A Day In Napa

I love living in New York City, but love travel as well. Over the past decade I have become more and more enamored with California – such a delicious change from NYC! Most of my trips to California have been to So Cal, although I have been to San Francisco several times and once enjoyed a delightful drive along the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles. However, until recently I had never gone to an area I have always had on my desired travel list – Napa Valley. And I love wine! I have no idea why it took me so long, but a few months ago I finally did it, even spending a birthday visiting three wineries and experiencing tastings. Was it worth it? Spoiler alert: a thousand times yes! I’ll post photos of what I did in case it inspires you to make such a trip. It also allows me to relive the experience until I can get back there.

My companion (my daughter!) and I drove to Napa from San Francisco (this was a side trip as part of a longer vacation in SF). The first day there we walked from our hotel (River Terrace Inn) along First Street and enjoyed walking into shops as well as visiting two tasting rooms. Vineyard 29 tasting room had a cool elegant vibe, delicious wines to taste, and gorgeous comfy green velvet couches to lounge on while tasting.

Mayacamas Tasting Room was a nice atmospheric change from Vineyard 29 – this felt a little darker, like being in the cellar at a winery. Our server spent a lot of time discussing the qualities of the soil and the process of fermentation.

Despite a foggy day, cocktails at the Archer Hotel Sky + Vine Rooftop Bar provided a wonderful way to start winding down. The Archer Hotel also has the delicious Charlie Palmer Steakhouse for a hearty dinner to balance out all the alcohol!

The next morning it was my birthday, and time to head out into the vineyards on what was a spectacularly clear and sunny day. It is possible, but unlikely, that you can get a day-of wine tasting at the most popular wineries, so my recommendation is to reserve well in advance (several months is not too soon!). Tastings are never free, but trust me, the experience will be worth the cost. We had a fairly hearty breakfast, and then our first Uber driver arrived. As an aside, there are several choices for transportation to wineries. You can of course take your own car, but unless someone in your group is abstaining from the tastings, this is not a safe option. You can hire someone to drive your car all day for you, or hire a car and driver for the day, or use ride share apps individually from each stop. The first two of those options are pricey, and the third can lead to delays if you can’t find an Uber/Lyft right away and you have your next appointment coming up. My daughter, who for my birthday gift had reserved all the tastings (keeping our itinerary a surprise!), also pre-booked Ubers to fit our schedule and it was the perfect solution. Each driver was waiting for us every time we finished at one place and were ready to go to the next.

The first stop of the day was Silverado Vineyards, founded by Ron and Diane Miller and her mother Lillian Disney (Walt’s wife) and still run by third and fourth generations of the family. This was a gorgeous estate, and after being welcomed with a glass of rose’ we had a few photos taken on the terrace overlooking the vineyards. Then we went into the tasting room, which had the vibe of a luxe yet cozy club, with a roaring fire, and a private table next to a window looking over the vineyards. The initial tasting was set, but over the course of the tasting our guide spent a lot of time discovering our personal taste and bringing us additional selections. I loved it here and was sad to go. I did order some wine to be shipped home, and it arrived surprisingly quickly (in less than a week).

The next appointment was for Stag’s Leap, the winery that put Napa on the international stage when its Cabernet Sauvignon won the judgement of Paris in a blind taste test in the 1970’s. Caution: be careful to look for Stag’s Leap rather than Stags’ Leap if you want the famous Cab! We heard the interesting story of the legend of the notch in the surrounding hills and the white stag that leapt over it, as well as the litigation that led to the decision that the area is named based on this legend and so it was not possible for Stag’s Leap to prevent another vineyard from using a deceptively close name. Since then, the two vineyards have become friendly and even released a joint wine named the Accord. Stags’ Leap makes a great Petite Syrah, but if you are looking for the Cab that beat French Bordeaux when no one believed the United States could make a world-class wine, you want Stag’s Leap.

The Fay tasting room is on ground level, so rather than looking off to the vineyards, you are looking directly at their Fay vineyard. Stag’s Leap has two areas with very different soil and drainage, S.L.V. and Fay. The tasting includes selections from both, including Heart of Fay, from the vines you are looking directly at. Our guide allowed us to go outside and walk to the edge of the vineyard while holding a glass, and it was wonderful to have that sense of place, tasting the end result of a process that started on the very ground you stand upon.

Our final stop of the day was Darioush. I loved how each of the vineyards we visited that day had a unique feeling and created a different experience. The exterior of Darioush feels like being in a fabulous European ruin! We were given a taste to enjoy while standing out among the vines, and then headed through cellars where barrels of wine were aging, into rooms with some of the owner’s acquisitions of great bottles from vintages around the world, and finally into an underground cozy room where we had a wine and cheese pairing. This was one of many different kinds of experiences offered at Darioush, and I truly enjoyed learning about the various pairings and how the right wine and cheese pairing compliments the experience of both.

What a splendid day, and an extremely memorable and enjoyable birthday! What took me so long to go to Napa? Don’t delay as I did if you enjoy wine and gorgeous surroundings. I definitely look forward to going back, as well as to trying Sonoma and perhaps even the Williamette Valley in Oregon for Pinot Noir tastings! Robert Louis Stevenson said “Wine is bottled poetry,” and who doesn’t want to drink a poem every now and then?

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