Around this time last year, Tom and I spent our honeymoon in beautiful Napa Valley.
We had a lot of ideas of where we’d like to celebrate our nuptials, but after planning a wedding, a trip centered around drinking seemed like the obvious choice.
Is there any better place to be imprisoned than with barrels of delicious wine? I think not.
We had a fantastic experience in Napa from start to finish. We stayed in downtown Napa at the Napa River Inn, a cute boutique hotel with great service close to several restaurants and the Oxbow Food and Wine Merchant.
To make sure we got the most wine tasting in as possible in the safest way possible, we hired My Napa Valley Driver. This company sends a driver to you, who then drives you anywhere you want to go in your car (in our case, a rental).
Our driver, Manny, definitely made our time in Napa far more enjoyable. We had an idea of different wineries we wanted to visit, but we also wanted to go to smaller wineries to sample wine we can’t buy easily in DC. Manny had the inside knowledge on which wineries would provide the best experiences, and we pretty much just let him guide us around the valley.
Our first stop was Reverie Winery in St. Helena, and there couldn’t have been a more perfect place to start out our trip.
Reverie offers a hands-on tasting experience, walking from the processing area to the caves to the vines trying different wines as you go along. Their winemaker is also a partial owner of popular St. Helena restaurant Cook, and the interest he has in pairing food and wine was very evident.
Reverie specializes in reds (although they also make an excellent Roussanne) and they make extraordinary ones. After our tasting, we enjoyed a picnic lunch – paired with their Merlot – underneath a cluster of their “baby” redwood trees.
Another favorite from our first day was a special treat set up by our driver. He had the connections to get us in for a testing at the not-open-to-the-public Frias Family Vineyards.
Every wine tasting experience is different. Some have a well-defined and rehearsed way of presenting the wines, others are more free-form. Frias Family was the latter.
This was when we first learned the two “goals” of Napa Valley wine tasting.
1. Make it to lunch.
2. Make it to dinner.
I’m proud to say we made it to both meals all three days we were there, but sometimes it was a close call.
Frias Family is just what it sounds like – a family owned and operated vineyard. Manny Frias, the current owner, grew up working in the vines until he inherited control of the business. As a result, they produce great wines full of the heart and soul of true viticulture. We sat around with Manny for nearly two hours talking about food an wine, and our glasses kept magically refilling. By the time he sent us away with a complimentary bottle of wine for our honeymoon, we all felt like best friends.We enjoyed said bottle of wine at aforementioned Cook. We had a great dinner, as far as I can recall.
Other highlights of the trip included trips to Handwritten Wines in their adorable ivy-covered cottage, where the stars of the show included a bold Pinot Noir and a delicious blend called Three Words…a tasting and walk around popular Frog’s Leap…finishing with a rowdy few hours at Alpha Omega, bonding with a group of Ohio State fans (Tom’s alma mater) and very special barrel tasting.But my favorite winery experience had to be another private tasting, this time at Montagna Vineyards.Neither pictures nor words can adequately summarize how beautiful this place was, and to be there with just Tom and a winery associate was unbelievable.The wine was as excellent as the views, proving that there’s much more to Napa Valley than you’ll find on the shelves at your local Safeway.The rest of the trip was filled with other great tasting experiences at Jessup Cellars (the 2009 Juel, swoon), Peju Province Winery, Sequoia Grove, Heitz Cellar (they have one of my favorite Zinfandels of all time), Beau Vigne, Cornerstone Cellars, Beaulieu Vineyards and Flora Springs (their Ghost wines are just about as fun as you can get).
As you can tell, we really got around. It was tough work, but we survived. Again I must iterate that hiring a driver was a great choice. I hear Napa isn’t incredibly strict about drinking and driving, but let’s not pretend that wine and cars are a great combination.I hate leaving any vacation I take, but I have to say, I left a lot of my heart in Napa – although my liver was quite ready to head home.
That said, it’s had a year to recover and we’d both love to head back – or to Sonoma, or up north to the Willamette Valley, or to the Rhone region of France, and on the list goes…