My wife and I have had the opportunity to visit Napa three times in a little over two years. After visiting a number of wineries, we can say without fail that:
Silver Oak, Cakebread, and Hall are hands down the best wineries we’ve tried in Napa, with Domaine Chandon coming in a close fourth. Over the course of this time, we’ve noticed a few key things that can help enhance the overall experience without breaking the bank.
1. Don’t be afraid to split a tasting
Just because you’re in Napa doesn’t mean that every winery is good. Just like people, some wineries have got great looks, but lack “personality”. We started our day at Mondavi, which is a well known name and beautiful property, but the wine tasting was not the best. Thankfully my wife and I split a tasting.
2. Napa doesn’t love groups/It’s all about who you know
Imagine calling a winery in 2015, telling them that you have 25 wine enthusiasts who are eager to do a tasting and will likely buy 2-3 bottles each (you do the math). Only to have said establishment say… “no thanks.” This is what my wife experienced when she called Cakebread prior to our 2015 group trip and was told that they could not accommodate a group of that size at any time, regardless of advance notice. Fast forward to last weekend, where we visited Cakebread with a wine club member, and inquired about their policy on groups, only have to have them say, “Sure, here’s a dedicated line for you to call.”
3. Schedule your trip to Napa around a friend who has a wine club membership
Full disclosure: If the younger me, who genuinely debated over spending an extra 39 cents to supersize his extra value meal, found out that he’d one day write a Napa blog… He’d likely say “who is Napa?”
Yes, I feel like I should be giving this piece of advice while sipping from a teacup with a raised pinky, but there are actually more Napa wine club members out there than you think. When visiting with a wine club member, we tasted a different quality of wines and had a better overall experience. Our first visit to Napa was nice, but it’s always better with a wine club member. Oh, and the tasting was free. That helps.
4. Drop into Dean & Deluca
We walked into Dean & Deluca and I remembered why you rarely see markets like this in the big city. We ordered a massive sandwich and they just handed it to us. At the cheese counter, they gave out tastings of Midnight Moon, Cambozola, Manchango, and other cheeses for pairing. By the time the lady handing out samples said, “You should really try the Etorki.” I honestly wondered, “Did someone just advise me to start twerking?” I mean that … might.. increase our Instagram following, but Not Like This!
A brief stop here set us up with a good number of snacks to bring to our next winery (some wineries allow you to bring outside food if they don’t serve or have a picnic area.) Before we walked out, I ended up actively seeking out a way to pay for my goods since they were so low key about it. In the back of my mind, I thought back to comedian Roy Wood Jr’s sage advice of (always get a bag/receipt)
5. Find those who share your “Wine synergy”
Many of us have that friend that you hand over the wine menu at dinner and say, “you pick,” without a second thought. You know that they have great taste and you share a “wine synergy.” When planning a trip to Napa, you may receive a wide range of opinions on where to visit. We all have a co-worker, who knows somebody’s uncle who, “Just opened a great winery.” Don’t waste your time on a place that could be a bust, take advice from those you trust.
6. Quality is a numbers game
Unless Napa’s in your backyard, since you’re making the journey, you should go for what has the best quality. A typical wine tasting ranges from $20-$45 per person. If the average person goes to three to four wineries in a day, make your choices count. For the tasting at Hall Winery, the bottle price ranges from $65-$175 dollars. When do you think your local wine store is going to open up a $175 bottle for you to have “a taste?”
I’ve come a long way from debating the cost of supersizing my value meal. This last trip to Napa was amazing and I can’t wait to go back. What can I say…started from the bottle, now we’re here.