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Aug 28, 2009 01:07 PM

Winery Overload - a Napa Breakdown

My wife and I and another couple are taking a trip to San Francisco and Napa this upcoming Labor Day weekend. I have spent much time sifting and digging through the Chowhound archives to try and find the best wineries and vineyards to visit. All I have to show for it is a headache and a convoluted list.

Here is our plan as of yet. One couple arrives in SF and the other in Oakland. We rent a car and get to Napa around 2pm and check into the Avia Hotel. We would love to go to a very educational and informative winery/vineryard/winebar to begin the trip. Something nearby the hotel would be best. Suggestions?

Next, for Friday and Saturday we are planning on hiring a driver – either Home Sweet Home Car Service or Wine Country Driver. Suggestions? Is there something better?

The consensus of the group is to hit a couple of nice tasting/tours with some more moderate to cheap tasting in between. We have all day Friday and Saturday for these. We will leave Saturday night to head back to San Francisco. We do have reservations on Friday (Ad Hoc @ 8:30) and Saturday (Bistro Don Giovanni’s @ 7:30).

Here is the convoluted list of wineries:
• Del Dotto
• Silver Oak
• Jarvis
• Jordan
• Cakebread
• Duckhorn
• Fleury
• Hess
• Honig
• Frog’s Leap
• Paloma

I would love some direction – maybe thumbs up; thumbs down. Also, what are some good wine & cheap ($10 or under) tastings?

Thank you so much. Frustrated yet excited.

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  1. FYI: the Bay Bridge that connects SF and Oakland will be completely closed down from Thursday at 8 p.m. until Tuesday morning at 5 a.m. for a big retro fit project.

    There is however BART that goes directly from SFO to Oakland, Berkeley and the East Bay. Here's more info:

    2 Replies
    1. re: ML8000

      Good point. The best plan for these two couples would be for the ones arriving in SFO to take BART over to Oakland airport (there's a shuttle to the airport at Coliseum BART), meet their friends and take the rental car from there (or, if the friends flying into Oakland get there first, they can obviously meet them at the BART station).

      Wineries. It really depends on your level of experience. Everyone who is interested in wine should do a full winery tour at least once, but when you've seen one winemaking facility you've basically seen them all, so unless you're really interested in the processing side, there's no reason to do another full tour (okay, maybe a sparkling wine tour, since that's slightly different). After that, then it depends on what you want to get out of the visit. Do you want to taste a complete line from each producer? Do you want to taste a specific type of wine from a variety of producers? What price range are you interested in? Do you want to meet someone actually involved in making the wine, or are you okay with a knowledgeable sales person running the tasting room?

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Ruth - thanks for the "one tour is enough." That is a very good point. Seeing that this will be all of our first time to Napa, I am at a loss for what we want to do and/or what we should do. I think we would rather taste complete lines and enjoy one place at a time versus tasting specific varietals at many different places at shorter intervals. Price ranges can vary. We would like to go to a couple higher-end places and then throw in more budget friendly ($10) tastings. As for who is serving us, I don't really mind. If there are some small vineyards with great wines where you get to sit with the owner and drink, I wouldn't pass it up.

    2. Ok, so I posted about my Napa/wine country trip last weekend. If you would like information about your hotel, please email me. I tried to mention something about it to another Hound, but the moderators caught me as it wasn't CH related. (Sorry Chow Team!!!)

      Ok, SO I visited Cakebread and Honig last weekend. From what I understand, the greater Napa/wine country region has passed new regulations as to how tastings are done and wineries must now require appointments. Maybe another hound can elaborate on this. I went to both with wine club members so I think there was some wiggle room there, but you should call the wineries you are interested in to see where you can squeeze in. Honig's tastings are $10 a person or free with a $50 purchase. I really enjoyed my time there and their wines. Cakebread is definitely appointment only and the cost per person depends on what tour you opt for and what wines you are tasting (basically, the depth of your tour). You can get more information here

      FYI - Frog's Leap and Honig are down the lane from eachother and there are others on that little stretch as well, but don't remember who just off the top of my head.

      1 Reply
      1. re: adrienne156

        Thanks Adrienne. I read your post earlier; however, not soon enough to get the low down on Avia. I think I will take you up on your offer to email you.

      2. Some of your wineries are very far out and given holiday/weekend traffic could take quite some time to get around. Even though the wines are good I would remove Paloma and Hess as they are far off the beaten path.

        Jarvis is a nice tour and so is Nickel and Nickel which is not on your list both are relatively expensive. You should also consider Schramsberg which is a good tour/tasting for sparkling wine.

        It would be good to know whether your group prefers red or white wine. Some places are better known for one or the other.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Scott M

          Thanks, Scott. I really appreciate the geography lesson, that will definitely help narrow the selections. I would say the majority of us prefer reds a little over whites and stills over sparkling.

          1. re: AAnthony

            Some addtional things to keep in mind. Jarvis is also a little out of the way (ie. not on the Silverado Trail or Hwy 29) but not an unreasonable distance from Avia. But there are no other wineries in the general vicinity. Also, the tour is better than the wines.

        2. "We would love to go to a very educational and informative winery/vineryard/winebar to begin the trip. Something nearby the hotel"

          Backroom wines is a wine shop at First and Main, across from Bounty Hunter. The owner Dan is a great guy and knows his stuff. Very casual with good selection. They do tasting every afternoon and have Friday night events usually with a few winemakers pouring their wines.

          Vintners Collective is a little more fancy tasting room-ish, with many small wineries represented. On Main at Clinton.

          Backroom Wines
          1000 Main Street, Shop 120, Napa, CA 94559

          4 Replies
          1. re: Junie D

            For a truly informative winery experience, and in Napa so not too far from Avia, try Hendry Wines -- appointments are a must. You will probably spend time walking the fields and tasting wine with George Hendry, the owner/winemaker. He is great, as are the wines.

            1. re: stevenmargolis

              Gotta agree with stevenmargolis on this one. Hendry is one of the most informative tours I've been to in Napa. You need an appointment, but it's FREE!

              During our visit, George Hendry took as around himself...we spent about an hour touring the vineyards, tasting the grapes and looking at all the cool machines they use for winemaking and bottling. We then spent another hour sitting at a table tasting all their current releases (around 11 wines). I particularly like how he tells you what kind of food he likes to have with each wine, and also how you get to taste some wines side by side (2 zins from different blocks, or 100% cab vs. blend).

                1. re: arlenemae

                  For Labor Day weekend, I know that Hendry has Harvest Tours for mailing list members so general public appts may not be available.

            2. You are aware that Jordan is in Alexander Valley, some distance from Napa, also spots are required there.

              1 Reply
              1. Not to mention a very pretty drive through the redwoods and alongside Napa Creek . . . . I love Hess too.
                Also, for the sheer beauty of the setting (and some decent not too expensive tastings), Artesa in Napa is awesome - it's accessible on scenic beautiful off the beaten path roads through the vineyards from Brown's Valley area of Napa. Since I don't like crowds, I would seek out some of the tucked away gems like these on a busy Labor Day weekend. The 29 corridor and the Silverado Trail will likely be packed as folks get in their last vacation of summer.