Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Aug 17, 2012 12:32 AM

Preparing for French Laundry! Napa Winery advice!

Hello all! We were lucky enough to be invited by friends for the French Laundry on a Friday 6PM reservation. We plan to fly into Napa Thursday (arriving into Napa ~4PM), and then leave Monday morning.

My question is: how many wineries is too much for the day of French Laundry? We haven't been to napa before and haven't done a wine tour like this... ever. Additionally -- how much lunch is too much for the main event?

Would hitting a champagne house followed by 3 wineries be too much ahead of French Laundry? How about champagne house at 10:30AM, a 12PM lunch at a winery, and then 2 more wineries? Or how about champagne house at 11AM, 12PM lunch at Redd, and then 2 more wineries, finishing off at Mumm, before going to French Laundry?

Or maybe you do 12PM lunch, 2 wineries, mumm for champagne, and then head to hotel or French Laundry?

Will our taste buds and minds be too seared by that point?

We have limited time~! But don't want to screw up French Laundry by being asleep at the switch!

Thank you in advance for any advice!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Yes, your taste buds will be fried at that point, and in no shape for FL.

    FL requires mental and physical freshness. You should do as little as possible during the day to not compete with what comes later, otherwise you won't appreciate it fully. Your palate should be fresh (not exhausted from wine-tasting) and your body well-rested. What you have proposed totally gets in the way of that. You should have an extremely light lunch (more like a snack) and perhaps one winery before.

    1. If you are going to do wine pairings with your meal at the French Laundry, I would suggest the following:

      1. Don't go to Redd for lunch the day you are going to the French Laundry (unless you have the late 9 pm or whatever time slot). Even if you do, I would think a light picnic lunch at a winery would be better than a heavy lunch.

      2. For us, we often taste 5 or 6 wineries a day (we mostly share tastings and often dump), but if we're doing wine pairings with dinner we limit to 3 at most and try to have a large break/nap between wine tasting and dinner.

      If you're only going to have a glass of wine or two with dinner. I wouldn't worry about getting "wine-d" out as it were and would proceed with your normal schedule. But I'd be very careful about eating too much during the day.

      1. The idea of sparkling wine tasting is a great idea (remember, Champagne is a French-only creation; in California, it is "methode champenoise" or, in the Champagne-method!). It will keep your taste-buds more acute and prepared for the evening.

        Because you only have a few days and you want to take advantage of your time, like others I would recommend a very, very light lunch (definitely not Redd); picnic fare at best - some meats, cheeses, and fruit.

        You could taste one winery with reds early in the day - say, before lunch - then have your picnic before proceeding to a place like Domaine Chandon or Schramsburg for a sparkling tasting around 3:00ish. Then go back to your hotel for a light nap before your dinner. You'll appreciate your evening meal more.

        8 Replies
        1. re: CarrieWas218

          This is a sound suggestion, I think.

          Sounds like you'll have plenty of opportunity to sear your taste buds Saturday and Sunday, assuming the plan is to do tastings on those days as well. That would be another reason to limit the tastings you do on Friday, as you might find that 3 days in a row of wine tasting gets a bit tedious anyway.

          A reasonable thing to ask yourself is what your wine plans are going to be at FL itself (which would depend on how "generous" your host friends are). Wine pairing at FL can be a great way in itself to do wine "tasting" because you will have the expertise of the sommelier.

          1. re: CarrieWas218

            wow, thank you everyone for such great advice. Very very helpful.

            So now for TLFD ("the french laundry day") I will plan on reds tasting to start, maybe sneak in a 2nd reds tasting accompanied by light picnic, and end with a sparkling. I was looking forward to Luncheon at Chimney Rock, but they say its a full lunch and they themselves recommend against it for TFLD.

            Schramsburg already booked out unfortunately for all 3 days for the tour! (Labor day weekend). Makes me sad! But a high class problem :)

            1. re: shanshan

              Another suggestion for your tasting... SPIT.

              Seriously. It is not frowned upon and will give you the advantage of tasting without getting too overwhelmed with alcohol consumption. Give yourself time between the tastings and definitely finish your tasting day (TFLD) with sparkling as it will help your taste-buds get revitalized!

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                Not only is it not frowned on, it actually bolsters your status, since the winery knows you're serious about tasting, not there to guzzle (aka let's see how much wine we can drink for our $10 tasting fee).

                1. re: CarrieWas218

                  I have another strategy: no more than three wines per tasting. I walk in and say "I like X, Y, and Z in my wines. I've heard you specialize in L, M, and (maybe) I've had this or that of yours and did or didn't like it. I'm only going to taste three wines here today and will certainly buy a bottle if I like something. You pick the three and tell me why."

                  Another good tip: if you find a guy or gal you really enjoy tasting with, ask them "Given what you see I like, which other wineries should I try (perhaps for my next trip), and why?" If you hit it off, they'll love to tell you about a new little place doing something exciting. These are the "people people" of the wine industry and love to gossip.

                  I can do 4 or 5 tastings in a day if I stay focused, limit selections at each taste, stop for a good lunch, nap in the afternoon, and have a late dinner (9pm or so). 3 is a non-rushed day with an early dinner.

