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Feb 3, 2013 03:26 AM

Napa sampler trip for 3

My challenge is this: creating a great Napa-area trip to please three pretty different first time visitors... One, a regular (oaky) Chardonay drinker who enjoys reds occasionally and casually; Two, a person with a decent palate who likes trying new and interesting things, but who isn't really a wine person; And myself, a newbie who loves good bold, spicy, high tannin reds.

If I were designing it just for myself, I'd do entirely off-the-beaten-path wineries where you were surrounded by nothing other than a palpable, genuine love for wine and winemaking. Of course there's nothing wrong with a winery that delivers a great experience, so long as its grounded in the celebration of the vine rather than the celebration of the dollar. I'm not terribly interested in the Disneyland for rich people thing, other than to marvel at it from a distance as exactly what it is.

Sermon aside, I think I'd like to find a variety of places (be they big or small) where each of us can experience that kind of love, while also making everyone happy with a variety of wine types and experiences. I even think I should put one of those quintessential tourist spots on the list, if only for juxtaposition. I think in the end we'd all be happy to take in a little bit of Napa from top to bottom.

Anyway, I've been building a list of nominees (we may get around 6 in). Any additions, subtractions, +1's or other guidance would be greatly appreciated.


Frog's Leap


Spring Mountain

Pride Mountain




Castello Di Amorosa

Robert Mondavi

Domaine Carneros

Domaine Chandon

V. Sattui

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  1. Remove Castello Di Amorosa (tourist trap to see a kitchy castle) Mondavi (the only decent wines are $100+ and too expensive to taste), and V. Sattui (worst tourist trap in the valley).

    I would recommend for the Chard lover that you add Rombauer. For your friend that likes to try new things, consider adding Praeger Portworks, and Domaine Carneros is a great choice for all of you: Sparkling wine is always a good choice.

    13 Replies
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      Thanks for the feedback. To be clear, I know that Mondavi, Castello, and Sattui are commercialized tourist traps - that's why they're there. I thought that to get a sense of the Valley from top to bottom, we should see one quintessential tourist spot in all its glory.

      If you were to pick one winery to typify this side of the Valley, what would it be? I'm leaning V. Sattui...

      1. re: izauze

        As an extension, I feel like if I wanted to tour Wisconsin Beer Country, I wouldn't just hit the craft breweries and skip Miller... For better or for worse, the factory is part of what the area is about.

        1. re: izauze

          Wow - interesting philosophy about going to the worst when you have limited time to highlight the best...

          I'll let others chime in as I disagree with the idea of wasting time on drivel when there is so much good to be had.

          1. re: CarrieWas218

            I'm in total agreement with Carrie that izauze request's for an awful winery goes completely beyond anything I'm willing to do.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              No worries, Maria. I've really respected the posts of seen from you, and some of the other places are on the list partially because of you. I'd certainly love it if you had any other words of wisdom beyond my misguided attempt to include one tourist trap.

        2. re: CarrieWas218

          100% agree with Carriewas as far as skipping the awful tourist traps. When we lived in the Bay Area, the only time that we stopped at V. Sattui was when we had our very young children with us and we needed a place where they could picnic and run off some steam without disturbling anyone. The place is a zoo on the weekend and the wine is appalling.

          2nd the rec for Rombauer. I love chardonnay and it is terrific. The people that work there are very firendly and the tasting room doesn't feel quite so corporate.

          1. re: baseballfan

            Sure, if you guys think it's misguided, I don't mind a little feedback. I am after all a first-time visitor.

            As you can see, I did put a decent amount of effort into highlighting quality.

            But my thoughts is, as someone who has never been to Napa and who is trying to create a trip for others with a wide variety of experiences, that seeing at least one winery that represents a well-known side of what Napa is for many people could give me a better perspective on the area as a whole. The drunken French Quarter probably isn't the best representative of the best that New Orleans has to offer, but do you really know the place if you've never been? Am I wrong?

            If so, I'm happy to take other suggestions :)

            1. re: izauze

              It seems that you ask, but do not listen grasshopper. ; >P

              1. re: PolarBear

                Sigh. Didn't mean to sidetrack the entire discussion with one line about "I think I'll check out one tourist trap just to see what it's like".

