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1 day in Napa: Itinerary advice?

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Happy New Year everybody,

On the 16th (a Saturday) I will be taking my wife wine-tasting in Napa for her birthday. She loves Sauvignon Blanc, but I also like Cabs and Pinot Noir. However, this trip is really for her, so I want to focus on finding some good SB to take home with us. If a winery does exceptional Cab and PN, that's a bonus.

We only have time for a one-day trip, and I am hoping to put together an itinerary that gives us a chance to try a lot of places. However, I don't want to make the schedule too tight otherwise she will probably not enjoy the day. Here is what I have so far:

10am: Cakebread Cellars : Sensory Evaluation seminar (lasts until 11:30)

12pm: Lunch at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen

1pm: Joseph Phelps Vineyards (they said this would take about an hour when I called to make the appointment)

2:15: Honig Vineyard & Winery

3:15 Grgich Hills Cellars

4:15 St Supery Winery

5:15 V Wine Cellar (to try Toquade, which a friend recommended)

Is that too aggressive? Given our tastes, are there other places that I might want to check out rather than what I have listed? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks.

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Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Ave., St. Helena, CA 94574

Joseph Phelps Vineyards
200 Taplin Rd, Saint Helena, CA

Cakebread Cellars
8300 St Helena Hwy, Rutherford, CA

Grgich Hills Cellars
1829 Saint Helena Hwy, Rutherford, CA

Honig Vineyard & Winery
850 Rutherford Rd, Rutherford, CA

St Supery Winery
8440 St Helena Highway, Rutherford, CA

V Wine Cellar
6525 Washington St, Yountville, CA

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  1. well i used to live in st. helena for about a year so i would recommend a trip up to Bustas bbq in calistoga..try the tri tip sandwich and backed beans.. its pretty inexpensive for napa valley standards and my friends and i swear by it lol.. i live in LA now and thats the only place id want to visit if/when i go back .

    1 Reply
    1. re: kvb16

      oh and if you like spicy food ask for the hot bbq sauce ..its amazing but really..really spicy (they use habaneros) ! you can also get half and half to buffer the heat a little lol

    2. For us, 6 tasting rooms in one day is too much. One every hour starts to feel like a forced march through wine country and you're in the car as much as you're in a tasting room. For me, it's as much about enjoying the grounds and chatting up the people as it is about tasting the wine, so I like to spend more time at a few places.

      1. Our busiest day had 3 tastings plus lunch (Schramsberg, lunch at Silverado Brewing, Cakebread, Honig) and it freaking wiped us out before our drive to and dinner at Cyrus. YMMV, of course.

        During the day, we also stopped in St. Helena and investigated the olive oil company there as well as Woodhouse Chocolates, which were wonderful. Had a bit of a wander. It was nice.

        1. To ease the hectic pace, skip St. Supery Winery. Looks like V Wine Cellar is open 'til 7 so you should be able to adjust this visit accordingly. Also, keep in mind that the 16th is a long weekend, so expect a busy hwy 29.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ceekskat

            I'd take one out - 4 is aggressive but doable.

            Each stop will usually press 7 or 8 wines on you- and drink *light* by chatting up the wine people to drink only what you might like, split the tasting (ie, you drink all the reds, she drinks the whites, you each sip each other's when "OMG! you have to taste this!!!" moments happen), mention to the taste-running-person that you really want only small tastes, mention that you're only going to taste 4 wines and stick to it, so they'll just give you the good stuff - some or all of the above. Remember, they want you to buy a bottle or two, so they'll work to pick what you'll love if you give them the tools.

            Otherwise you end up with about 3 glass equivilents per stop - you want to keep to about 1 glass equivilent (4 glass equivilents over 8 hours will likely keep you legal - 6 glass equivilents before lunch puts most people way over the line). Remember, you'll have great wine choices at dinner too!

            It's too bad you don't have two days. One of the fun things is stopping at smaller places randomly, and asking them what other places you should stop at. We ended up enjoying Mayo's 2007 launch party (which wasn't much more than a BBQ full of sausage and extended tasting in their barrel storage, chats with the winemakers, still, nice), you'll find these things if you're not on a tight schedule.

          2. I lived in Yountville for many years, worked part time in a tasting room occasionally and entertained friends who visited. I would recommend one winery in the morning, lunch and then maybe two in the afternoon. That was normally a full day for us. I often took visitors to certain wineries just for the view, the grounds, or the artwork and did not taste the wines. In short, yes, I think your plan is too aggressive.

