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Jul 22, 2011 03:25 PM

Best tourist experience in Napa Valley [moved from Wine]

I am supposed to take some visitors from Vietnam to Napa Valley tomorrow.
We will be starting at Domaine Carneros. My wife told me these visitors know
nothing about wine, and I am supposed to pick the wineries for the
tourist experience (tour, etc) not for the wine. So I am wondering what
are the Napa wineries that have the best tours right now? It has been
a while since I have tried to be a tourist in Napa. The tours I remember
from many years ago are: Robert Mondavi, Domaine Chandon, Beringer
and Sterling Vineyards. Are there any newer fun tours you could recommend?

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  1. Sterling with the aerial tram for sure! I would go to V. Sattui and have a picnic lunch on the lawn with your wine. Sometimes they have a BBQ going, music, etc. Very touristy.

    1. Sterling definitely has the fun of the aerial tram. We thought Sattui was horrible - the wine was bad, the tourists took the place over ... overall bad experience. I think if they have any interest in learning about wine, the more expensive Mondavi tour is worth the money. I also think everyone pretty much likes champagne, so the Chandon or the Tattinger (or do they go under a different name in the US?) places are fun, if really a bit over the top. Hess, I believe it is, has an art gallery, if that appeals to them. Stop in Yountville and get something for lunch at Bouchon's bakery.

      1 Reply
      1. re: LulusMom

        Domaine Carneros *is* Tattinger.
        I would not consider that tour "fun" but is is beautiful,tasty and worthwhile.

        If your guests speak English as a second language, I would recommend you not overload them with strongly "educational" tours. My friend took her Japanese group on several and they were bored stiff. Wine making and wine traditions have more jargon than you think (you are used to it) but they don't "get" half of it. That is why a place like V Sattui is so popular with tourists (their gamay is a terrific picnic wine as well).

        Also Frank Family in Calistoga is really happy, upbeat, friendly and fun. The staff seem to go out of their way to be happy- and the wine appeals to most.

      2. The natural wine thread had me thinking of Frog's Leap in Rutherford. Totally organic, no irrigation, fields left for covercrops, etc. A wonderful, walking and drinking tour through the vineyards (and other crops), especially on a beautiful summer morning. Professional, but without that theme-park vibe that permeates some Napa domains, and you'll get a bit of a fun education in natural wine-making while walking the vineyards and drinking the wine.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

          I agree, a walking tour would be very fun and different.
          Oh, the wine train is supposed to be fun for visitors. I have never been on it myself but I would think it would be one of those 1 time events for tourists.

          1. re: sedimental

            Thanks all for the suggestions. Re. the wine train. My wife and I went on it
            10 years or so ago and we were bored stiff. It actually takes 3 hours or so.
            I really do not recommend it to anyone.

        2. Kind of curious that folks who know nothing about wine want to spend a day tasting. However, I would think the quality of the product would still be important. Sterling has the aerial tram, but very meh wines, and a very corporate, cold vibe.

          Domaine Chandon I would recommend to anyone. And it would be a lovely place to take them for lunch. Mondavi, of course, is now completely different from days gone by. The family has nothing to do with the winery.

          Francis Ford Coppola's winery might be of interest to them. It's very tourist-oriented, with a swimming pool and games.

          4 Replies
          1. re: ChefJune

            That is what I was thinking too, June (re: tastings holding their interest for the entire day).

            bclevy, come back and let us know what you did and what they enjoyed! I am going to Napa with a non wino myself this fall (hence the intense interest in this thread!). At least I am meeting the non wino there for one day, then the other days I will do my usual stuff with my sweetie. I will need to play "tour guide" for one day too :)

            1. re: sedimental

              First, why Napa if you are a non-wino? I think this group heard about Napa
              and just wanted to get a feel for the place. If you are familiar with Vietnam, it tends to be crowded and a bit dirty. This group was impressed by the beauty of the place (the
              weather was just perfect: warm but not too hot) and how well tended were all
              the grounds and vineyards. Some of the side roads of Napa between Hwy29 and
              the Silverado Trail are nice and shady.. We met at Domaine Carneros
              and did the tour. I personally liked the winery and the tour, but I don't think this group
              knew enough about wine to appreciate some of the subtle differences between
              different types of pinot noirs or what makes a sparking wine $40 and another $90,
              We then went to Robert Mondavi where they took lots of pictures. We tried to get
              into Frog's :Leap, but it just happens they were closed for the Peach Festival.
              However, they kindly recommended Rutherford Hill as a nice place to picnic,
              and they were absolutely right. It is higher up so there is a good view of the valley.
              The picninc area was nicely shaded (I think by olive trees) and we had a good time
              there. We did the tasting, and then finished our trip with Sterling which was
              very crowded, and very touristy, but it always is.

              I think our guests had areasonable experience. In the recent past, I have taken
              a number of French visitors to Domaine Carneros, and they have always liked
              it very much. You might expect they would recoil at the sight of the reproduction
              of a French chateau in Napa (it is a copy of the Taittinger's castle in Champagne),
              but they always get a kick out of it, and recognize the wine as being very well made.
              I am sorry we missed Frog's Leap since it would have been an interesting experience
              based on the description of the tour on their web site. I am not really into the Robert
              Mondavi and Sterling tourist crowds, but I am happy we discovered Rutherford Hill
              as a great picnic location.

              1. re: bclevy

                Thanks for the great report! I am more of a Sonoma person than a Napa person but I will keep your comments in mind the next time I am out there.

            2. re: ChefJune

              About Mondavi: True the family sold out several years ago but Margrit Mondavi (Robert's widow) is still around from time to time. The mega-corporate owner was smart enough to make her VP of Cultural Affairs and my daughter (who worked for them until just recently) saysthat her presence is still very much felt there. Also, their educational tour is (as I found it) pretty much the same as before. The tour and the Tasting Room are two things she takes a special interest in. I think they'd appreciate hearing ChefJune's thoughts.