Napa Valley: Three-and-a-Half Days of Wine, Food, and more Wine

by jitgarcia
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Behind every successful trip, there’s a person with an Excel itinerary to the minute, worthy of Monica Geller’s approval.
This is the story of such a trip, and such an itinerary (Monica, we made you proud).

Robert Mondavi Winery

THE PLACE

Napa Valley is an American Viticultural Area located in California’s Wine Country and it’s regarded as a top wine region globally, with over 500 wineries. Its Mediterranean mix of terroir sets it up for quality grape-growing success.

THE TIME

According to the locals, the best time to visit Napa is during Harvest Season (August through October). The caveat: expect high prices and crowded scenes.

A local blog shares insights about visiting during other times of the year e.g. Avoiding the crowds from December through March or leveraging the cultural scene during May and June.

THE TRIP

Before I continue, I must disclaim that the Napa Valley Experience was one of the stops of our California Road trip Honeymoon.

When planning for it, we weren’t considering a “once in a lifetime” adventure, nor going somewhere we’d “never go back”. We were looking to have an amazing time, doing something we both enjoy, and something we’re both terrible at: RELAXING.

All was planned to avoid needing a vacation, from our vacation. And this road trip gave us exactly that.

ARRIVAL

After a seven-hour flight from Panama City, Panama, we landed in San Francisco. We spent the weekend there and on Sunday, drove the 117 kms to Napa.

DAY ONE

I had booked all tastings many months in advance and crafted the agenda around specific ones that occurred at specific times and dates (I should print and frame that masterpiece of a schedule).

So, when we arrived in Napa, our first stop wasn’t the hotel (a beautiful Embassy Suites that I’ll praise later), it was Inglenook Vineyard. Its history dates back to 1842, and its most notable fact: it’s owned by six-time Academy Award-winning director, Francis Ford Coppola.

Inglenook Vineyard was all one (who has never been, like ourselves) expects of a vineyard.

As I write this, I remember that this-is-the-life-I-deserve feeling while stepping into this greenery-covered chateau and tasting that first glass of crisp white wine, that was handed to me by a very elegant, model-looking blonde hostess, while we waited to be seated to our  Heritage Tasting.

I captured this before we left.

I am not doing it justice. #whataview

THE HOTEL

We chose this Embassy Suites out of recommendation from friends. The food wasn’t great but somebody put in quite the design and landscaping effort to make us feel like we were staying at the extension of a winery.

DAY TWO
I woke up at 4am with an urge to check my email, and there it was: the cancellation of our balloon flight (slash crushing of a life-long dream).

Context:

We booked a hot-air-balloon flight when I learned it’s a common attraction considering Napa had the right conditions to make it a success. The company shuttle would pick us up by 5.30am, and by 6.20am we’d be mid-air.

Although the “subject to weather conditions” disclaimers across their website should have discouraged me – I had faith that the weather, just like the force, may be with us.

It started raining the night before, and I got a feeling. A feeling that the image in my mind of us ballooning away, was going to stay like that: an image in my mind.

Silver-lining? We got to sleep in, sneak in a work out and arrive earlier at our tasting.

The first stop of the day was Castello Di Amorosa where we arrived at around 11.45 am.

Since the tour didn’t start until 12.30pm, we strolled around and took the pictures. If you want the Tuscan castle experience in Napa, this is definitively one to check out.

I booked the Diamond Estate Tour & Reserve Wine Tasting and I would book it again tomorrow. Not an overstatement.

Even if it this wasn’t my #1 choice (it is my husband’s though, and it’s my #2) this experience boasts a unique mix of: castle tour hosted by an entertaining, fun (and funny) ‘wine educator’, who doubled as master storyteller and who had an interesting sense of humor that both my husband and I deeply enjoyed and appreciated; and an extremely thorough wine tasting (six wines each, so we could taste 12 different wines between the both of us), with wines that we adored. It was the only other vineyard where we purchased bottles to bring home.

Ten out of 10? No. Eleven out of 10.
Castello’s tour only happened at lunch time, so after this magnificent tasting of the wines, we were starving. Our restaurant choice, Brasswood Bar & Kitchen, was so good that it made me think that all places in Napa must be good by default, considering we found it thanks to a mix of proximity (to our next stop) and average customer reviews.

What we enjoyed:

Heirloom Tomatoes + Homemade Bread and Mozzarella

Brasswood Ribeye Burger

Herb Infused Pappardelle & Short Rib Sugo

Strawberry Shortcake

If you’re not salivating right now, then we can’t continue this conversation.


DAY THREE

We arrived at Schramsberg Vineyards (The Mothership of Sparkling Wines and my #1) at 10.30am.

Its history dates back over 150 years.

We took the All Sparkling Experience – beautifully executed.
Our guide was super knowledgeable on the vineyard history, the Méthode Traditionelle (process by which “all Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wines are made”) and I didn’t get BS vibes from him (and I like to think my BS-o-Meter is still sharp). All felt pretty honest and straight forward during the tour and the tasting.

After I stepped down from cloud nine and snapped out of the sparkling spell, we stopped for lunch.

The only description I can share for Rutherford Grill is this: fall-off-the-bone roasted poultry and beef, and mouthwatering, cheesy, oven-baked vegetarian sides. I had a generous glass of that bubbly Brut Rosé (a.k.a. elixir of the goddesses) and he had what looks like a good serving of Pinot.

If I had to pick one image to capture our Napa experience, this would be it.

Robert Mondavi Winery was the third stop and last tasting tour of the day. This experience fulfilled my (movie and pop culture referenced) expectations on what a vineyard tour would be like.

We took the Signature Tour and Tasting – pretty straight forward. I don’t recall getting a welcome glass of wine, which would have been appreciated upon stepping into a room for an insightful storytelling moment on Mr. Mondavi and his estate.

Gorgeous space. There’s a restaurant area with an outdoor terrace overlooking the property. Talk about extraordinary views.
It closed at 5pm (about 30 minutes after our tour ended) so we breathed in that place through our eyes, and left.

DAY THREE AND A HALF

The Beringer Winery.

We arrived about 30 minutes before our scheduled time. So, we took pictures, and enjoyed the wine.

The Taste of Beringer Tour was so intimate, personable and deeply enjoyed. The tour around the estate felt close to home – which might sound strange coming from two people living in the tropics – but it did for some reason.

After our good-bye tasting at Beringer Winery we headed for lunch at Bounty Hunter.

If you go to Napa and are into slow-cooked, succulent poultry and beef, and are also into really witty-named wine, beer and spirit flights: please, do yourself (and your travel partner/s) the favor of stopping here.

Napa, you were a splendid host.

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