Making your dream Napa vacation a reality
Beginning in the 1860s, wineries including Charles Krug, Schramsberg and Inglenook began to spring up in Napa Valley, California.
In 1976, the Judgement of Paris took place, pitting Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays from California against the best wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy in a blind tasting. Thanks to big wins by the likes of Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley earned respect as a winemaking region – and became an overnight international tourism hot spot.
And now, exactly 40 years since that fateful tasting, there is a new milestone: Allegiant Airlines now flies directly into the Napa/Sonoma Regional Airport from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. This means getting to the premier wine country in the United States has never been easier – or more affordable.
But with more than 500 wineries in the area – not to mention some of the highest-rated eateries and resorts in the nation – where does one even start? Luckilly, we’re here to help.
Luxury resorts abound in Napa. And while some are pricey, there are significant discounts available to guests willing to stay Sunday-Thursday. Flights are also readily available during the week.
Calistoga Ranch is an exclusive resort overlooking historic Lake Lommel that features just 50 guest lodges and 22 exquisite owner lodges. Rooms range from 600 to 3,000 square feet and boast floor-to-ceiling windows as well as outdoor shower gardens where guests can (privately) shower under the stars. There is also an award-winning spa on site as well as one of the most-acclaimed restaurants in Napa: The Lakehouse. Solely serving resort guests, the restaurant uses organic ingredients from local farmers to create evolving menus in line with the seasons.
Other resort best bets: Solage Calistoga, Silverado Resort and Spa, Auberge du Soleil and The Meritage Resort and Spa.
Given the sheer number of wineries in the area, it is worth looking into the experience each one offers before booking a reservation or tour. Care to visit a wine cave? Blend your own wine? Ride an air tram to a tasting? Napa offers it all – and more.
Not only was Schramsberg among the first wineries in the region, it was the very first to dig into Napa’s hillside to create wine caves. Yes, caves. At any given time, as many as 2.7 million bottles of sparkling wine line the 34,000-sqaure-foot Schramsberg caves, each aging two to ten years before release. The vineyard offers tours of the caves, which culminate in a candlelit wine tasting underground, seven days a week and limits each tour to just 12 guests.
“When our wine was selected as an entry to the Paris Tasting 40 years ago, we couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on the American and global wine industry,” says CEO and Master Winemaker Bo Barrett. “After the win, Dad really said it best: ‘Not bad for kids from the sticks.’”
Kids from the sticks no more, the winery gained such acclaim those 40 years ago that its journey was profiled in the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock” starring Bill Pullman, Chris Pine and Alan Rickman.
As impressive as the film and other accolades is the show-stopping Chateau itself. Draped in bright green ivy, it resembles an English Gothic castle, and its tasting room is perched on the top floor to allow for some of the best vineyard views in the world. Tours are offered seven days a week and are limited to just eight guests.
Franciscan Estate Winery
If you are a wine geek, you probably know the Franciscan Estate as the very first winery in the Napa Valley to bottle a Chardonnay – our Cuvee Sauvage – using only wild (native) yeasts. Or perhaps you know them thanks to their umpteen honors from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Sunset Wine Competition, Sunset International Wine Competition and Grand Harvest Awards, just to name a few.
But whether a wine geek or not, Franciscan offers one of the most interactive – and fun – wine experiences in Napa: a wine blending class. During the interactive program, a trusted wine expert shows guests how to blend the winery’s most-beloved varietal, the Magnificat, while taking them through several specific types of wine. Each guest is also given beakers, various measuring instruments and glasses to blend together a signature blend of his or her very own. The kicker – guests can even name their creations.
Sterling offers guests a sky-high winery experience – literally. The “flight” into this winery is reason enough to visit. Perched atop a hillside, guests take an aerial tram – the only one of its kind in Napa – to the winery, which offers stunning views for miles in each direction. From the moment visitors depart the tram, they are greeted with wine as they are ushered into one of several tour and tasting options. Elevated walkways, on-site art galleries and motion-activated flat screens that provide detailed information of all the vineyard has to offer abound. This is a great winery for those who prefer to tour at their own pace.
Other wineries: Davis Estates, Mumm, the Castello di Amorosa, Bennett Lane, Frank Family Vineyards, Del Dotto and Inglenook.
Narrowing down dining options while in Napa is nearly as difficult as choosing which wineries to visit. As with the wineries, reserving experiences versus simply making reservations is key.
Robert Mondavi Winery
Inspired by Robert Mondavi’s autobiography “Harvests of Joy,” where the icon shares how he combined his passion for Napa and business savvy with an undeniable joie de vivre to become, perhaps, the best-known American winemaker of all time, the Robert Mondavi Winery offers two extraordinary dining experiences right on property – a rarity in the region.
During the Harvests of Joy lunch, which is limited to just 10 people, guests are taken on a private tour of the estate and then seated in the Vineyard Room, which overlooks the famed To Kalon Vineyard and neighboring Mayacamas Mountains. Acclaimed in-house chef Jeff Mosier then uses local ingredients to dream up a three-course menu paired with some of Mondavi’s favorite wines.
For those looking for something special for dinner, the vineyard also offers a Garden to Table experience that features a tour of the winery’s expansive gardens, where you will get the chance to harvest your own produce. Before sitting down to dinner, guests are actually taken behind the scenes into the kitchen to learn how to cook with their chosen produce. Then, as Mosier prepares a wine-paired dinner, guests have the chance to explore the winery before joining Chef outside to dine under the stars.
Most of Napa’s most-beloved eateries are headed by celebrity chefs. Bottega is no different. Led by James Beard darling Michael Chiarello, both the Emmy-winning host of the Food Network’s Easy Entertaining and a fierce competitor on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters¸ Bottega takes pride in offering regional Italian cuisine. Their goal is to showcase Italy’s 20 or so regions, as each little town and city has its own distinct cooking style and spin on seemingly similar dishes.
Other amazing restaurants include: The French Laundry, Morimoto, Redd’s, Mustard’s Grill, Celedon, Sam’s Social Club and Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.
Plan your trip at VisitNapaValley.com.