After a wonderful few days in NYC, it was time to get down to business and head into Napa and Sonoma valley, I hope that my Napa trip report will provide you with some ideas for your next trip to the Northern California wine regions.
I was joined on this West Coast part of my trip by my friend Vishal (VP) from Brisbane, Australia and after a trip to Barossa Valley (Southern Australia) in 2015, we were keen on trying what North America had to offer with wines. We set off from San Francisco airport to Napa and stayed at the River Terrace Inn for the first night, a quiet hotel, not too far from Napa town centre.
After settling in and freshening up we had a few beers and caught up over dinner at Redd Wood where we enjoyed some fantastic local IPA’s and Pizza. We opted for an early night as we had both spent several hours flying during the course of the day and wanted to be fresh for the wine tasting that we had planned.
After a wonderful breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and drove over to our Air BnB, where we were met by our driver, David from Napa Sonoma Wine Tasting Driver (link below). David was going to drive our hire car around the Napa and Sonoma region as both VP and I wanted to enjoy our time and taste the wines without having to worry about being designated drivers.
We started off at Chandon Winery, starting off with some sparkling wine was a nice easy start (especially given that it was 10am locally). After sipping on these sparkling wines and discussing the region more with our host at Chandon we spent some time walking around the beautiful grounds.
After Chandon, we then headed to Von Strasser, where we were booked in for wine and cheese tasting, the site was perched amid rock-studded terrain in the shadow of an ancient volcano. The wine that impressed me most at Von Strasser was surprisingly a white wine, I normally avoid white wines. The Gruner Veltliner was a sure fire winner and I quickly purchased a bottle.
David quickly mentioned that we were close to Lava Vine, the sister vineyard of Von Strasser, they were a small batch vineyard and our visit was great, we actually spent more time chatting to a couple from NYC, we discussed restaurant recommendations in Napa, NYC and in London, and of course VP being an honourary Australian ambassador, was trying to convince them into trying some Australian wines and the food scene in Australia.
After this unscheduled stop it was time to grab a bite to eat and both VP and I tucked into a monster sized sandwich from a local deli, before heading off to the final sites for the day Frogs Leap and Duck Horn, the latter which a stunning terrace overlooking the vineyard. We sampled several wines, and I was taken by a bottle of The Discussion 2014 by Duck Horn Vineyards, and purchased a bottle to take home.
Both VP and I are this point, loved the scenery and hot weather in Napa Valley, but were underwhelmed by the wine so far there were only a handful of bottles that we felt were to our tastes. With another packed day the following day we were hoping we could find those big bold red wines we were both searching for. For food in Napa town I’d highly recommend a visit to Oxbow Market, but do remember it’s a small town so late night eating can be difficult!
Day 2 of my Napa Trip Report we headed on the drive to Sonoma Valley, given that we had strategically planned every part of this trip (with the help of google maps) we went to the far side of the valley and were going to make our way back towards Napa, a good option as it would be a short ride back to our Air B&B.
We began the day with an unscheduled stop at Medlock Ames winery, this was a winery I had heard of from my cousin, and seeing as we made good time we popped in. I wanted to try their Rosé as my cousin had said it tastes exactly like a deep red, unfortunately due to it’s popularity they would only provide tastings and sell the wine to established members of their wine club, we did however, try their red wines and they were closer to what we were both looking for – I purchased a bottle of Kate’s and B’s to take home with me to London.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery was our next visit, some of you film buffs may recognise the name, I probably spent more time looking at all the film props than I did with tasting wine so won’t comment on the wine, but the grounds themselves were beautiful and most of the visitors were there to spend their day at the swimming pool rather than taste the wine. I think they made the right choice given VP’s view on the wine.
After a lunch stop in Glen Ellen, we were booked in for a full vineyard tour of Benziger Family Winery. Both VP and I had our dates mixed up and were due for our VIP tour the day before, the team at the vineyard were extremely kind and arranged for a guide to take us around the vineyard. This was an access all areas tour and we were able to even do a tasting by the barrel – before heading into a secluded spot to taste the various wines available at Benziger – they were definitely a few more to my taste in here but when it comes to a wine you also have to consider whether or not it’s worth the price point, – yes a bottle of wine can be stunning, but at $140 is it worth it when you can purchase better bottles of wine for £30 at home? It’s subjective and down to the individual but that’s one thing both VP and I agreed on, we were gifted a complimentary bottle of wine, from the Signaterra series the Sunny Slope Vineyard Cab Sav from 2013 as the guide, felt he hadn’t delivered his best tour. That was very kind of them – and to be fair, both VP and I were none the wiser about the poor performance.
Our final visit of our little trip to Sonoma Valley was Ledson which was a stunning building, which apparently the locals dislike and all an eyesore – different is good in my view J. The wines here were much better and more in line with what we were looking for, VP purchased a powerful red and I somehow refrained from buying a bottle – not sure why as I had a large luggage allowance and several bags! I may just blame Brexit worries?In the evening both VP and I relaxed with some burgers and shakes at Gott’s Roadside diner, and a few games of pool at a local dive bar with some IPA’s.
Tim and I had a 4.30am start the next morning, with a sunrise hot air balloon ride the following morning, I want to share all the pictures with you on another post so will leave you with a teaser….
After the early start I headed back to Napa to pick up VP and head back into Yountville for a quick breakfast at Bouchon Bakery, owned by Thomas Keller, we planned to avoid the wineries this day as we both wanted clear heads ahead of our exciting 3 Michelin Star dinner at Thomas Keller’s restaurant, The French Laundry.
The late morning/early afternoon was spent driving to Bodega Bay on the coast, the temperature here had dropped from 34-35 degrees in Napa to 17-18 degrees in Bodega Bay, it was also very foggy and windy! I was used to this, but for poor VP who was used to sunny Brisbane it was a little too cold!
On the way back to Napa ahead of our dinner we decided to pop into Mumm Napa (yes, I know we tried to avoid wineries today but you know the saying… when in Rome…), to try a few glasses of bubbles before heading to our Air B&B to freshen up ahead of The French Laundry…
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my Napa trip report, despite some disappointments in the wines I had a great time exploring the wines that are on offer, I have the feeling we picked some wineries that didn’t suit our tastes but happy to go back and try some more as the people, weather and views in the area were wonderful.
As ever I have lots of love for California, given that Napa is an hour north of my favourite city on the West Coast of USA, San Francisco, I’ll be sure to visit again.