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Memorial Day Weekend in Napa

My wife and I will be driving up from San Fran on the Friday leading to Memorial Day weekend. I hear traffic can be quite hairy on Fridays let alone a holiday weekend. How long (realistically) will the drive take to downtown Napa?

We enjoy good wine and good food but are by no means wine experts. I'd like to do some tours/tastings that are fun and scenic and plan on buying some wine for home up to $50-60 per bottle. I'm not a big crowd kind of guy but I realize that may be par for the course on a holiday weekend. I'm perfectly happy making reservations for a more private experience.

My basic itinerary (based on the many recommendations on this board):

Friday afternoon: arrive in Downtown Napa and perhaps visit one winery (Hess Collection, Sinskey, Paraduxx, or Far Niente). Dinner at Bistro Jeanty or Redd

Saturday am: Visit Spring Mountain area wineries (Pride, Terra Valentine, Duckhorn, Smith Madrone, Schramsberg) - probably will do 3 of these
Saturday Lunch: perhaps picnic at Pride or hit Goose & Gander
Sat afternoon: Frog's Leap or Quintessa followed by Auberge du Soleil for the view and some bubbly
Dinner: Bistro Don Giovanni or Bottega

Sunday: brunch at Ad Hoc or Brix then hit Solage Spa followed by an early dinner at Zuzu prior to heading back to SF for the red-eye back east.

Any thoughts/suggestions/tips would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. On your Saturday day: Duckhorn is not on Spring Mountain and is pretty far from it (e.g. could take half an hour) so I'd move that to the afternoon or scrap it. You should expect an hour and a half each of the Spring Mountain wineries you've listed (Pride, Terra Valentine, Smith Madrone and Schramsberg). They all have long tasting/tour type formats.

    As a result I'd pick two for before lunch not three and that's only if you either do a 10 am tasting or can handle a late lunch (e.g. after 1 pm).

    I would fit at most 4 wineries in a day. The palate gets tired out and especially with the long format/hosted tastings - I find myself dumping less and sipping the wine as we converse.

    1 Reply
    1. re: goldangl95

      Much appreciated thanks. I'll pare back the morning hit list.

    2. Both Redd and Bistro Jeanty are excellent. Can't go wrong with either, and in fact maybe try both. Can't speak to BDG or Bottega.

      I love Ad Hoc, but I was last there about 2 years ago.

      Have never been to Quintessa, but it's been rec'd by other vineyards I like, so probably a great choice.

      I'd agree with goldang, 4 wineries in a day is probably max. Especially if you are driving and don't want to rush around.

      1. Is $50-60 a bottle within reason for the vineyards I've chosen? I'd love to bring wine home but don't want to do a tour only to find out that all bottles are over $100.

        1 Reply
        1. re: weaverke

          Don't know specifically for each vineyard, but I believe Sinskey, Frog's Leap and Quintessa should be. Some others in that price range are Elyse, Nyers, and Failla.

          You can always go to the website for each Vineyard to get an idea of the price range.

        2. Realistically, the drive to Napa from San FranCISCO on a Friday, holiday weekend will be about two- to two-and-a-half hours. The bottleneck will be leaving the city and then again in American Canyon.

          I like your itinerary and have these thoughts:
          Friday dinner - Redd is the more specular while Bistro Jeanty is French comfort food.

          Saturday: If you hit Goose & Gander for lunch, both Bistro Don Giovanni or Bottega will be a let-down. BDG is great Italian food, but G&G is far more interesting. Bottega is just heavy and over-wrought - skip it.

          Sunday: Brix's Sunday brunch is legendary for its monstrous amount of food, making a small-plates dinner at Zuzu a great option before heading home! Because of that, I would suggest adding a sparkling tasting in on Sunday after the spa...

          1 Reply
          1. re: CarrieWas218

            Perhaps Schramsberg after the spa? Could be a nice way to finish off the long weekend. thank you.

          2. Far Niente & Quintessa are on the high side. I'd skip Paraduxx...was not impressed with their wines.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ceekskat

              Dissenter to Ceekskat on Paraduxx... One of my favorites in the valley (I like the Paraduxx offerings over the Duckhorn).

              Agree that Far Niente and Quintessa are expensive.

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                May be because it was the same trip we did Shafer, Pride & Karl Lawrence? :-)

              2. re: ceekskat

                Third Quintessa being on the high side (and really not many offerings). On Spring Mountain you'll be fine it'll be more like $75 (prices just keep going up) but you're not going to hit the all the bottles offered are in the $120 category up there.

              3. We've actually had decent food at Bottega (skip the salads, which always have tired greens albeit good dressings) but it is a tourist madhouse. I personally am not a BDG fan; I class them with Mustards and find the service perfunctory especially at BDG. I'd eat at Oenotri instead.

                Curious as to why you don't want to eat at Solage's Solbar? Solage is a little ways away from everything else and honestly, I think you'll be tired and sated on your third day. Solbar's menu is evenly split between light spa and heartier fare, making it easy to eat as much or as little as you want. The food is excellent, the service matches.

