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Oct 23, 2013 08:13 AM

NYTimes' Frugal Traveler does Napa

Many visitors to the Bay Area ask about wine-tasting, and Seth Kugel did a nice little piece on visiting Napa on a budget weekend. As we all know, that's not an easy thing to do, LOL! Plus, he's a newbie at wines, and sometimes it's good to remember that all of us were once there, too.

Good read, and I think the NYT still allows a small number of freebie articles per month.

A Taste of Napa, on a Budget
By SETH KUGEL, the Frugal Traveler, NY Times October 22, 2013
Full URL:

(excerpt) Like a robust zinfandel and delicate oysters, Napa Valley and frugal travel aren’t exactly an ideal pairing.

Or so I thought. Despite Napa’s reputation as a pricey destination for wine lovers, over two days last month — during peak fall harvest season, no less — I managed to visit seven vineyards, taste about 30 vintages, learn more about wine than I ever imagined (including how to punch down the cap of skins into a vat of crushed grapes) and not starve — or go homeless. I even had an affordable meal at a restaurant (of sorts) run by Thomas Keller, perhaps the most celebrated chef in America. It was not, alas, at the French Laundry, where the tasting menu for one with two modest glasses of wine will run about $325. In fact, that’s about as much as I spent on tastings, meals and lodging combined during my two days in California wine country.

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  1. NY Times articles are always free if you get to them via a link on some other site.

    1. I think the heading into the hills advise is the best advise in the article. You have to make appointments, but they are generally also friendly and tasting fees are smaller or non-existent.

      (However - don't just assume. I was burned badly once since there was no mention of a tasting fee on the website and that since it was a small mountain winery - I assumed it had no tasting fee. Imagine my shock to realize it was actually something like $40+ and per person - we couldn't split. We worked something out but it was a bit uncomfortable).

      8 Replies
      1. re: goldangl95

        I'd just walk out if somebody wanted $40 for a tasting.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          In retrospect, I believe they thought they were offering a "tour" and that justified the high per person cost. But for me, it was the same experience as any appt only winery with good customer service - it was not with the winemakers - nor was it technical.

        2. re: goldangl95

          If I make an appointment at a small winery and basically get a personal wine tasting experience without a tasting fee then I almost feel obligated to buy a bottle of wine.

          Many moons ago I made an appt. at Robert Biale and the tasting was on the front porch of their house. They brought out a bunch of wines to taste. No tasting fee, but it wouldn't have been right to just leave after the wine and hospitality.

          1. re: Scott M

            Ah if it's only one bottle. This place I think had $100 minimum purchase pp before they started waiving the tasting fees (really it was all very unexpected - I've encountered these policies at other Napa wineries but they're usually spelled out and at the huge prestige places).

            There's a difference between courtesy and policy. And it's not even that I disagree with the policy necessarily (even though in this case it did seem a bit overboard)! Just it should be published on your website or mentioned when you call and make the appointment.

            1. re: goldangl95

              Well the point being that I wouldn't condone making an appt. and going to small wineries that have low or no tasting fee and then having a personal experience with the winemaker and walking away without a purchase for the sake of being frugal. So if you end up purchasing a bottle at each place it will not be so frugal in the end.

              If it is an open tasting room, no appt. and there are a bunch people tasting, etc then not such a big deal. But if the small winery has to set aside some time in their day to host you and you went out of your way to call and setup an appt. then just leaving afterward is kind of jerky.

              1. re: Scott M

                The situation you describe is not the situation I was describing, but to address it, I do feel this obligation at the end to purchase something.

                But according to many on this board - I should not! As long as we are there truly to explore a new producer, if we don't like the wine *shrug* we don't like the wine.

                Now I have never left an appointment without buying a bottle because of said feelings of obligation -but that's just me.

                1. re: goldangl95

                  The point of tasting is to find wines you like.

                  If nothing they pour me is something I want to drink, I'm not going to buy a bottle. That's happened to me a lot.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I agree the point of tasting is to find wines you like. But even if I don't like any of the wines myself. I will buy something and have it as a gift. So maybe I buy the dessert wine for someone who likes sweeter wines or if I go to a party and need to bring something. Then I have a unique gift (a wine they would probably never come across in a store) and I can share the story of the trip to the winery where I bought it.

        3. So seldom do these travel articles add any historical view. The author could have added that non-budget Napa weekends, "Napa’s reputation as a pricey destination for wine lovers," tasting fees, etc. all reflect its evolution from a wine to a tourism region in the last 25 years, aided by articles like that one.

          I'm divided between wishing journalists would steer serious gastro-tourists to some of the worthy but far less cliché wine regions, which retain the look and feel of the Napa Valley in its formative days, vs wondering if that would cause the same huge changes in those places too.