Sat. in Nov. wine tour in Napa Valley for 20
I am hosting 20 of my closest friends for my birthday in Napa. I have never been to wine country and am looking for recs on a fabulous Sat in Napa Valley--ideally we would like to visit 3-4 wineries and I would like to host a lunch somewhere in the $30/pp range. Any itinerary recs would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!!!
I'd keep it to three, as one needs time to talk and sample. If you have a group, that really cares (they do not need to know wine, just care about it), two in the AM, lunch from the Oakville Grocery, then a full afternoon at Joseph Phelps (appointment necessary) will be enough for a day. End with a wonderful meal, some place between Yountville and Calistoga.
For me, I'd start with Milat (Hwy 29 at Oakville Cross), head to either Cain, or Mayacanys, do lunch, then Joseph Phelps, but that's just me. All, but Milat, will need appointments.
I speak from experience having worked for a handful of Napa Valley wineries, and having consulted with a great many more.
20 is quite a large group. I don't think most wineries will take that large a group, perhaps only the largest wineries: Beringer, Domaine Chandon, Mumm, and Mondavi. Please remember most wineries/tasting rooms are open to make money from wine sales, and larger groups tend to focus on drinking and talking loudly, rather than listening and opening their wallets.
A large group is a lot of work and a winery employee or two has to be on hand to handle the group alone. Unless your group purchases a huge amount of wine, the winery can't justify the cost of the personnel and time it takes to manage your group, unless it’s already handling hundreds of winery guests anyway. Smaller groups of two to four people are better customers and buy more wine. So groups your size are generally frowned upon. Weekends may be completely out -- they are already the busiest time at the wineries.
Please don't look at your birthday wine-tasting excursion as birthday drinking. Wineries have seen it all before, and have a hard-and-fast rule that they cannot serve anyone who appears tipsy. Both the employee who serves you and the winery itself could be fined heavily. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but wineries get rather aggravated with groups for these reasons.
Call the Napa Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau for more info about which wineries allow large groups. One important consideration is how your group will travel about the valley. If it’s four cars, each car with five people, well then you’ve got four designated drivers, and it will be difficult to keep the group together on the roads of Napa Valley, especially with weekend traffic. I do see tour buses from time to time, but not at the smaller wineries, and some wineries don't even allow buses on their property. You can understand why.
I'm guessing you'll have a minimum fee, probably $10 per person, maybe more, at each winery. You will, in any case, have to make reservations and special arrangements.
re: maria lorraine
Good points. I had read over the number in the party - it just did not sink in with me.
One winery, that has handled a group of that size for me (28 actually), and did a good job of it was Maryvale. Lunch was served in the cellar room and was quite good. Prior arrangements were made well ahead of time though.
I'm sure that the OP will be appreciative of your insights.
Twenty people? Wow! Let us know where you end up going. I'll steer clear of those places. :)
We just got back from a long three day weekend in Napa. We were 8 everywhere we went, and that felt like a large party. I couldnt imagine 20.
Maria Lorraine brings up excellent points. The wineries cringe when a large party rolls up. Not to mention, so does everyone else at the winery you just rolled up to. However, on a positive note, this is supposed to be a fun and special weekend, so you still have to figure it out. So, not to discourage a fun weekend and I hate to say it but I would stick to the larger places. Those also tend to be the more touristy places, but then again, you have 20 people and you've got to deal with what you've got. And even then, call ahead and make sure those places can accomodate you.
If I were you, I would go to the following (BTW...not where I would go if I were me...wait I am me)...anyway, Mondavi, Coppola, V Satui, Sterling. There it is!
I'd do a limo tour and let them know you have 20 folks - they'll work with the wineries and your preferences to make sure you're accomodated. We did it with 6 of us and did 5 wineries - at a couple of them, we were the only folks there. We had lunch at one of the wineries which was just awesome.
November may well be a bit "out of season," so you might have better luck than if you were going in the summertime.
I've led tours in Napa and Sonoma, and I've always restricted my numbers to that which would fit in a stretch limo. Once I had two limos, but one double is better. You will need to make specific plans with wineries, and keep your appointments, and hopefully your guests will plan to buy some wine.... Some of the larger wineries now have special tasting programs, and private rooms where they can accommodate a large group by appointment away from the regular tasting room. My groups have had wonderful experiences at St. Supery.
Some friends were recently at Kendall Jackson for a special tasting of their reserve wines paired with food that they thought was outstanding. Sometimes the "best" wineries are not the best prepared to accommodate groups, and you want your group to have a great time (tasting responsibly... remember that tasting is not drinking).
I would vote for lunch at Domaine Chandon. They have a beautiful restaurant with very good food and delightful sparkling wines. Another great lunch spot would be Julia's Kitchen at COPIA in Napa.