As with a number of our trips in 2014, we had a wedding to attend, and decided to head out a little early to experience something cool locally.
For a wedding of Jen’s family friend in Napa, the choice was clear: wine tour!
Along with her parents and 2 friends from LA, we booked a trip on a 4-5 stop all-day wine tour through Napa Valley Wine Country Tours. What showed up was a super cool white trolley, classic on the outside, but with all the modern touches on the inside. For just $99 a person, this seemed to be a good way to get around and learn about the area for first timers.
The larger your group gets, the more you may want to look into hiring an SUV or limo for the day, especially if you know the wineries you want to visit. If you prefer the fun of meeting drunk strangers and forming 1-day BFF-ships, or you just don’t really know what you want to see and you’re looking to learn more, better to book a seat on a larger bus tour like we did.
Grgich Hills Estate
Our first stop was the Grgich Hills Estate, most famous for their Chardonnay. They have a nice tasting room surrounded by giant barrels where you can sample a handful of their wines. Usually the tastings at the Napa wineries run around $30, so on top of your transportation, and if you end up buying some bottles that you like, the day can add up in a hurry. This is why we love Inglenook, but I’ll get to that in a bit…
One of the cool things offered at Grgich is the chance to stomp grapes. For like $19 you can go out and stomp grapes in a barrel and then place your feet on a souvenir t-shirt with your red messy footprints on it. Kind of a fun novelty, but I wouldn’t call it an amazing life experience. It isn’t like you’re making actual wine or anything, you’re just stomping on their throwaway grapes in a random little gazebo while everybody who is waiting in line watches you.
Our next stop wound up being our favorite of the day, at Inglenook. The estate was built in 1879, and purchased in 1975 by Francis Ford Coppola who helped restore the Inglenook name and heritage.
The grounds are beautiful and expansive, and we only managed to see a fraction of the property. There are daily tours that you can sign up for, and a huge chateau and shop to explore.
There’s a little café carved into the main chateau where you can do a tasting of their best wines, or even get some food. We didn’t have time on our first day, but went back for a longer visit the next day. Here you can grab a bottle of wine, get some cheese and crackers, some salami or other meats, or even a coffee. You can hang out by the fountains and take in the view as you relax in the beautiful courtyard.
The Cabernet Sauvignon was our favorite, but we also loved their Sauvignon Blanc, and even their chocolate sauce was great. They also offer a more private tour experience for $150 a person to tour the grounds, and do a private wine and cheese tasting with a sommelier in one of their wine caves. This is definitely on our list for next time.
The Fuzzy Rest of the Day
Oddly enough, the details get a little hazy after Inglenook…
We visited a few other places that were fun but not must-visits for a return trip. Because we were in Napa during “crush,” the part of the season during which the grapes are actually crushed to make the wine, we were hoping to actually see this process at some point. We got this opportunity here, seeing white grapes rolling down the line, stems removes, and juice squeezed right before our eyes. It wasn’t as dramatic or romantic as you might think, but still kinda cool.
We ended with a celebratory toast over the champagnes and sparkling wines at Domaine Chandon, who have a beautiful winery with a very cool tasting room. The vibe towards the end of this Friday was buzzing, and felt more like a bar scene than a winery.
We got out of Chandon and back on the trolley just before a downpour hit, making for a dramatic ride home with a bunch that was far noiser than we had been at 10am. If you’re a Napa newbie, you would love a day like this. We can’t wait to go back and spend a day at Inglenook and maybe find a few new favorites along the way.