                  ALSO. If you're in Napa, you probably few in. If you flew in, you have to drive back to SFO or OAK. On the way to OAK (and a small detour from SFO) is the Rock Wall tasting room on Alameda Island. There are a lot of wineries in the new East Bay Vintner's Association, but at Rock Wall you can taste a great breadth (7 or so) in a gorgeous (different from napa) setting. Worth an hour of your time. If you like liquors or absinthe, try St George Spirits in Hangar One a few hundred yards away.

                  Great thing about Rock Wall is you will approach it with a fresh palate, and you'll be able to tell your friends about Something Different. By the end your palate will be fried - GF was tasting bitter where there was no bitter. The urban wineries are producing very different styles than the wineries, because they blend multiple regions - kind of like Fusion food, which is what California is all about - not about terroir - and about impact and structure. Interesting stuff.

                2. re: shanshan

                  That's still three tastings before your FL meal. You'll have palate fatigue (seriously) and won't be able to taste as well during your FL meal.

                  I'm a pro taster, and have been to FL a handful of times. Even I would never do more than one tasting (and it would be sparkling) before an FL dinner. I know you want to do a lot and that you feel you're going to be a kid in a candy store while you're here, but an FL meal is something to empty yourself for, to be emotionally and physically ready to receive. You won't be if you've been traipsing about trying to sample as much as possible before the meal.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    What if we just stopped by Redd for a carrot soup and a half order of meatballs (for one person)? or a single shrimp salad? and did so at 11:45AM. I imagine that would be enough time before TFL (6 hours) and not that much food?

                    Thank you for the advice. All very helpful. Original couple we were traveling with made a reservation at Farmstead.. I nixed it...

                3. What I am thinking of doing now is either Vine Creek or Kenzo Estate tour/tasting with light picnic, drive back to hotel, and then bike to a 1PM or 3PM tasting/tour at Domaine Carneros, back to hotel. Light break, and then French Laundry, where we will start the meal with another glass of brut...

                  We have another couple who invited us to a tasting at St. Helena, but we won't be able to do that as well with this itinerary. That tasting would be at 2PM, which would make it tough to end with a champagne tour/tasting. But its another potion to the itinerary..

                  Thank you everyone for your tips and advice

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: shanshan

                    Be sure to post back here and tell us how everything went.

                  2. We ended up doing 3 wineries + FL. This was too much! 2 wineries + FL was the right amount. Basically, we did one winery... found ourselves with a lot of time on our hands (plans changed), and so did an impromptu winery... and then ended on sparkling.

                    The issue is less the tasting themselves, but the extra pours when folks realized we are buying. So you do the tasting, and suddenly the special bottles come out of the wine library.. and you can't spit it out! Slowly, but surely, you start to realize you've had a lot to drink over a long period of time (or rather, continuous imbibing over a period of time) and there is no solution for this!

                    I would definitely recommend ending on sparkling as well.

                    Despite everything I just said.. 3 wineries was doable for us. I drank A LOT of water and by the time of our seating I was in good shape. Not the tippy top shape, but reasonable.

                    My recommendation is 2 wineries.. end on sparkling.. drink lots of water...we should have done a 2PM Schrambsburg tour vs. 3PM Domaine Carneros tour/tasting as well.. would have been more interesting and would have given us more time before FL

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: shanshan

                      Sounds like you had a pretty good trip - how was TFL?

                      Agree about the "wine library" thing, that's why I say "I'm only going to drink 3" then get talked into another one. And you _can_ taste one sip, then pour the rest out without spitting. This simply tells them to pour less on the next one they talk you into - it's just wasted money for them.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        You can totally spit/dump the library wines. The fact that they opened a bottle - that cost is now fixed regardless if you drink a whole glass or take a 1 oz taste and dump the rest. Now whether them opening up library wines guilts you into purchasing is a whole 'nother thing and depends on the individual. If I absolutely know I am not interested in the winery at that point, I will refuse the offer because I am the type to feel guilty about opening up wines that I will not purchase/will not change my mind about the winery.

                        Regardless, you only need to taste as much as you need to fix the wine in your mind.

                        When I go wine tasting I share most of the time, as I usually only need half of the pour to "fix" the wine in my mind. If for whatever reason (say its an appt at a winery I'm really excited about), and I decide to have my own, I usually end up dumping about half the pour regardless if it's a common or rare bottle.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          TFL review for another time, when it will be less controversial!

                          1. re: shanshan

                            Now we are intrigued.... Controversial, you say???

                            Listen, I've posted my share of FL mishaps, snafus, and triumphs. I seriously doubt you could tell us something we haven't heard (or experienced firsthand) before.

                            1. re: CarrieWas218

                              It just wasn't the "wow" experience. Service impeccable. A few courses were amazing. A few others less memorable. One round was left unfinished by the table! (not I, as I was one of those paying!)

                              1. re: shanshan

                                I wonder how much the "it just wasn't wasn't the wow experience" was because you disregarded all the advise you were given, and over did it before your dinner.

                        2. re: shanshan

                          "... you can't spit it out!"

                          That's an easy skill to learn. Nobody will be offended, the pros all do it. You can't taste 70 wines in two hours if you drink the stuff.