Wine tasting in Napa Valley
I honestly was not much of a wine drinker (or drinker of any alcohol) until I moved to Europe (we can officially blame Warren). But I've really come to love good wine and especially Italian wine.
For my 30th birthday, we spent a week in Tuscany wine tasting and its been true love ever since - in fact we later would get engaged on a vineyard (in New Zealand) and get married on a vineyard (in Italy). Wine is kind of our thing.
Every time we go to a restaurant, we always buy a bottle of wine for dinner - something I never did in the US. Culturally, dinners last longer here and the idea of pairing delicious food with the perfect wine (and savoring it over the next two hours), is much more common. It is one of the many things I love about living here. And since Italy is so close (literally 2 hours to the border), we find ourselves making frequent visits and they always involve visiting vineyards (and then crossing back into Switzerland with more boxes of wine than we should).
However, when we were back in the US last August, we decided we really wanted to do wine tasting in Napa Valley and see how it compared with our beloved Italian wines. First, the area is beautiful! Second, it's expensive! Coming from Switzerland, we're used to a high cost of living, but I wasn't prepared for how expensive the actual wine tasting would be. In Italy, you can just rock up to a vineyard and taste the wines for free (usually). In Napa, we had to make reservations weeks in advance for a specific time slot and each tasting averaged $50 a person. Which means, if you want to visit more than one vineyard a day, it adds up quickly. It also makes the whole day a bit more stressful as we had to stay on a schedule.
We spent 3 days in the Napa region and decided to stay in Calistoga - at the most amazing B&B - Chateau de Vie- seriously, I want to live there. I loved the interior decoration, I loved the location (surrounded by vines and a pool) and I loved the food (their breakfast was basically a 3 course meal of everything delicious - which you need when you plan to be wine tasting all day). I wish I had taken more pictures of the actual property. You need to stay here!
There are no shortage of vineyards to visit, but we narrowed it down to 4, all in the Rutherford/St. Helena area:
- Round Pond: Lovely outdoor patio to taste in the sun. We weren't able to get the full tour (book in advance!), so we had just the standard Estate tasting, where we had our own table and tried about 4 wines. Overall experience was good, but a bit too 'structured' and not very relaxed.
- Newton: High on a hill, the surrounding views are amazing. We first were taken on a short tour of the English gardens and wine caves with a small group, then back to a room to try about 5 wines. All were very good and I'd recommend just for the views alone.
- Inglenook: By far our favorite of the vineyards we visited. We did a walking tour of the property followed by a wine/cheese pairing. I loved that they included cheeses from both Switzerland and Wisconsin (key to my heart). But the wines were all very, very good. This was the only property where we bought a bottle to bring home.
- Orin Swift: Not an actually vineyard, just a tasting room in St. Helena. I had tried their Papillon wine in Switzerland and loved it! So I wanted to visit while we were there and try some of their other varieties. The Papillon (the label is also very cool) is still my favorite and I highly recommend.
We also had a fantastic dinner at Solbar, which is the Michelin-starred restaurant on the Solage Auberge resort in Calistoga. It was farm-fresh and the perfect end to a day of wine tasting. I don't even remember what I ordered, but I know it was good! They also had a great outdoor space with fire-pit - the overall atmosphere was really romantic and enjoyable.
Overall, I still prefer the more relaxed wine tasting experience and vineyard visits of Italy (and the more affordable prices), but I'm glad we visited Napa since it was equally beautiful and the options are unlimited. And wine holidays are always the best.