bit hungry at this point - luckily my friend's parents had pre-ordered lunches to pick up at California's oldest continually running grocery store, Oakville Grocery. An absolute must see! They have a phenomenal selection of gourmet foods, cheeses, espresso, and other local hand-made items. Such an adorable vintage vibe. We grabbed our lunches and headed to our picnic venue : Rutherford Hill Winery.
We had an incredible view for our picnic lunch on the hilltop at Rutherford Hill Winery. They are dedicated to making a merlot that is similar to those found in Bordeaux, France (my all-time favorite!). What I like about Rutherford (besides the incredible view and delicious wine of course) is their efforts towards sustainability : they are 100% solar-powered! They even have owl boxes in their winery to help naturally control the rodent population. Check out their page dedicated to sustainability practices on their website. They are helping to set a standard in wine-making for future sustainable practices.
After our picturesque lunch, we headed to our last stop of the day - Mumm Napa. At this point, we are all a bit tipsy from the day's tastings and we probably had a bit too much fun at this tasting. We kept having to shush each others' giggling as the Somm walked us through the expansive winery. Mumm's is technically a "sparkling wine", as anything outside of Champagne, France is "not" champagne. However, Mumm roots back to G.H. Mumm, a leading champagne brand in France - they take pride in their French techniques and heritage. This was by far the longest, and most in depth tour of the day - therefore I suggest going at the beginning of the day when everyone is fresh and has a longer attention span. The sparkling wine-making process is different than regular wine, so it is an interesting experience to learn about the techniques used. It is also super delicious so we refilled at every check point :) Needless to say, not many pictures were taken at this point in the day (probably a good thing). Overall, I would absolutely go back to this particular winery.
Four wine tastings is the most I would suggest doing in one day - otherwise you end up getting quite tipsy and grow a bit weary of the process. Two or three would probably be best.
After all of our tastings we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our big dinner at Brix. Our reservations were in the Reserve Wine Cellar (bring a jacket!) at the end of the dining room. Our meal and service were spectacular - it was definitely a splurge if you're looking for a romantic and high-end restaurant. A Master Somm guided us through more tastings as we dined on appetizer after appetizer of farm-to-table bites. The term "brix" actually refers to the measurement of sugar content in grapes and actually determines how much alcohol the wine will have at finish.
We had an incredibly whirl-wind trip to Napa for my first time. If I go back this fall, I should like to do things a bit differently. I will definitely look to stay in a Homeaway and would love to visit a few more mom-and-pop wineries instead of just the larger, more famous wineries. Although sometimes the more touristy places are fun to check off the list for a first time visit!
Please leave suggestions in the comments for smaller wineries I should visit this fall!
Kat - Wander life