                I'd really appreciate any substantive replies on the rest of my post. I think I've actually been quite open and wiling to listen. I was really looking forward to talking with like-minded people about a topic I'm really genuinely excited about. I'm sorry that mentioning V. Sattui apparently derailed that. It's not that big a deal - it was just an idea. Can we still be friends?

                1. re: izauze

                  To satisfy your curiosity, why not just drop by for a look-see and a sample sip -- it'll just take as long as you want to stay. If it's as horrible as implied, shouldn't take but a few minutes and a hoot! Don't understand all the noise above.

                  1. re: Sarah

                    I suppose, being a resident, it just hits a bit close to home that people who come to Chowhound for honest and heartfelt recommendations came up against someone who seemingly defies what Chowhound is about: the pursuit of excellence in what we consume to the extent of codifying the "tourist trap" we live in...

                    Maria and I spend a lot of time trying to steer people to the spots in the valley that are of value and worthy of a Chowhound's time and effort. Places like V. Sattui are left to those who rely on sites like Trip Advisor or other amateur sites where inside knowledge is irrelevant.

                    Yes, we bristled a bit with someone who wishes to "get a sense of the Valley, from high to low." It wastes our time and tries our patience. Sorry about that.

                    Sure, there are budget wines that can be tasted in the Napa valley, but recommending V. Sattui for is comparison sake is like saying, "Gee, stop at McDonald's before going to the French Laundry so that you will appreciate the Laundry that much more."


                    1. re: CarrieWas218

                      This is well-stated. I certainly didn't intend to insult anyone. I'm sorry, Carrie if I insulted you or anyone else. It was just meant to be a small part of my overall quest to experience the entirety of the area.

                      But I don't think in the least bit, I am someone who "defies what chowhound is about." I am a longtime user who is passionate about trying new things, new food, new cultures in a world that is all to often set up to deliver pre-packaged, easily digestible fare to the lowest common denominator. I thought I made it pretty clear in my opening sermon that I was coming at this with that sort of spirit. And maybe it's just the sociologist in me, but I don't think I negate that passion by my desire to examine a world that is devoid of it. For me traveling is not just about pampering myself and giving myself the best in all things - it's about creating a new understanding that is not benefited by ignoring that which we wish did not exist. ...Not to get too heady here, but geez. Like Sarah said - it's merely satisfying a curiosity.

                      And yes, when I've hosted vistors from a remote area of mainland China, I would totally show them something like a McDonalds or a Hot Pocket - usually over a laugh, but also because that's part of who we are, as unfortunate as that may be. We are a country that happily gobbles down billions of horrible amonia soaked, factory farmed, psuedo-meats till we kill ourselves. That's part of our story - and story is part of the reason I travel.

                      That being said, I understand that on forums like these on the internet, it's hard to parse intentions, and it's quite easy to assume the worst of them - because the worse of intentions are so unfortunately frequent. But I didn't mean to waste anyone's time and patience, and I certainly wish now that I had kept that little side note to myself so I could instead be benefitting right now from your expertise on where to find a good variety of great wine.

          2. re: CarrieWas218

            Actually, aside from its tourist popularity, Mondavi is an enjoyable winery to visit. As with most NV wineries, they're not going to pour anything that will knock your socks off (unless you join the wine club and/or opt for the $75 tasting), but the building is by legendary CA architect Cliff May. It's quite beautiful. If you can wrangle a tour of Opus One, across the street, jump on it. If you love Chardonnays and Pinots, your odds are better if you cruise the Carneros area wineries. The Chandon tour is touristy, but you'll learn all about making sparkling wines, and their caves smell rich and delicious.
            Amorosa the tour/tasting is jive, but the castle itself is rather remarkable in its craftsmanship. Owner Darrel "Dario" $attui lives next door in a sweet victorian mansion, also owns Sattui winery (meh).
            Pay up and visit Phelps for a real afficianado experience. Go to Darioush for a "vegas" style winery. Crazy fun. Regusci-love their wines, period. Shramsberg if you can get in. Chase is really great and their zin is remarkable, if you can find it. Check for tasting availability. If you're a zin-o-phile, scour the Howell Mountain wineries. For cabs, Vineyard 29 is superb, but forget about visiting unless you're a subscriber. Head over the hill to Pope Valley for some lower-key wineries, good wines, beautiful scenery, and about 1% of the tourists. I think Chateau Montelena (near Calistoga) has tastings, and they make great reds.
            Going toward Sonoma, Hess Collection has a brilliant (free) art museum, even if their wines are so-so. Same for Clos Pegasse, except that they are in a fantastic Michael Graves winery, and they're a block from wonderful Twomey Cellars, and across the street from Sterling. Middling wines, fun gondola ride up the hill.
            Dominus Estate combines great wines and a remarkably beautiful building by Herzog and deMeuron, with a practically unpenetrable visitors policy. You can barely even get a glimpse of the building, even if you know where to trespass. Disappointing. If you want to go tasting and get great wines that won't cost a quart of blood, Napa, unfortunately, is not the best wine area to haunt.

