Napa Tips & Tricks

There were several different things that I looked into when I was planning our trip to Napa.  Below are some of the major questions that I had and what we ended up doing.

How should I get around Napa?

One of my main concerns on our trip was how we were going to get around Napa when we were visiting the different wineries.  We had some friends that had visited the year before us and they had rented a limo to drive them around.  We also knew of other friends that had driven themselves, but they were lucky and had a pregnant friend that drove them around.

I looked into renting a limo or hiring a driver drive our car to the different wineries, but they all were pretty expensive (about $50-$100 an hour it seemed like).  So the hubby and I ended up driving ourselves to the different wineries, and that worked well for us.  We didn’t cram too many tastings into each day, and the hubby (who is usually the driver on our road trips) also shared tastings with me and didn’t finish all of the wine that he tried.  All of this was to make sure that we were staying safe driving ourselves around.

Do I need reservations for tastings?

Certain wineries require reservations and others don’t.  Like I’ve said before I’m a major planner, so even if we were just doing a tasting and not a tour, but the winery had the option to set up a reservation for the tasting I booked it.  That way it was easier for me to plan where we were going.

If you’re not a planner, you can definitely get into any winery at any time for a tasting, but if you would like to do an actual tour, I would make a reservation.  I would recommend doing some research on what wineries you would want to visit and then decide if you would like to do a tour.

Do I need to stay in Napa?

If you’re planning on driving yourself, you definitely don’t need to stay in Napa.  The Napa Valley is made of several small cities that are very close together, and they’re all easy to get to.  We stayed in American Canyon which is farther south than Napa, which is only 10-15 minutes away by car.  But the 10-15 minute drive ended up saving us about $100/night for our hotel.  Definitely worth it in my book.

Should I bring anything with me to my tastings?

One of the smartest things that the hubby and I did before we started our 2 day tour of Napa was to run by the Wal-Mart the night before our trip and buy a cheap styrofoam cooler, a 24 pack of water, and some snacks.  We filled the cooler with ice from the hotel and that kept water bottles cold for us while we were driving around the Napa Valley.  This way we able to stay hydrated in between tastings, and we were also able to munch on snacks as well.  That’s probably the biggest recommendation that I can make, bring water and snacks with you, because after a day of drinking wine, you’ll be happy that you have it.

What wineries should I visit?

I think that the wineries that you decide to visit ultimately depend on what type of wines you like and the type of experience that you want to have.  We visited some of the bigger wineries in the area, and we didn’t get to stop into some of the more mom and pop type of wineries.  The reason that we chose the bigger wineries was because we had never been and I wanted us to have a “typical” Napa experience.  You might not want the same experience as us, so I would definitely recommend doing research and reading recommendations for the type of wineries that you’d like to visit.

I hope this helps a little with your planning for your trip to Napa!  My biggest recommendation is to plan, plan, plan, and you’ll have the best experience!

A California Castle

For our second day in Napa (you can read all about our Day 1 in Napa here), we had another full day of winery tours planned, which meant that we had another early start.  For our second day, we were starting farther north in Calistoga and making our way down towards Napa so we decided to have a quick breakfast at Starbucks before heading to our first stop.  (Chris and I also collect the Starbucks mugs from the different places that we visit, so we were also looking for the Napa Starbucks mug, but they didn’t have it.)

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

Castello di Amorosa

Our first winery tour of the day was at Castello di Amorosa, which is literally a medieval castle in the middle of the Napa Valley.  (Side Note: Castello di Amorosa is actually the sister winery of V Sattui that we visited the day before.  And like its sister winery, Castello di Amorosa doesn’t sell its wine in stores, you can only buy it at the winery.)  When you walk up to the castle you’re simply awestruck that somebody actually decided to build a castle and to put so much detail into it that you actually feel like you’re visiting a castle in Europe instead of in the good ole USofA.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The original Castello di Amorosa that the winery is based on.

Because this winery is so unique (it’s a freaking CASTLE!) I definitely recommend doing the tour.  The guides show you a lot of the different rooms that aren’t open to the self guided tours, and also give you the history of the winery.  One of the more exciting places that we got to see on the tour was the wine caves and the dungeon under the castle (yes, they actually have a torture chamber with legit torture devices from medieval times).  Another interesting part of the tour, before the actual tasting, is a barrel tasting.  We got to try a 2013 cabernet that had been in the barrel for almost a year.  After that tasting, I can definitely understand why wine has to age before you want to drink it.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

All of the Halloween decorations they use during their annual Halloween event. Talk about something that would be super fun!