            1. Thanks to everybody for your replies so far.

              OK, so it sounds like I should drop one of the stops after lunch. I'm not terribly worried about the amount of alcohol that I will be consuming since I'm a spitter. Just worried about the timing.

              ceekskat, you suggested that I drop St. Supery. Any reason you picked them to drop over the others?

              Any other suggestions as to what I should drop or swap in (keeping in mind that the purpose of this trip is to find some great Sauvignon Blanc to take home with us)?

              Thanks!
              -Jeff

              5 Replies
              1. re: jleung

                You don't say where you're from but are you aware that the winerys charge full retail (well maybe a slight discount for full case purchases) for their wines unless you join their club and commit to ongoing shipments? As a result, I wouldn't necessarily go to a large production winery which distributes to your area. I'd concentrate on the smaller wineries with limited distribution. I'm not a huge fan of SB so can't recommend any specifically. I do, however, really like the Honig SB and have enjoyed Cakebread's whites in the past.

                1. re: bobpantzer

                  I'm coming from San Mateo. Yes, I'm aware that we will probably be paying full retail if we purchase any wine. We're not huge wine drinkers so I would expect that if we pick up a case worth of wine it will last us the whole year. Past that we may join a wine club, but which club to join would depend on what we discover from this trip.

                  You're right on target; it would be great to find some good Sauvignon Blanc that I wouldn't necessarily be able to get from BevMo or Costco. However, it wouldn't be all that bad if the SB that we happen to like best on this trip comes from a larger production winery. We already know we like SB from Cakebread, Groth, Frog's Leap, and Robert Mondavi, but we are hoping to find others that we like (perhaps even more). Incidentally, we have also tried some SB from NZ but it just doesn't seem to work for us (maybe we're used to the Napa taste).

                  I have gotten suggestions that I visit Salvestrin. One of my friends swears by their Sauvignon Blanc and is part of their wine club. However, it sounds like their tastings can take upwards of 90 minutes to two hours. While I think that might be great if we were in Napa for more than just the day, that might mean that we would need to bump out two other places. Has anyone tried them and feel that it would be worth it?

                  Thanks!
                  -Jeff

                  1. re: jleung

                    Hey there Jeff

                    I've been to Salvestrin a few times since i first encountered the winery through a friend. I go once a summer as i'm from LA. The tastings I've done didn't last 90min-2 hours. Although, the time it went past an hour, it was because my wife and I purchased a couple bottles of the SB. we opened one up and sat out on the table and walk around the vineyard. They were nice to let us stay past our tasting. It's a nice place to take it easy as its set far from the road and it's never crowded because they do their tastings by appointment.

                    I'd recommend Salvestrin if you really want a true Napa Valley wine experience. The family has been in the valley for many decades and they are not some out valley family who felt like making wine as a hobby. They are the real deal. Your wife will love the 08 SB and I you will enjoy the cab. I think you will also discover a love for their Retaggio.

                    btw, 6 wineries in a day is a bit ambitious. I've had plans like that and i ended up making it to only 4. What happens is you get caught up in the tasting by conversing with the tasting room manager/rep. At the smaller boutique wineries it's easier to become more acquainted with the winery. Big house wineries, you go in like cattle and it can take awhile, without an informative visit.

                    Also, if you plan to visit more than 3 wineries in a day, i'd suggest doing the swirl, taste, spit method of tasting. Otherwise, visiting the 4th,5th, 6 winery of the day is almost pointless because you're opinion of a wine becomes diluted by intoxication. Pace yourself and you will have a better memory of the wine tasting experience!

                    1. re: baycal

                      Thanks for the helpful info.

                      It seems that Salvestrin only does 10:30, 12:30, and 2:30 tasting appointments, so if I wanted to go there it would have to be the 2:30 appointment. I was really hoping to also make it to Honig afterwards before they close. Sounds like it might be possible if the tasting at Salvestrin can fit in an hour.

                      Thanks for the tip. I definitely will be spitting (I have to drive). Not sure about the wife though, it is her birthday after all.

                  2. re: bobpantzer

                    <points above to What Bobpanzer Said> Love the Honig SB and the Cakebread wines- Cakebread does a great Chardonnay, and I don't usually like "California" Chardonnays.

