Because really, why else are you going to Napa? However, all wine tastings are NOT the same, you can bum around and drop into tasting rooms for a free “splash” – OR – you can do it right, plan ahead and really have a first class experience. Looking for what to do in Napa Valley? Here are a few tasting experiences you may never have heard of, but you will be talking about for years.
Book the Ultimate Chips and Dip at Domaine Carneros. It’s no mistake the chateau has a very French feel, the winery was founded by Claude Taittinger of the famed champagne family. Though the building is not historic, it was inspired by the classic 18th century Château de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France – home of Champagne Taittinger.
You can tour the grounds, dine on the patio or view the bottling of my favorite beverage. All of this is fine and well, but really, it’s all about the champagne and the caviar, and learning everything you ever wanted to know about champagne. When you book the Ultimate Chips and Dip you get a table with a view, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get Olga who will teach about Brut and late disgorged. The winery is famous for their Le Rev Blanc de Blanc. You can taste this and if you ask nicely, they’ll even pour you a few extra glasses. This was honestly my favorite tasting of our entire trip. Word to the wise, don’t book any other tastings after this one, trust me.
This experience is designed for two guests and includes three tastes of Domaine Carneros sparkling wines paired with Tsar Nicoulai Caviar, accompanied with gourmet potato chips (they tasted like regular potato chips to me-but when you put caviar on top, who cares?), toast points, and crème fraîche. Cost is $350 for two people.
Conn Creek Winery
This winery is not likely to jump out at you, it’s not Rudd or any other splashy name, but the Barrel Blending Experience at Conn Creek Winery is a must for anyone visiting Napa. This little Mediterranean-style winery is in the charming town of St. Helena. They don’t have acres of vines, but what they do have is master winemaker Mike McGrath and the best grapes hand selected from all over the region. I met Mike in passing and was shocked to find a very laid back guy in a Hawaiian shirt. Not sure why I thought wine makers were so much more serious. I am clearly a serious wine maker.
Book the Barrel Blending Experience and you get to play winemaker for a day. Ok, an hour or two, I lost track of time. This is a one-of-a-kind seminar where you taste barrel samples of Cabernet Sauvignon from select Napa Valley sub-appellations (I didn’t know what that meant either – it’s a place where grapes grow – also known as ground – terroir) along with other Bordeaux varietals before blending your own bottle to take home. The cost is $125 – you get to take home a bottle of your wine creation and if you really fall in love with your wine-making skills, you can order an entire case of your blend. Did I mention you get to name your blend? Mine is California Dreaming – my girlfriend created 50 Bitches. Look for them in wine stores near you.
Durant and Booth
This tiny wine tasting room is fairly new, having opened just a year ago, but it sits in one of the oldest buildings in Napa. This little jewel box is in the renovated home of Frederick Durant. He and his partner Joseph Booth owned the neighboring Oakville Grocery. During Prohibition, travelers from neighboring towns and beyond would stop at Durant’s shop for refreshments en route to neighboring venues that produced beverages of a more illicit variety. Noted Oakville native Sheriff Jack “The Dapper Deputy” Steckter conveniently turned a blind eye to these questionable activities, which is why the tasting named after him is my fave.
Book the Dapper Reserve Tasting, which includes five limited-production Durant & Booth wines, including rare selections only available to supporters of The Wine Society. Each wine is paired with local cheeses & charcuterie from Oakville Grocery. It’s $40 per person. I fell so in love with the Blanc wine I sent myself a case.
What to Do in Napa Valley – Stay Here – Not Here – Eat This – Not That
Stay at the brand new Las Alcobas in St. Helena, it’s earning rave reviews, mine was one of the first as I was lucky enough to be one of their early guests. Skip the Harvest Inn by Charlie Palmer, service not up to par, rooms are tired and any hotel where you can’t get food on a Monday night is off my list.
Eat at Two Birds/One Stone in St. Helena. It’s yakitori style food in a renovated abbey serving fantastical dishes like deviled jidori eggs, gribenes, shichimi togarashi, wasabi. Order anything, no matter how crazy it sounds, it will be amazing, trust me. Wine maker, not winery, lists all the wines which are created just for this restaurant, so hip you want to mock it, but you can’t, because it’s so good. Don’t eat take out pizza, but if you stay at Harvest Inn on a Monday night and want to eat at the hotel, that will be your only option.
I have not stayed at Carneros Inn, but one of the Luxury Travel Moms has and gives it rave reviews. They have large family style housing, gorgeous pools, AND they will organize a babysitter for you if you want to bring the kids to Napa, but not to the wineries.
I was the guest of Visit Napa Valley for a media visit. The case of wine and take out pizza were at my own expense.