Napa Valley Wine Tours...without a car
We're celebrating our 10 anniversary, and we're planning a 4-day trip. The reviews on food and wineries are first-rate on CH. The one thing that I don't see is tips on chauffeured wine tours on the board. Are there any tips on tours that take you from winery to winery to negate the need to drive while wine tasting? I've looked up a few companies, and can't tell if their pre-set tours are quality or not. I do know that I don't care for Hess, Mondavi, Beringer, and Rutherford Hill wines. It's our first time, and reviewing all the information in the last couple of days has been a little daunting. Please help. Any advice would be great.
Check out Bruce at Wine Country Safari. He runs a small company with individual service. He is super knowledgeable about high quality small producers and will put together a tour fitting for a celebration. He has lots of great reviews on trip advisor.
I wouldn't worry about BAD wine. So If you just want to enjoy a pretty day at pretty wineries (and types of wines/quality of wine is secondary), I'd look at pre-set tours, post the itineraries on here - and we'll let you know which one is the best itinerary.
If you are serious about wine, and it is only the two of you - I'd suggest getting a towncar not a full on stretch limo. As baseballfan mentioned - some of the off the beaten path places cannot handle a stretch limo.
Also - if you are serious about wine - I'd create your own tour - not let a driver dictate as CarrrieWas218 noted many drivers get kickbacks or simply send people to the same touristy wineries.
Do you have a preference as to wine varietals? If you love Cab Sauvignon practically every winery in the valley is an expert - so it's not a limiting factor. On the other hand, if Cab is not your thing we can help you find wineries that specialize in other types of wines.
So many helpful tips, everyone! Thanks. You give us lots to consider. I'm more the wine person than my husband...he wants to use this trip to get a better appreciation for my habit. I love Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Merlot...but being that this is our first time to Napa...I'm more than willing to experiment.
Most of the below suggestions is for wine in the $40-75 range per bottle.
Merlot is fairly common in Napa. Duckhorn is one of the most famous producers but there is also Paloma (appt only), Keenan (appt only), Chappelet (appt only), Hall, Whitehalll Lane, Trefethen, Darioush, Ehlers (appt only), Nickel & Nickel (appt only) among many.
If you want to try Syrah or Pinot Noir I'd call ahead to make sure they pour those varieties regularly/can pour them when you come.
Syrah is not common in Napa Valley but I would suggest Paraduxx which has some interesting blends. Also, Neyers (appt only) has Syrahs and rhone blends.
Pinot Noir is common in the Napa Carneros area which is just south of Napa Valley proper. Etude and Adastra (appt only) are great. Further north there is Schramsberg (who is known for its sparkling wine - appt only) and Trefethen.
I'm not familiar with Pinot Grigio in the valley but someone else may be..
I'd second Duckhorn, Paloma and Nickel & Nickel for Merlot (especially the Harris Ranch Merlot at N&N), and add Swanson and Pride Mountain for two other excellent Merlots. Paloma's and Swanson's are legendary, but the N&N Harris Ranch is one of the best I've ever had.
There's more Syrah here than goldang may be aware of. Lagier-Meredith makes one of the most beautiful and elegant ones I know. Shafer's Relentless (Syrah) is kickass and a big wine (it just won the Wine Spectator Award for the #1 of the year). Trefethen crafts a good Syrah (try their Pinot and Chard also). Pride Mountain's wines are excellent all-around, including their Syrah, their Cab Franc (my favorite there) and their Merlot -- all excellent.
I'd seriously recommend Joseph Phelps Winery in St. Helena for Syrahs and Rhone-based blends, in St. Helena, who specializes in Rhone varietals, as well as making two of the most prestigious Cabernets in all of Napa Valley (Insignia and Backus).
Phelps makes two wonderful Syrahs (the Napa Valley and the Larry Hyde Vineyard. Pastiche is a Rhone (Syrah) blend, and a beauty to drink.
Second, Adastra ***, Etude and Trefethen for Pinot, all in the Carneros district. Phelps again makes a Freestone Vineyard Pinot Noir that's outstanding.
Don't miss Schramsberg. The J. Schram is the US's finest sparkling wine, and very similar to that of France. But their other bubblies are great too, and their Blanc de Blancs is one of my regular favorite bubblies.
We don't make Pinot Grigio in Napa Valley or in California. What we do make is Pinot Gris, its riper sister, and for that, I'd recommend Etude again for their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, and Luna on Silverado Trail(label says Pinot Grigio but it's made in the style of Pinot Gris).
Finally, you're coming to a place that specializes in Cabernet and Chardonnay, and you might want to try taste some of the those while you're here.
We used Black Tie Limo when doing a day trip from the East Bay. I didn't set it up as it was a 40th birthday celebration that was set up by the birthday boy's wife. They did give the driver a list of where they wanted to go (They are big wine people andknow what they like) and did say that the limo company was able to procure some reservations that they were unable to get on their own.
We did Anderson Conn Valley, Cakebread, Quintessa, Frank Family and Decoy not in that order. The hosts provided snacks and we stopped at Sunshine Market for sandwiches. We then had a picnic at Decoy.
Be aware that the typical stretch limo cannot make it up the driveways of some tasting rooms. We had that problem at Rombauer.
As far as the limo service goes, it was fine and the limo was new so very nice but the driver left a little to be desired in friendliness dept. I think that Black Tie is fairly reasonable as our hosts are frugal and probably researched it extensively. Have fun as it is quite relaxing to be able to enjoy the wine and not have to worry about driving.
The problem is that most of the locals who report on the board don't use the driving services so we don't have first-hand experience with them and few people report back after they have used them...
What we have learned is that very often, the drivers get kick-backs from certain wineries so if you just choose a driver, you are much, MUCH better suited to researching which wineries you want to go to and then TELLING them your itinerary or wineries you are definite about wanting to go to and have them help you devise the driving schedule.
Yes, there are drivers who are very knowledgeable about the industry and wines, but understand that they have an agenda as well and I've seen some people post here who had drivers recommend places we locals would never bother with.
Hope that helps!