                    I wish I could join a wine club, but living in MA makes it tough.

                2. As I too believe that your itinerary is VERY aggressive: the most that I visited in a 3-day weekend was 18 but I was on a culinary trip with my school and it was literally once one opens we are at the door and running to the next one after another but it does at other posters stated start to feel like a chore

                  I agree with the others, I would focus on 3 maybe 4 exceptional experiences - Schramsberg is awesome and they do a candlelight tasting in their caves - Very romantic and very special. Also I would recommend Charbay (www.charbay.com) as they have a very small yet personal feel it is a 13th generation winery/distillery and you have to make an appointment but well worth it and you feel as if you are an invited guest of the family when you are there. Amazing wines as well - as well as some items you will not ever get to taste again.

                  Finally for a nice view - Sterling is always very nice as it is a self guided tour and you get to taste quite a bit and the wines are quite nice. Not to mention the gondola is fun.

                  Again for some advice I know the feeling of wanting to show the one you love as much as possible but taking your time and appreciating it is so much more worth it as it will also allow you to look forward to your next visit. Hope this helps.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Cmhylton

                    Thanks for the reply. I am definitely going to drop some of the stops in an effort to make the day a bit more leisurely.

                    As for the winery suggestions, do they produce good Sauvignon Blancs? I had been to Schramsberg a few years ago and I thought they only did sparkling wines.

                    Thanks.
                    -Jeff

                    1. re: jleung

                      i have done more than 6 tasting many times and doable but you will be busy.
                      do agree and pass on st supery and also grgichi hills as well.
                      one of my favorite napa sauv blanc is crocker and starr and you might want to check out napa wine co...they might be pouring that and many others
                      also duckhorn makes decent sauv blanc as well.....

                      1. re: jleung

                        Sadly my memories of Sterling was millions of fruit flies. To this day I can not buy a Sterling wine. It may have just been the season, but it was an awful experience.

                        1. re: rworange

                          The wines are quite unimpressive, as well, compared to the other fine wines and wineries being discussed. Sterling has been off its game since the early 90s.

                    2. I think you're missing some of the best SB in the valley, and also planning a bit too much.

                      Duckhorn, as mentioned, makes one of the best, and its setting is one of the most beautiful.Very strong Merlot and good Cabs also.
                      Mason makes a terrific SB, so there's another option.
                      Quintessa's Illumination is a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc, which consistently gets very high ratings. Stunning Cab and Cab blend called Faust. Very modern building.

                      Grgich Hills makes a good SB (they call it Fume blanc, but it's SB) also. OK Zins, overoaked Cabs, wonderful Chard.
                      Spring Mountain Vineyard is stunningly beautiful and their SB is very good. Stunning Cab, Syrah and OK Pinot. See the mansion and the grounds.

                      Crocker & Starr, as mentioned, does make a good SB.. One of the best Cab Francs ever.
                      And a great proprietary red blend.

                      Merryvale makes a very good SB that is also well-priced: Starmont.

                      Phelps used to be brilliant, but I've heard several downhill alerts. I've recently retasted
                      and concur. New winemaker in the last 2 years and there's been a drop in finesse and style.

                      Not a fan of Cakebread's or St. Supery's wines. St. Supery's whites lack depth, at least to me.
                      Cakebread's wines are often over-ripe and out of balance.

                      Look up each of these wineries and Sauvignon Blanc on cellartracker.com for more info.
                      (your search term in the upper left window would be Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc or
                      Napa Sauvignon Blanc). Good luck, and have fun.

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Wow, thank you very much for the exhaustive advice Maria!

                        I think given what everyone has said, I will probably go with the following:
                        Cakebread Cellars for their Sensory Evaluation
                        Lunch at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
                        two of Duckhorn, Salvestrin, Honig, or Crocker & Starr

                        I'm only going to Cakebread really for the Sensory Evaluation; if there is another place that has good Sauvignon Blanc that offers a similar seminar I'd be all for it. Would Merryvale be a better option?

                        Also, do you know anything about Toquade's Sauvignon Blanc? Another friend recommended it to me but it doesn't look like they accept visitors at their winery. Christine Barbe, the owner of Toquade, has offered to do a tasting with us at Cook Family Winery, but it is a bit out of the way; I'm not sure I could fit that into our day. Also, it seems that we can taste Toquade at V Wine Cellar. I don't know how often one gets to meet the winemaker (perhaps I am easily impressed); would it be worthwhile to take her up on her offer in lieu of Duckhorn, Honig, Salvestrin, or Crocker & Starr?

