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Jan 22, 2013 01:57 PM

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.

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  1. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        7 Replies
        1. re: goldangl95

          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.

          1. re: attran99

            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..

            1. re: goldangl95

              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.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                Thanks, maria! This list is terrific We'll be there this weekend.

                1. re: attran99

                  Thanks, maria and goldangl95...for some terrific recs. We were most impressed with impressed we joined their wine club. Chris Thorpe gave us an amazing tour of his property and showed us the entire Adastra line up. His winery was the kind of winery we had envisioned visiting...small, personable, and a true love of the land.
                  Etude, Luna, Darioush, and Trefethen were excellent recs, too. We bought all of our gift wines from those locations. Darioush was some adventure...that place was almost one the the last places on Earth that would have tasty wine. The Persian palace really throws you off.
                  We weren't able to go to Shafer, and a warning to everyone out there, if you want Relentless, they won't sell it to you unless you go on the tour. The consider if sold out. This made me sad.

                  1. re: attran99

                    Glad the trip worked out!

                    Yeah Darioush is still stuck in 80s vegas oppulence which is a turnoff. But I really enjoy their wines and find the tasting room run very well and efficiently.

                    1. re: goldangl95

                      Glad to hear someone enjoyed Darioush. I drive people by it to see the architecture, but I have never enjoyed their wines at all -- too hot and overly alcoholic for my tastes.

        2. 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.

          3 Replies
          1. re: vday

            Thanks, vday! Based on the suggestions I see here and the board, I might give Bruce a call to see what he can do for us.

            1. re: attran99

              Thanks, vday, for the excellent rec. We toured with Bruce at Wine Country Safari while we were in town. He was super knowledgeable and took us to some wonderful small producers. We learned a lot about wine, wine tasting, wine making, and wine purchasing.
              We spent our rainy day touring the Calistoga/St. Helena area. We went to Frank Family Winery (champagne and Cab), V Madrone (Pinot Noir and Cab), Heitz Cellers (port) , Midsummer Cellars (Pinot Noir and Cab), and Delgadillo Cellars (aged Cab). Each of the stops was informative and delicious. DH and I became big fans of the Heitz Port and the Delgadillo Cabs. Delgadillo cabs were all aged at least 9 years...we were tasting 2003 and 2004 vintages. They were all spectacular. The tour ran longer than we anticipated, so don't make early dinner reservations if you decide to tour with Wine Country Safari.
              We were impressed with the personal service that we got at each winery. The smaller the producer, the better sense we got about the winemaker. This was exactly the kind of tour that I had envisioned going on. I would be more than happy to tour with him, again.

              1. re: attran99

                Thanks for reporting back attrans99. I'm glad to hear your tour was so enjoyable:-) Bruce is a hidden gem . . .

          2. I like Verve for wine tours. Great people, classy operation.

            The concierge or wine educator at your lodging may be able to help. But it's really best to do your research on wineries first, as Carrie mentions. Where will you be?