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Oct 6, 2012 11:50 AM

Napa Weekend to Celebrate Big Birthday - Comments and Suggestions Please

Hi All,

My wife and I are traveling to Napa for the first time in 15 years to celebrate my (GULP) 40th birthday. Since my last trip, I have grown to appreciate fine food and wine and certainly am looking for a very different experience from the last time I was in the area.

The itineray below is a very rough draft and I am willing to change any portion of it (keeping in mind that my wfe loves good sparkling wines and I am a sucker for plush hotel bathrooms).

We are flying into San Francisco in early 2013 and will be staying for two days. I am hoping the weather cooperates so we can enjoy some biking and picnicking.

Please provides comments, suggestions, and reccomended alternatives.

Arrive 9:00 AM Friday (SFO):

Drive to Napa, pickup picnic basket at Oxbow or D&D
Tasting & Picnic at Rombauer
Cave Tour & Tasting at Schramsberg (12:30)

Check into Carneros Inn
Dinner at Boon Fly


Ride bikes to Etude for 11 AM tasting
Pickup picnic basket at Carneros and bike to Truchard for tasting\tour 12:30
Tasting at Cuvaison 2:30
Tasting at Domaine Carneros 3:30
Dinner at FARM 7:30


Late lunch at Etoile
Depart SFO at 6:30 PM


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  1. Looks to me like you got it dialed in pretty nicely!

    1. The best picnic supplies at Oxbow are around the corner at Fatted Calf.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Kovets, please clarify: You are picking up picnic supplies from your hotel, Carneros Inn, correct?

        1. re: maria lorraine

          I think that is on Saturday. For Friday OP stated plans to get picnic supplies from Oxbow or D&D.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Yup. Friday from Oxbow, Saturday from Market at the Inn. Does anyone know if the Market sandwiches are made to order?

      2. If the weather predictions for the upcoming year in the region prove to be correct, biking might not work. January and February are our heaviest rainfall months and when it does rain, rain can be quite heavy and cold. I see you are hoping for good weather, but I wouldn't count on it, especially in January.

        Not sure what a 'late lunch' means to you, but keep in mind that from there to SFO will be at least 1.5 hours by the quickest route (which is usually down through Berkeley and Richmond and over the bay bridge), more if there is traffic and/or bad weather, or you want to cross over the Golden Gate. So realistically, to be at SFO, rental car dropped off and ready to check in an hour before your flight, you'd want to leave Etoile by three or so at the latest. If it were me, I'd want to leave by around two. I haven't eaten at Etoile, but my Stepmom did and reported that it was lovely, (although I believe they ate outside, which might be an option in winter) but that service was slow.

        1. Second that you should be prepared for rain. If the weather is clear, you'll have beautiful sunny crisp days. But it is equally likely it will pour rain the whole time you are here.

          Is there a type of wine or food experience you are looking for or want to focus on? I'd say overall your itinerary is fine.

          1. Thanks for all the responses!!

            Letsindulge, I agree it looks good on paper (after all, my picks are mostly based on other posts from Chowhound), but it's the details that concern me. For example, does Truchard allow you to picnic on their grounds ... and are the wineries in the Carneros region fairly easy to bike to and from (or would we be better of staying at Solage and visiting the Calistoga offerings)?

            Of course, there is also the weather that susaninsf and goldan195 warn about. I suppose this is my biggest trepidation about making this trip in the middle of Winter. How does heavy rain affect the Napa experience? Can it still be enjoyable?

            Goldan195, I would consider myself more a foodie than an oenophile. My appreciation of good wine typically has more to do with how it compliments a dish than how its enjoyed by itself. My wife, on the other hand, really loves her wine and makes most of the purchases on our behalf. She is especially fond of good sparkling wines (and shys away from big cabs).

            Robert, we will definitely check out Fatted Calf as it is right up my alley. Susaninsf, I will make my lunch reservation on Sunday closer to the middle of the day.

            2 Replies
            1. re: kovets

              I personally think Napa in winter is fine....crowds may be less of an issue. and if you don't hit a storm, weather can be great. OTOH, the weather could be awful. I'd plan indoor backups for those picnics, and not assume you can bike, and it should be good.

              By the way, I like Oxbow better than D & D, and IIRC it has more space to eat indoors if need be.

              1. re: kovets

                I would say if your wife shies away from big cabs I would not center all of your wine tasting around Calistoga. While there are of course exceptions, Napa Valley proper is heavily cab dominated. It would be good to go down to Carneros and try some pinot/sparkling as well. You also have a good mix of bigger open to the public places and appt only places.

                As to Napa in Winter, January sunny days are some of my favorite times in Northern California. You can see for miles and everything sparkles. -But you just can't predict when those clear days will be. I like Napa when it's rainy, it's just a different experience. The picnicking thing definitely becomes difficult. There's no grapes on the vines and the valley isn't sun-drenched.

                On the other hand, it's much less crowded. You can feel like you have a whole winery to yourself at some places and it can feel very cozy. I guess our rainy days are kind of like snow days? To use a rather poor analogy. Try to get a hotel with a fireplace and maybe even a jacuzzi type tub.