a million bazillion ages ago, (last month), my husband and i went to napa valley, just the two of us. without kids.
it was beauteous and amazingwonderful, obviously.
every day, the weather was 80 degrees, sunny with 0 percent chance of rain. we drank a crap ton of wine and ate a crap ton of delicious food. it was awesome.
sure there were a couple of blips, like feeling vomitty drunk to headachey hung over to perfectly fine in the span of two hours (i should be thankful two hours is abnormally quick and preferable to two days). and encountering a giant mutant spider in the bathroom our last morning there. still, overall, it was a smashing good time with my favorite person.
we did an organized wine tour through platypus, a company that specializes in small group tours to small wineries and provides cheese, lunch, water bottles and a comfortable ride all day for a fairly reasonable price of about $100 each.
we even got to peek into a barrel room and learn a few things about how grapes are grown and wines get made. and then we ended the tour with a group dance-a-long to jump on it. oh yes we did.
somehow, we squeezed in watching the world cup, discovering pliny the elder beer and checking out the napa visitors center for some advice and coupons. we also spent a day driving ourselves around to a couple more wineries, doing an overpriced olive oil tasting, and dining at the thomas keller restaurant ad hoc. amazeballs food. slow service.
one thing i didn’t realize until we arrived in the area was exactly how big napa valley is. napa is the name of the county, the valley, a vineyard district designation for grapes, AND a town. so if you are “going to napa,” you don’t necessarily need to stay in “napa” the town. in fact, if cash rules everything around you, cream get the money, dolla dolla bill yall, then you should stay in the town of yountville or in one of the luxe mountaintop resorts in the area. the town of napa mostly feels very suburban-anywhere-USA while st. helena feels very cute-historic, and yountville feels rich-well-groomed-and-food-centric. didn’t have time to check out calistoga and other points north. but considering how much research i did on wineries and eateries, i was surprised to not already know anything about how these towns were laid out and why i might want to check out one over the other.
unrelated, i was also pleasantly surprised to see so many pretty succulent arrangements everywhere we went. check out the model bakery (home of delicious english muffins) sign. major succulent envy.
so along those lines, here are six things i think you should know if you are ever planning a trip to napa:
- if you can, stay in yountville. if you can’t, at least eat in yountville. make dinner reservations as far ahead of time as you can, if you want to eat at a reasonable hour. because this town is centrally located in napa valley, it’s just a little easier to get to wineries and dinners without worrying about not making it in time.
- if you are driving through napa valley during trafficky times, especially the evening rush, drive the silverado trail. it’s much more beautiful and it’s much less congested than the main road, route 29. as the sun sets through the mountains and you pass acres and acres of vineyards… it’s gorgeous.
- check out the really small wineries. we loved the platypus tour’s emphasis on smaller wineries because you get a much better experience — focused attention and great stories often directly from the actual winemakers themselves, instead of disinterested boilerplate explanations from people who just pour.
- buy wine. i mean, this should be obvious, but the deal at most places is that you get charged a tasting fee, which is often waived if you buy a bottle or two. so why not pay a little more to get a bottle to take home? since we were flying across the country, we bought a cheap (<$10) wine shipping box w/ styrofoam inserts to pack up and check as luggage. our bottles arrived safe and unbroken.
- make reservations for smaller wineries’ tastings, special experiences and dinner, but just walk into the medium to bigger wineries for normal tastings. i noticed some wineries’ websites make it seem like walk-in tastings aren’t even an option, when they are actually the cheapest and easiest option available (*cough* caymus *cough*).
- watch out for those crazy big lurking spiders!