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 :)
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 CHAPPELLET (Tour)
MON FROGS LEAP
TUES FREEMARK ABBY
TUES FRANK FAMILY
TUES FLORA SPRINGS
WED HAGAFEN OR BLACK STALLION
WED PINE RIDGE
WED ROBERT BIALE OR DEL DOTTO
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.
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?
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.
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.
re: Ruth Lafler
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.
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.
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.