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Winery Tour or Just Tastings; Visiting Napa for first time

Should we just do the tastings or should we take a tour at some of the wineries? We are going to Napa after the San Francisco Marathon in July and it's our first visit to Napa. Overwhelming to say the least. We have 3 days so time is limited and I am trying to make the most of it in terms of planning. My optimistic goals are 4 wineries each day :)

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  1. If you are interested in how wine is actually made, taking a good tour would be very worthwhile. Taking a tour certainly does not preclude you from doing tastings as well.

    If you are interested in seeing how sparkling wine is made, the tour at Domaine Chandon is a good one. It is followed by a tasting of their wines.

    1. Four is a very optimistic goal. Unless you're a super wine geek you'll burn out halfway through the second day at that pace. As to whether you should do a tour -- have you ever done one? Wineries and the winemaking process are pretty much all the same under the trappings. Everyone interested in wine should do at least one full tour of a winery at some point in their lives, and one full tour of a place that specializes in sparkling wines, and after that it really depends on how interested you are in the small variations between various wineries and their winemaking philosophies.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Fair enough Ruth. Discretion is the better part of valor so maybe I step back a bit. Maybe one tasting before lunch and a couple in the afternoon is plenty ambitious.

        1. re: dwmmlm

          You can always add more if you feel up to it. Make a list of your top picks, make reservations at the ones that require them, then pencil in the ones where you can be more flexible around them. The main thing is not to leave a really great place until last and then find out you're too burned out to enjoy it. I was going to suggest you group them geographically, but sometimes you don't want them too close together. Make a note of activities you can do inbetween to clear your head -- not so much because, as someone else suggested, you're drunk -- but because you get palate fatigue.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            We are going for the first time next week. It is very overwhelming to say the least. I asked friends and searched this board for interesting wineries to visit. I like sparkling wine so I put those on my map. By map, I mean, I went to maps.google.com and just plugged in an address whenever I found a winery that I wanted to visit. I also included olive oil tasting places (2) and restaurants on the map. So we'll in essence, have breakfast, a winery, lunch, a winery, an olive oil tasting, maybe another winery then back to the hotel to get dressed for late dinner. I'm a total lightweight so I will only be tasting and thus driving.

            After a couple days I definitely had a picture based on geography on what wineries I should visit, then I divided them by day. The ones that aren't grouped near anything else, those will be my "maybe if we have time visit".

            Hope that helps.

            1. re: RedBeans04

              I think that sounds like a good plan. I am starting to do it similarly, but thought I would start with the wines and fill in the restaurants once I have my route to each winery completed. Have fun and share any tips with us when you get back.

      2. It depends on what you want. Are you visiting to experience really good wine or are you more interested in the process? Personally, I love the tour at Chappellet but if you don't want to drive that far, you can always do the tour at Cakebread.

        Now, as far as tasting really good wine...it really depends on what you like.

        For me, Pinot Noir doesn't get much better than at Del Dotto (go to the cave; you don't need reservations there). Robert Sinsky makes a great Zin and just about everything is great at Goosecross. Frank Family makes a terrific Chard and I love most everything at Trefethen.

        8 Replies
        1. re: dmenkes

          I like it. And I think you're right. One tour should do fine for an overview of wine making and, by chance, Chappellet is one of my wife's favorite. Perhaps I'll make that our first stop on the first morning (Monday) to get things kicked off.

          1. re: dwmmlm

            Just make sure to call Chappellet ahead of time - I think you need reservations. Their stuff is great but for some reason their Chard just stands out as astounding, especially if you hold onto the bottles for an extra year for them to mellow out.

          2. re: dmenkes

            Thanks dmenkes.... Del Dotto lists two addresses; one as Caves and the other as Estate Winery and Caves with the first being on Atals Peak Rd. and the latter being on St. Helena Highway South. To which were you referring for a visit?