Overall, this was one of our favorite wineries that we visited, and not just for the amazing atmosphere.  The wine we had was fantastic, and we actually ended up ordering a whole case before we left.  Like I said previously, I would definitely recommend the guided tour and not just the self guided tour and tasting because you get to see so much more with the tour guides.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

Beringer Brothers Winery

After our amazing stop at Castello di Amorosa, we made our way south to the Beringer Brothers Winery.  Beringer is one of the oldest wineries in the area, so I definitely knew that I wanted to include it as one of our stops in Napa.  The Beringer Brothers who started the winery were from Germany, and you could see the German influence immediately upon driving up to the winery.  The Rhine House was the house of one of the brothers and it is absolutely stunning.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

We decided to do the Taste of Beringer tour, and overall we enjoyed it.  It wasn’t as good as the Castello di Amorosa tour, but the guide gave us a a great history of the winery and Napa as well.  The tasting that was included with the tour was of 3 of their wines that were paired with different types of foods, something salty, something sour, and something sweet.  Our guide let us try the different wines with the different types of food, and it was very interesting to see how the wines changed with the different flavors.  We really loved the wine from Beringer, but decided to not buy any wine because we can find it at home.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

Cakebread Cellars

Our next stop was Cakebread Cellars for a tasting.  (Side Note: We had planned on eating lunch at Gott’s Roadside Diner in between tasting, but we ended up running out of time because of the reservation times for our tastings.  I was really bummed because from everything that I had read online, it was supposed to be fantastic.  I guess this is just another reason to go back!)

Cakebread is another very well known winery in the Napa valley that we decided to visit.  Overall, the wine was very good, but it just wasn’t our favorite tasting.  Our server was very nice, but after visiting Castello di Amorosa and Beringer before we were just underwhelmed.  We did end up buying a bottle of wine that we fell in love with because it was an exclusive bottle to the winery in Napa that you couldn’t find in stores.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

Peju

We had a couple of hours to kill before we had to be back in Napa for our trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train, so we pulled off and split a tasting at Peju.  I had read great reviews online about Peju, and we were not disappointed.  We were able to immediately walk in for a tasting, and our server was fantastic!  We had a great time talking to him and the other people that we were tasting with.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

All of the wineries had such beautiful flowers, and I loved them!

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

Overall, this was one of our favorite tastings and wines, and I would definitely recommend it as a great place to do a tasting.  We didn’t know if we could buy Peju wine in Texas (which we were very pleasantly surprised when we were able to find it at home) so we ended up buying a bottle of wine there as well.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

Napa Valley Wine Train

After Peju we made our way into Napa for our trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train.  The Napa Valley Wine Train has two tours every day, one at lunch and one at dinner.  We opted for the dinner tour because I didn’t want the train to cut into our visits of other wineries in the area.  Also, during the summer, the dinner train gives you amazing views of the Napa Valley during sunset.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California CastleThe train divides the passengers into two groups, one group eats appetizers and dinner in the dining car before moving to one of the lounge car, while the second group eats appetizers in the lounge car before moving into the dining car for dinner and dessert.  We were lucky and ate dinner first and then enjoyed dessert in the lounge car.

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California CastleOverall, the food was good on the train, but definitely not up to the same caliber as other restaurants in the Napa area.  And although the food wasn’t the best, we really enjoyed the experience.  Driving through the Napa Valley was amazing, and watching the sunset over the vineyards was the best part of the train trip.  But would we do it again?  Probably not.

 

 

 

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

Celebrating the husband’s birthday which was in a few day!

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

After another wine tasting filled day, we were very exhausted and ready to go back to the hotel for some much needed rest.  The next day we were headed up to Lake Tahoe for a two days and it was going to be a pretty decent drive to get there.

Check back next time to learn about our time in Lake Tahoe!

Other Napa Posts:

Life Isn’t Always Diamonds and Rose…
Napa Tips & Tricks
10 Best Destinations For A Girls Trip

Pin It!The Wandering Weekenders- A California Castle

Life Isn’t Always Diamonds and Rosé…

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

But it should be! Thanks Lisa Vanderpump for the perfect Housewives tagline to describe our first day in Napa! We had two full days to spend in Napa, and I have to admit, this was the part of the vacation that I was looking forward to the most. (Hello, drinking wine all day!)

Breakfast

We started off our morning with some fresh coffee and scones from Bouchon Bakery, Thomas Keller’s bakery in Yountville. The line was seriously out the door as soon as we arrived, but it was worth the wait. Chris got a chocolate cherry scone and I got a bacon cheddar scone, although everything else that they had available looked delicious. We also decided to grab some macarons for later (which of course were wonderful).

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

Domaine Chandon

After breakfast, we were ready to begin our winery tours (yes we started drinking wine at around 10 in the morning, but hey, when in Napa right?). Our first stop was just across the highway in Yountville at Domaine Chandon, a sparkling winery (only sparkling wine from the Champagne region in France can be called Champagne). We did the étoile prestige tour and tasting, which runs daily at 10:30 each morning. With the tour we got a behind the scenes tour of the making of Chandon’s sparking wine as well as a tasting of their étoile sparkling wines.

I’ve never been the biggest sparkling wine drinker, but after this tour, I know that it’s only because I’ve never had a decent sparkling wine. Chandon wine was absolutely divine, and I have to admit the hubs and I will buy a bottle of Chandon’s brute or rosé and drink it on the regular (we didn’t realize that we could find all levels of Chandon in Texas so we ended up buying a couple of bottles here). Overall, we really enjoyed the tour and especially enjoyed the tasting. I would definitely recommend stopping here, mainly because there just aren’t that many sparkling wineries in Napa, and it’s something different to try.

