Disclaimer: These tasting experiences were provided to me free of cost as a member of the media.
There is no shortage of articles/blog posts related to the Napa Valley. BUT, I wanted to share a tested and approved Napa itinerary that I’d recommend to the wine novice and the wine geek alike. This itinerary has something for everyone. I visited the region in early Spring with my friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings and found this itinerary to be relaxed and easy to follow.
As an aside, may I recommend that when you plan your wine country getaway, remember that the goal is to have fun, enjoy yourself, and perhaps learn something new about wine. Because of this, I recommend you take a somewhat leisurely approach to things and not try to squeeze in too many winery visits in one day. Generally, 2-3 wineries per day is the max for most people to be able to enjoy the wines, not feel rushed, and not get too drunk! I only recommend 4 wineries in one day for professionals or if you are going to spit out all tastes. Even then, it is still an ambitious schedule.
Here is my suggestion for a full, fun day in the Napa Valley.
10:30am-11:30am Charles Krug
Noon-1:30pm Long Meadow Ranch
1:30pm-2:30pm Gott’s Roadside
5:30pm-7:30pm Oxbow Public Market
Charles Krug in St. Helena is a great place to start. Come here for Napa Valley history, as they are a winery of firsts being situated in St. Helena AVA, one of Napa Valley’s first AVAs. Charles Krug is the oldest bonded winery in Napa (since 1861) and also is the first tasting room open in California in 1882. In 1963 they became the first Napa winery to import French Oak barrels and were also one of the first California wineries to varietally label wines. Since 1943 the Mondavi family operates Charles Krug with a respect and understanding of how important they are to Napa Valley’s history. Today they produce 90,000 cases annually and it is all sold on-site.
Upon visiting Charles Krug, you have two choices for your visit. They offer a $45 tasting flight and a $75 tasting flight that also includes a tour of the property. The tasting room is open daily from 10:30am-5pm. And a gorgeous tasting room it is. Up until 2006, it was the old barrel room. The space is expansive and stunning. Such a classy, upscale, yet not stuffy atmosphere.
Thank you to Tash for pouring! My highlight from the tasting was their 2016 Malbec at $65 a bottle. The wine showed characters of plum (red and black), vanilla, and spice box. It’s a velvety, smooth wine that you can really melt into. Would be a fantastic BBQ wine.
Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch
Two miles SE of Charles Krug and you land at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. You come here for a culinary and wine sensory experience. We participated in the Chef’s Food & Wine Tasting (regularly priced at $70) and it was impeccable. A really elevated, yet comfortable experience. True wine country hospitality. We enjoyed 5 mini-food courses paired with wines. They also have a regular wine flight for $30 and a library wine flight for $40. The general store/tasting room is open from 11am-6pm.
Colin (who was a delight) lead us through our tasting. Anyone who says that Pinot Noir is their spirit grape, is good people in my book! Long Meadow Ranch employs a full-circle organic farming system. Each part of the ranch contributes to the health of the whole, including vineyards, olive groves, Highland cattle, heirloom vegetables, and livestock. They have three properties: 650-acre Mayacamas Estate (home ranch located in the Mayacamas Mountains above Rutherford), 90-acre Rutherford Estate (located on the Rutherford Bench), and 145-acre Anderson Valley Estate (Mendocino County). Everything we ate that day was local to the Rutherford Estate and all their wines are estate.
Dungeness Crab (avocado, citrus)
Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford, 2017 ($22)
This is clearly not the ubiquitous New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Cooler climates here. I get green fruit (apples), citrus, and some tropical notes.
Swordfish (cabbage, horseradish)
Pairing: Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, 2016 ($40)
This pairing sang. This wine starts in French oak, then moves to stainless steel. I got an initial waft of a stick of butter on the nose, but it blew off as I swirled and make my way through the tasting. Quite a balanced and structured Chardonnay.
Cauliflower Soup (camembert beignet)
Pairing: Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, 2015 ($40)
This has to be the silkiest soup I have ever tried. Delicious!
Pairing: Merlot, Napa Valley, 2014 ($35)
This wine has everything I want in a Merlot: a plumminess plus silky smooth tannins. A bit velvety overall. Really nice.
Grass-Fed Lamb (chickpea fritter, beet barbeque)
Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2014 ($55)
A big boy red that really worked well with this dish. The wine benefits from a bit of Petit Verdot and Petit Syrah.
After the food and wine pairings at Long Meadow Ranch, it’s time for LUNCH. And what better lunch than a roadside burger stand. I recommend Gott’s Roadside for some “sticking food” to sop up all the wine.
After lunch it’s a 40-minute drive down south to Artesa Vineyards & Winery. If you saw the movie Wine Country, then you’ve seen Artesa, as it was the winery tasting room featured. I had met head winemaker Ana Diogo-Draper at a tasting in Los Angeles. I fell in love with Artesa’s wines, so when the opportunity to visit presented itself, I jumped at the chance. With Artesa, you come for the exceptional wines and stunning, modern tasting room.
Our tasting was a superb experience. The tasting room is bright, inviting, and quite a sight. It is open from 10am-5pm and there are various wine flight options, starting at $35. Anne expertly lead us through the flight, which was exceptional. A highlight for me was tasting their sparkling. We tried the 2014 Codorníu Napa Grand Reserve Brut, Estate Vineyard, Los Carneros ($45).
Other wines tasted:
2017 Albariño, Los Carneros ($28)
Stone fruit, tropical fruit, and delicate little white flowers. Medium + acid.
2016 Chardonnay, Los Carneros ($23)
This is their largest production wine that is distributed widely. A fresh and primary Chardonnay. Valley floor fruit that has been through malo and saw some oak treatment.
2016 Chardonnay, Estate Vineyard, Los Carneros, Napa Valley ($38)
Made in the Burgundian style. All hillside fruit. Toasty, nutty, and warming.
2016 Pinot Noir, Los Carneros ($28)
Beautiful, bright red fruit on the nose. More floral and spice on the palate. A lovely entry-level Pinot and at an unbeatable price.
2016 Pinot Noir, Estate Vineyard, Los Carneros, Napa Valley ($45)
Compared to the above, this wine goes deeper and has more intensity of fruit. Quality with a capital Q.
2014 Galatea Cabernet Sauvignon & Tempranillo ($90)
Deep, deep, deep purple in color. Hellooooooooo tannins, but don’t worry, they’re integrated AF. A deep and expressive wine. Definitely a standout among the flight.
2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Foss Valley Ranch Vineyard, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley ($90)
Medium ruby color. Tannins dominate.
After your day of wine tasting, a visit to Oxbow Public Market is a great option for a casual dinner. This is Napa Valley’s version of a food hall and there are options to please every palate. And more wine, should you need that! The general hours range form 7:30am-9:30pm (each merchant may have slightly different hours).