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During the September long weekend, I embarked on my first journey to beautiful Napa Valley Wine Country in Napa County, California – a haven for wine drinkers and foodies alike.
After a tiring volleyball tournament weekend in San Francisco, we rented a car and embarked on our journey. We traveled up and down the hilly streets of San Fran, through Lombard Street’s multiple zig-zags, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and through to the notably gorgeous Napa Valley for the day.
The drive to Napa was unforgettable: endless hills of vineyards that glistened and sparkled in the Californian sun (some vineyards attach silver shimmering cards to their vines to keep birds away). We visited the Robert Mondavi Winery where the green fields of vines were stunning, the vineyard’s architecture was classical seaside Mediterranean, the walkways were deeply serene, and the 2005 Moscato D’Oro was like honey to our lips.
So the next time you’re in California or the surrounding area – don’t forget to take the unforgettable journey through to Napa Valley and Sonoma County for some of the best wine the New World has to offer.
About Napa Valley
Napa Valley is an area in Napa County that has been designated as an American Viticultural Area because of its optimal geographical and climate conditions for vineyards. It dates back to the mid 1800’s and is the most popular tourist destination in California today after Disneyland with 4.7 million visitors annually.
Currently, there are over 200 wineries within 30 miles, as well as hotels, spas, bed and breakfasts, golf courses, wedding facilities, and world class restaurants in the area. The Napa Valley Wine Region is about 50 miles north east from San Francisco, a little closer than Sonoma County, another world-celebrated wine growing district. The drive from San Francisco is approximately 90 minutes without traffic delays and it’s a good idea to leave earlier (9 or 10am) rather than later.
5 Tips for Wine Tasting Tours in Napa Valley, California
1) Aim to Visit Three Wineries per Day.
If you’re really keen, you can try four to five – so that you can really sit and appreciate the beauty that is the wine grown in the Napa region – and of course, the unmissable scenery. You don’t want to have to worry about rushing from place to place, but take the time to snack a little while you taste. Surprisingly, too much wine tasting in one day can be a sense-overwhelming experience – everything will taste the same by the end of the day!
2) Wine Tasting Etiquette.
Swirl, sniff, sip (and spit, if you’re a real taster). Appreciate the beauty and the intricate nature of the wine you’re about to taste – and don’t be afraid to be honest with the wine-tasting professional about what you think of ask any questions about the way the wine is produced. They will be able to better gauge what you like and your experience will be that much better. Most vineyards are extremely welcoming and are flexible in what they charge: $10 for a glass and three wine tasting choices. You’re not required to buy any wine but when you’re at the vineyard but it’s usually a little cheaper than if you buy from the store and vineyards usually have stock that aren’t offered at stores. Here’s a tip: if you buy a few bottles, the vineyard reps usually give you the tastings for free.
3) Gourmet Food & Fine Dining.
A few of the Top 50 Restaurants in the World, as rated by Restaurant Magazine as well as The Michelin Guide are situated in the Napa Valley area. One of these is “The French Laundry” by Chef Thomas Keller, and is found in Yountville. Reservations are required and are available up to 2 months in advance.
4) Winery or Vineyard Tours.
Most vineyards/wineries offer tours of their fields, cellars, historical buildings, and processing methods. It’s always fun and educational. You’ll learn about the history of that vineyard, its roots in producing wines, the wine types that it offer,, and the intricacy and labor that it takes to create a beautiful wine. California vineyards all have stories to tell because of its prohibition history, its heralded status as one of the top New World wine producers and more. I suggest you go for a walking tour at the first vineyard you visit, but not every one.
5) Group Tours & the Napa Valley Wine Train.
There are many tour operators that offer both individual and group tours throughout the vineyards, with both set and customizable itineraries. This is a great way for you to not have to worry about planning or driving from San Francisco or Sacramento, and allows you really enjoy some wine! Some vineyards like Diageo Chateau & Estates Wine offer Crush Camp for those interested in a weekend of real wine making activities.
The Napa Valley Wine Train departs from Napa and travels through the beautiful valleys to St. Helena. Throughout the ride, all aboard are offered the very best of Napa Valley’s wine and foods while they take in the scenery. Each car has its own theme and lunches and dinners also have themes like murder mystery and jazz.
Be sure to check your government or airport’s website to see what the limit is for bringing back alcohol or liquor from another country. If you’re willing to pay extra taxes, then find out how much you’ll have to pay for a certain quantity of wine. Some vineyards also offer to ship the wine to your residence for you. With the internet, it’s also easy to look online to see whether the wine label/type is being offered at your local wine store.
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