In addition to my restaurant bucket list, I also have a travel list…
At the end of August, Chad and I went to Napa. It was one of my favorite trips to date, and I’m already planning our next visit (FYI, Chad). We spent 2 days drinking our way through wine country and one day exploring San Fran via bike and foot. Oh, we also just missed that 6.0 magnitude earthquake by a few hours. Lucky break (no pun intended).
Day 1: Hello, wine country
Side Note – We used My Napa Valley Driver for our two days in Napa, which was well worth the money spent. Our driver, Linda, picked us up at 10 am sharp at our hotel and drove us around to the wineries of our choice for the next two days. She was so pleasant, provided tidbits of knowledge as we drove around, and had great suggestions to improve our itinerary. I would highly recommend MNVD to anyone planning a Napa trip. Linda also happened to be a Georgia Bulldog from Atlanta, so it was clearly meant to be.
Stop 1: Robert Sinskey
- $25 tasting fee (4-wine flight & plate of small bites)
- Tasting room open 10:00 am – 4:30 pm; no appointment required for parties smaller than 5
The winery was undergoing some construction when we visited, so there wasn’t much in terms of scenery. In fact, we didn’t venture outside of the tasting room. The wine was good, not great. The small bites were a really nice and unexpected touch, and timed perfectly given that we never got around to eating breakfast. The super-pretentious tasting room attendant, however, was not my cup of tea.
The Verdict: The wine was eh. If it weren’t for the tasty bites, I’d skip Sinskey.
Stop 2: Baldacci Family Vineyards
- $50 reserve tasting fee
- Tasting room open 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, by appointment only
Baldacci is a small and charming family-owned winery. We showed up sans appointment, but Linda charmed them into squeezing us in for a tasting. We loved everything about Baldacci, especially the fact that we arrived early enough to enjoy our tasting on the quiet and serene outdoor patio. The wine was spectacular (we purchased our first bottles of the trip here) and the outdoor area was beautiful and relaxing.
The Verdict: Definitely worth a stop. Enjoy the sunshine & wine on the patio.
Stop 3: Rombauer
- $20 classic flight of 4 wines
- Tasting room open 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; no appointment required
Prior to embarking on our trip, I reached out to a few seasoned Napa veterans for some itinerary assistance. Rombauer was recommended to me with the statement: “if you like buttery chardonnay, enjoy.” Um, is the Pope Catholic? Of course I like buttery chardonnay. All of the wines in our tasting flight were enjoyable, and Rombauer definitely delivered on the chardonnay front. After three wine tastings and no lunch, it didn’t take much arm twisting to convince me to join their chardonnay club. Oh, and the view from Rombauer’s balcony wasn’t too terrible either.
The Verdict: “If you like buttery chardonnay [and gorgeous views], enjoy”
Stop 4: Lunch at the Soda Canyon Store
By the time we left Rombauer it was after 2 pm. We were starving and kinda tipsy, or maybe that was just me? Linda took us to the Soda Canyon Store, where we picked up tasty sandwiches on fresh baked bread. We enjoyed our lunch at a quiet picnic table outside, which turned out to be just what we needed before our final stop of the day.
Stop 5: Del Dotto
- $65 cave tour & barrel tasting
- Tours daily by appointment at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm
Our 3 pm cave tour & tasting at Del Dotto was the only scheduled appointment we made for day 1, and we were definitely glad it was the last stop. The tour lasted for 1.5 hours and was both informative and unique. There was also a LOT of barrel tasting involved. We heard a rumor that Del Dotto had “generous pours”, also known as the understatement of the century. I couldn’t keep track of how many wines we tasted, but they were all good. The tour ended with a much needed spread of meats and cheeses, as well as our credit cards, to purchase more wine, of course.
Verdict: As close as you get to bottomless wine in Napa
Stop 6: Dinner at Celadon
After Del Dotto, we headed back to explore downtown Napa. We dined at a table on the outdoor patio at Celadon. After a long day of wining and dining, we weren’t super hungry. We shared a Caesar salad, some calamari, a really tasty pork belly dish, and then called it a night.