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

V Sattui

After we finished our tasting and a little exploring at Chandon, we made our way north towards St. Helena to V Sattui. V Sattui is known for having a deli with all sorts of sandwiches, meats and cheeses, and other picnic items (they also serve BBQ on the weekends), so it’s the perfect place to stop for lunch and a glass of wine (of course!) before doing a tasting or heading on to another tour. When we arrived, it was crowded, but not nearly as crowded as I though that it would be, AKA we were able to find a parking spot without any issues. We made our way to the deli and split a sandwich and some pasta salad outside so we could enjoy the beautiful California weather. There were a ton of picnic tables and benches, and we didn’t have any issues finding somewhere to sit.

After lunch, we headed inside to their tasting room to do their standard tasting. The tasting room was way more chaotic than the deli or the picnic area, and we had a little bit of issue finding a spot at the bar to stand. With V Sattui’s tasting you can choose any 6 wines that you would like to taste, so Chris and I each tried 6 different wines so that we ended up tasting a total of 12 wines. The wine was very good, but we opted to not buy any. V Sattui’s wine is only available at the winery in Napa, so if you fall in love with their wine, buy it before you leave.

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

Chris obviously really loves the action shots.

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

Grgich Hills

We finished lunch and our tasting at V Sattui faster than we had originally anticipated, so we had about 2 hours to kill before our next scheduled tasting at Sterling. Some of our friends that had visited Napa a year ago recommended that we try out Grgich Hills because it’s the winery that is known for putting Napa on the map. In a blind tasting in 1976, French judges selected the chardonnay that Mike Grgich had made as the overall winner of the tasting, beating out the most prestigious of French wines.

Grgich Hills was very close to V Sattui so we headed over there for a quick tasting.  Grgich had an indoor tasting room as well as an outdoor patio, and we opted for the basic tasting on the patio. The weather was beautiful, and we really enjoyed relaxing on the patio and with a glass of wine. (FYI, if you decide to do the Napa Valley Wine Train, there is a stop here and you can do a tour and/or tasting). After we finished our tasting we walked around the grounds a little bit and took some pictures before heading to our last stop of the day. Overall, Grgich Hills was a nice, relaxing, surprise stop at one of Napa’s more historical wineries.

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And RoséThe Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

Sterling Vineyards

Our last and final stop on our winery tour for the day was at Sterling Vineyards, so we headed north to Calistoga for our last tour and tasting of the day. (Fun Fact of the Day: The further north you get in Napa Valley the warmer it gets. I know it’s completely opposite of what you would think! Apparently, the Napa Valley is exactly like a chimney and all of the warm air gets funneled to the north. This is one of the reasons why the Napa Valley can grow so many types of grapes too, I think.)

Anyways, Sterling is one of the biggest producers of wine from the Napa Valley, which is probably why Sterling is one of the most visited wineries in the area. One of the things that Sterling is known for is the Tram ride up to the winery that gives you the most spectacular views of the Napa Valley. We opted for the Sterling Silver Experience, which gives you the tram ride to the top, the basic tour and tasting, and then another tasting of some of their reserve wines.

I think that our favorite part about this winery was the amazing views from the top of Napa Valley. Overall the tour was ok, but because it was self-guided, I don’t think we enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed the Chandon tour from the morning. Of course the wine was delicious, but we didn’t buy any bottles because, you can most likely buy a bottle at home from your local grocery store.

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

Our favorite views were of Castella di Amorosa “The Castle.” I’ll talk about our visit there in the next post.

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

I loved this cute little house in the middle of the vineyard.

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

A view of the tram.

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

Dinner

After our last tour of the day, we were very much in need of some food! Napa Valley is known for having some of the most amazing restaurants in the country, and I can’t tell you how much research I did to try and find the perfect places for dinner without completely breaking the bank (AKA going to probably the most delicious, and most expensive, dinner of our lives at the French Laundry). After lots of researching on Pinterest, I found out that Morimoto had a restaurant in Napa, and I knew that’s where I wanted to go. The hubby and I are big fans of sushi, both traditional and “contemporary”, so I knew that this would be a real treat to have sushi at an Iron Chef’s restaurant.

With dinner I had a glass of sparkling rosé (because we had learned from our tour at Chandon that morning that rose pairs perfectly with sushi) while the hubby opted for sake. For dinner, we ordered the chef’s selection of sushi as our main course, and believe me, we were not disappointed in the least. We ate every last piece of that sushi, and it was some of freshest, most delicious sushi we’d ever had.

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

Before…

The Wandering Weekenders- Life Isn't Always Diamonds And Rosé

After

After we finished eating our weight in sushi, we pretty much rolled out of the restaurant and headed back to the hotel. We had an amazing, and very busy, first day in Napa, and we needed some much needed rest before we started on Day 2.

Other Napa Posts:

A California Castle
Napa Tips & Tricks
10 Best Destinations For A Girls Trip

Pin It!

Life Isn't Always Diamonds & Rosé- A first day itinerary for Napa for a first timer. Wineries include Domaine Chandon, V Sattui, Grgich Hills, & Sterling

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