                Definitely expect crowds. Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of "high season". If the weather is good you will definitely hit traffic.

                JMHO, from SF I'd go to Sonoma instead. More area to cover, but less crowded, good wineries, excellent restaurants (especially if you avoid the Square which gets the tourist crowds), gorgeous scenery (the Two Rock road is one of the most beautiful stretches of Sonoma farmland around, to drive on). I realize you may already have hotel reservations, in which it might be a hassle to change. But think about it for your next visit!

                2 Replies
                1. re: jaiko

                  I will say if budget is a factor, Sonoma's average wine bottle prices are more around $45 as opposed to $75...besides this fact however...

                  I'm not sure why Sonoma is so much better than Napa to warrant redoing a whole itinerary and reservations? The wineries are equally as good, it really doesn't feel crowded if one stays off of Hwy 29 and/or do appt only as the OP is doing.

                  The restaurants are equally good and certainly more varied on the $$$-$$$$ scale (esp. with Cyrus gone). The scenery on the Silverado trail and up the mountains is equally as good - and if you count all of Napa - there are all the same varietals that there are in Sonoma cnty...

                  1. re: goldangl95

                    I didn't say it was worth redoing the OP's entire itinerary. I just prefer Sonoma Cty to Napa and the Sonoma Square. I love to drive back roads, and happen to prefer Sonoma's scenic hills to Napa's.

                    As I said, JMHO only, despite the fact that Napa is much closer to us than Sonoma. We visit Sonoma Cty three times as often as Napa. But we don't care about wine, since we don't drink. We want food, scenery, books, plant nurseries, and the least number of crowds possible.

                2. Some very nice choices in your schedule. Good job.

                  Far Niente is one of the most beautiful wineries in the US, so if you're interested, book it now. FN fills up quickly. The entire place is so classy, and the wines are simply stunning.

                  I really like the Hess Collection art gallery, and their second tier of wines (they have two).

                  Frog's Leap and Quintessa are literally around the corner from one another, so you could do both if time allows. Auberge is right up the hill from both. If you're going to Auberge only for the view, you could simply visit Rutherford Hill winery next door to Auberge and walk out to the overlook and gaze at the vista there. I can't really recommend the wines there, though.

                  I'm not a fan of Bottega, but I love BDG.

                  3 Replies
                    1. re: weaverke

                      Sounds like a great trip. Some thoughts,

                      * I'd go to Napa via the Golden Gate Bridge. Friday afternoon promises a crush getting on the Bay Bridge, a jam in Berkeley and heavy traffic in American Canyon. Plus it's an ugly drive. Golden Gate Bridge route is prettier and 90 minute max.

                      * in Napa, you might choose Oenotri for an Italian option superior to BDG and Bottega.

                      * in Yountville, it's Redd over Bistro Jeanty everyday of the week. Book a table on the front patio.

                      * in St Helena you might enjoy French Blue. Casual, fun atmosphere in a beautiful space, eg French overtones in a Nantucket-type farmhouse.

                      * in Calistoga, Solage spa is wonderful and Solbar is worth a stop. Gorgeous pool, patio and restaurant.

                      Have fun.

                      1. re: cortez

                        Thanks for the driving tip (and others)!

                  1. You have a great itinerary!

                    Paraduxx is awesome. Wines are nice--setting even better!
                    I would opt for Redd over BJ--Was really disappointed in Jeanty last visit and Redd is very special!

                    Saturday--Pride and TV are both excellent. Robert Keenan is also a cool stop on the mountain and reasonable wines with a funky tasting room. A good friend of mine owns G&G and you'll love lunch there--don't miss it and if you're in the mood--their cocktail program is second to none. I would choose Bottega over BDG. I am surprised at all of the negativity. I've eaten there at least 6 times and always loved it. Skip Quintessa. Maybe try Clif Lede instead.

                    I would definitely hit Ad Hoc but might prefer them for dinner vs. Brunch if you're worried about Bottega.

                    You're on the right track for sure!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: rbryman

                      Just booked the 10am tasting at Pride...very excited. Also G&G just looks too good to pass up so lunch it is after Pride.

                      1. re: rbryman

                        Perhaps our palates our different, but I find Cliff Lede's wines quite flawed. Quintessa's are particularly beautiful -- the 2008 is one of the most beautiful Cabs I've had in recent memory in Napa Valley. I'd never in a million years choose Bottega over Bistro don Giovanni and both are in my backyard.

                        I find Paraduxx's wines OK, but nothing special. With limited time, other wineries are better choices. I agree the setting is better than the wines, and there are better settings also.

                        I personally love Bistro Jeanty and love the Euro feel of the place. I've never had a bad meal, and I've had plenty of experience with the place. Carrie218 and I have written several great reviews of the place.

                        If you can hit Ad Hoc on a fried chicken night, go. Or get fried chicken as a take-out item from their back-door takeout spot called Addendum. Check the online availability.