                        Thanks.
                        -Jeff

                        1. re: jleung

                          What is a "sensory evaluation" and does it involve food?

                          1. re: bbulkow

                            Here's a link to the description for the Sensory Evaluation:
                            http://www.cakebread.com/tours/tours_...

                            1. re: jleung

                              Actually, I like that idea. I wonder if others have similar - I'm especially thinking small wine shops that carry a variety of maker's products. Most people running tastings don't really know that much, are chosen for personality and willingness to be bright and cheery for many hours day in and day out (4 out of 5, at least). When you get someone knowledgeable, the chance they've got enough focus to cogently run though the entire nomenclature and set of tastes top to bottom is low.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                In contrast to retail store staff, winery tasting room staff are effusive with sensory descriptors. I've been in the wine biz 18 years and have seen this quality consistently.

                          2. re: jleung

                            Your chances of meeting the wine maker at Salvestrin are high as he has a constant presence on the estate ( the family lives on the grounds). He seemed to really love discussing the wine making process with us when we ran into him.

                            1. re: jleung

                              I'm not sure about the Sensory Evaluation. Sounds like fun, but I'm not sure Cakebread's the place to do it.

                              What I'd recommend instead... is that you ask the staff at each winery to describe the sensory components (aromatics, flavors) of their Sauvignon Blanc. That keeps the sensory focus on the wine your wife loves, and obviates the need for Cakebread's class and the time it will take.

                              SB exhibits a wide range of aromatics and flavors depending on where it's made, and the style in which it's made -- from the remarkably elegant White Bordeaux and Loire SB to the South African style to the American-French style (lean and clean) to the New Zealand style (kiwi, Jolly Rancher green apple, boxwood/cat urine) to the American-New Zealand style. I think more sensory knowledge direct to SB will come from winery conversations with staff and winemakers.

                              Toquade and Salvestrin SB don't garner impressive reviews from the dedicated wine drinkers on Cellar Tracker compared to the others I've listed above. http://www.cellartracker.com/list.asp...

                              Provenance makes *excellent* SB, and their winemaker is friendly and approachable.
                              His name is Tom Rinaldi, and what he's done with this varietal is very impressive. Call him at the winery and see if you can meet him and spend a little time with him. The SB vineyards are right in back of the winery.

                              My votes would be for Duckhorn, Provenance, Quintessa for the Illumination (I've had it many times), and Crocker &Starr.

                              As a capper to the day, your wife may wish to taste a dessert SB (Sauternes-style wine) like the Mondavi SB Botrytis or Dolce at Far Niente or Beringer's Nightingale. You can see how the grape's flavors change when affected by the botrytis mold. Delicious! You can stop in a winery quickly and just taste this one wine, and often you won't be charged.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                Thanks for the suggestions, Maria.

                                Agreed, we like Provenance, but we are already well-stocked on it.

                                The dessert wines are a great idea. She loves the sweet stuff, but we have a ton of various Gewurztraminers, Eiswein, and Rieslings that she hasn't gotten around to drinking. It wouldn't hurt to sneak one in on this trip even though we don't need more. Sadly, I think the places you mentioned will be closed by the time we would get to them.

                            2. re: maria lorraine

                              agree w/ maria lorraine re: Cakebread. I don't understand why they're so popular, don't like their wines. Honig is a great choice, good people, fun experience, great SB.

                              1. re: brucemac707

                                We did a blind tasting of 4-5 of the more highly regarded Sauv. Blancs last year (CA wines) and Honig came out on top, unanimous.

                                1. re: PolarBear

                                  Thanks, PolarBear. Do you remember the other 3-4?

                                  1. re: jleung

                                    Honig is a good rec. I wonder what the other SBs were in PB's tasting.

                                    1. re: jleung

                                      I know Duckhorn was one. Will have a chance tonight to see if anyone else can recall the others.IIRC, Honig was the least expensive of the lot.

                                      [ETA] The other two were Mason and Groth, one of which received all thumbs down, will dig further.

                              2. I too would skip St. Supery winery. The wine isn't that special, and the tasting fee is outrageous