            1. re: dwmmlm

              This one you can just drive up to; it's on the west side of the road and is easier to approach from the north, but just be on the lookout for it. I promise it's worth going to.

              1055 Atlas Peak Road
              Napa‎ CA‎ 94558-1501
              United States

              1. re: dmenkes

                Wow...the Cave Experience & Barrel Tasting is $50 per person at Del Dotto. It sounds cool, but that seems a bit steep.

                1. re: dwmmlm

                  That's the one at their other property, that you need reservations at. The one I told you about you just walk in and it's $20.

                  1. re: dmenkes

                    I must be missing something then... They show $60 for cave tasting and $30 for tasting in great room. http://www.deldottovineyards.com/Del-...

                    1. re: dwmmlm

                      You want to do the Bar Tasting, but you don't need a reservation if it's just two people. Call them at 707-963-2134 and see if they still have their $20 tasting. Last time I was there it was $20 and waived if you bought a bottle.

          3. One good tour would be enlightening ... as many tastings as you feel you can handle and still drive safely. Four a day is packing 'em in though.

            3 Replies
            1. re: willyum

              I've actually worked out a process for getting more wineries in per day.

              Eat a very heavy breakfast (and lunch), start the first winery right when they open. Take a sip - if it's not mind-blowing, dump the rest and move on to the next glass. Why make yourself drunk if the wine's not even that good? I bring a huge bottle of water and saltine crackers in the car, and have done 10 wineries in a day without being drunk. That being said, you have to show real discipline for not drinking what's been poured for you. I think most people want to feel like they're getting something for their money, but you're just slowing yourself down by drinking it all. I can tell by the first sip if something's great, and if it's not...why drink it?

              1. re: dmenkes

                And I thought I had big plans..... Well done, but I don't think I can mange that unless we come back in the off-season and can get from place to place quickly. i like the well thought out plan though. I am impressed.

                1. re: dwmmlm

                  I used to live 45 mins from Napa and drove out there every other weekend for a few years. Got a chance to really explore that way!

            2. As others have said, I would definitely take at least one tour if you haven't, and then make the rest tastings. I really liked the tour at Robert Sinskey, agree that the tour at Domaine Chandon is good, and have heard wonderful things about the tours at Frogs Leap, but I'm sure that searches will get you more info about good tours. For a tour you want a smaller winery, where you'll get to see more and the group will be smaller.

              4 Replies
              1. re: JasmineG

                Any comments on my proposed itinerary?

                1. re: dwmmlm

                  I saw it earlier but I can't see it now...the only one that stuck out in my mind was Turnbull. Are you a fan of them in particular? I don't particularly like their stuff...Trefethen is near there and is much better.

                  1. re: dmenkes

                    I know. I think the site is buggy tonight. I am not that familiar with Turnbull, but several people have recommended it. Maybe I'll alter it to Trefethen. Thanks dmenkes...

                    1. re: dwmmlm

                      Wine is a funny thing; it really comes down to personal preference. There are wineries that people swear by that I can't stand, and ones that I love that people don't like. I still couldn't imagine anyone saying to go to Turnbull over Trefethen though.

              2. Ok, with the help of you good people I have a tentative schedule. Despite the advice of many, I have tried to squeeze 4 wineries in on the first 2 days (2 before lunch / 2 after). Please feel free to poke holes in it or , better yet, give me direction. I haven't begun to figure out where to eat at this point. I tried to keep the tastings geographically oriented. We're coming and going from the Westin in Napa.

                MON TURNBULL
                MON CHAPPELLET (Tour)
                MON LUNCH
                MON FROGS LEAP
                MON PARADIGM

                TUES FREEMARK ABBY
                TUES FRANK FAMILY
                TUES LUNCH
                TUES DUCKHORN
                TUES FLORA SPRINGS

                WED HAGAFEN OR BLACK STALLION
                WED LUNCH
                WED PINE RIDGE
                WED ROBERT BIALE OR DEL DOTTO