          3. "we may get around 6 in" How long will you be visiting?

            Frog's Leap - Good wines, friendly staff, great tour, beautiful grounds...everything a first time visitor might expect to see in Napa. Some consider this touristy.

            Pride is a definite yes.

            Is budget an issue? Not sure if casual drinkers want to fork $60pp tastings at a place like Jarvis. And also, depending on your final itinerary, this may be out of the way.

            4 Replies
            1. re: ceekskat

              We'll be spending about 2 full days in the valley, likely working our way northward before crossing over to Sanata Rosa on end of day2/beginning of day 3. I've heard to plan on about 3 per day. We'll probably do light snacking/picnicking for early meals and do a nice restaurant at the end of the day.

              Glad you +1'd Pride, that was tops on my own personal list. For the rest, I'm mostly trying to balance my own personal tastes with others that might get tired of the big cabs and yearn for the occasional fruit-forward or oaky white.

              (And you're right - not finding Jarvis' price was apparently an oversight)

              1. re: izauze

                Day 1:
                Frog's Leap, Chappellet, Rombauer

                Day 2:
                Spring Mountain, Pride** (you can picnic here), Keenan

                Domaine Carneros would be nice in the mix but is away from the rest unless you switch your days and end with DC before heading to Santa Rosa. Elyse & Trefethen are other suggestions.

                **I believe the Spring Mountain route is what one would take to go to Santa Rosa but it is pretty windy. Ideally, you should end your day at Pride before heading over to Santa Rosa but you are unsure of your day 2 schedule. Any case, make sure to drive over the mountain before it gets dark.

                1. re: ceekskat

                  This looks really great - thank you. I may end up doing something really close to what you have here. I was looking at adding Hendry too, but there doesn't seem to be time.

                  I'm not exactly a stranger to mountain driving, but is it particularly bad? I must say, the one thing I'm not sure about is how much time to budget for certain out of the way drives. The google maps time seems on the optimistic side.

                  1. re: izauze

                    Driving times should be fairly accurate but be advised hwy 29 is heavily traveled & expect congestion in St. Helena & city of Napa. We usually drive up the Silverado Trail.

                    As for Spring Mountain driving...I wouldn't advise driving after dark especially after drinking. I believe same with Oakville grade.

            2. Chandon is a great way to start sampling wines at 10:30 am with their line up of reserve sparkling wines. Cliff Lede hosts fabulous private tastings as does Newton vineyards. Phelps is a much less personal approach but access to their Insignia bottlings is worth the visit. Heitz has an open tasting bar,no reservations needed pouring 4 fabulous cabs including their "Martha's Vineyard" bottling for free. Nickel and Nickel requires a reservation but provides one of the most informative tours and samples five different cabs, same vintage, different vineyards to help demonstrate the effect of microclimate differences and soils has on the outcome. Pride Mtn. vineyards will offer a tour of their caves with barrel sampling that help demonstrate the evolution of their wines as they age as well as an in your glass blending of cab franc and merlot sampled separately and then in combination to help illustrate the flavor impacts of blending varietals. Paradigm is one of the more informal tasting environments while sampling some stellar reds. Darioush is worth not just a visit for the exquisite winery design but reservations for a reserve tasting of special bottlings but access to the incredible expertise of their concierge staff. Be advised there is currently some roadway construction along. Hwy 29 so travel times between wineries may take a bit longer than normal. Mustard plants in full bloom between vine rows at present makes for some glowing vistas.