Day 2: Rise & shine, time for wine
Stop 1: Domaine Chandon
- $20 classic flight of 4 sparkling wines
- Tasting room open 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; no appointment required
Another piece of itinerary advice we received was to start the day with bubbles, so we eased into day 2 with some sparkling wine for breakfast. We enjoyed everything we tasted, but the best part was the picturesque backdrop. Domaine Chandon’s tasting room had stunning floor to ceiling windows that opened up to show off the beautiful grounds. We enjoyed most of the tasting outside while taking in the beautiful scenery.
The Verdict: Start your day here. You can’t beat bubbles for breakfast.
Stop 2: Nickel & Nickel
- $65 tour & tasting
- Tours daily by appointment 10 am – 2 pm
When we arrived at Nickel & Nickel, we were escorted into the living room of an old farm house and presented with a glass of chardonnay. Off to a good start. For the next hour, we learned about the winemaking process as we explored Nickel & Nickel’s grounds with a small and intimate group of 8. Following the tour, we moved into the formal dining room for our tasting. Nickel & Nickel’s wine was spectacular, and I actually learned a lot about wine tasting during the process. I did feel slightly pretentious when our tour guide urged me to stick my entire nose into the glass to really capture the aromas of the wine, but I got over myself quickly enough.
The Verdict: The tour was a little long for my short attention span. The wine was worth the wait, though.
Stop 3: Cakebread Cellars
- $30 white wine flight
- Tasting room open 10:30 am – 4:00 pm; by appointment only
Cakebread is one of my favorite California chardonnays, so there was no question that we’d stop here for a tasting. The white wine flight progressed perfectly from a light sav blanc to the rich and buttery 2012 Reserve, which I just couldn’t not buy a case of. Other than my personal affinity for the wine, Cakebread’s tasting wasn’t much of an experience.
The Verdict: Visit Cakebread for the chardonnay, although it’s not quite as buttery as Rombauer’s.
Stop 4: Lunch at the Oakville Grocery
Conveniently, Cakebread is right around the corner from the Oakville Grocery. We picked up delicious sandwiches, a handful of gourmet goodies, and enjoyed another picnic lunch outside while soaking up the California sunshine.
Stop 5: Silver Oak
- $20 current release tasting
- Tasting room open 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; no appointment required for parties fewer than 8
We had 45 minutes to spare before our final appointment of the day, so naturally, we stopped at another winery along the way. Silver Oak’s tasting room was super crowded, so we enjoyed our tasting outside with a gorgeous view of the vineyard. After the formality of Nickel & Nickel, it was nice to taste and wander the grounds at our own pace.
The Verdict: Worth a stop if you’re already in the area, but I wouldn’t plan my day around a visit.
Stop 6: Frog’s Leap
- $20 signature seated tasting
- Tasting room open 10:00 am – 4:00 pm; by appointment only
If Del Dotto was the perfect way to end our first day, Frog’s Leap was the perfect way to end our second. We sat outside on the back porch for the signature seated tasting and enjoyed the afternoon breeze with our wine. Afterwards, we took a casual stroll around the property. Frog’s Leap didn’t necessarily have my favorite wine of the trip, but they were a top contender when it came to atmosphere.
The Verdict: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the porch (and wine).
Stop 7: Dinner at Mustards Grill
Located in Rutherford, Mustard’s is a restaurant that came highly recommended by several Napa experts. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was casual and unpretentious. It was just what we needed to end our second evening. Mustard’s famous pork chop was highlight of our dinner, followed closely by the warm chocolate hazelnut truffle tart. If you’re not wined-out by dinnertime, you can also BYOB and enjoy some of your purchases from the trip.
Day 3: Goodbye Napa, Hello San Fran
On day three, we left wine country behind and crossed the Golden Gate into the beautiful city of San Francisco before heading back east.
I guess Travel Drinks: Napa might be a more appropriate title for this post?