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Napa has a website as does Sonoma. www.NapaValley.com, www.Sonoma.com . Take a look at the maps and the calendar for events that are going on during your stay. Each winery will charge a tasting fee. Some as low as $5 but some as high as $25. You might want to share a tasting with your travel companion. You might find an special event where you pay $50 to get a “passport” and drink at specific wineries that are participating in the event with no additional tasting fees. The $50 passport could pay for itself the very first day. If you happen to find an event like this, do it.Take a look online at some specific wineries that you want to go to. Designate those and set a rough agenda around hitting those wineries throughout the day. This will lead you past a slew of smaller/boutique wineries that you otherwise wouldn’t know were there. Half of the fun is just pulling off the road to try one that “looks good”. You’d be amazed at how many good wines you find that way.
Here is a list of wineries that you should visit because they are a simply a site to see.
Sterling Vineyards gondola takes you up to the winery
Domain Carneros Champagne in a French Styled Chateau
Domain Chandon Beautiful place period. Tasting room views are amazing
Neibaum-Coppola Coppola museum. Ton of movie memorabelia
Darioush Definitely a site to behold. Think opulence and then multiply by 2.
There are a number of others off of Hwy 29 (which runs north and south through the Napa valley) and the Silverado Trail (runs parallel to 29). If it looks good then stop.
Some favorites with wine club memberships:
Bouchaine The house of Pinot’s. Southern Sonoma and out in the boonies a bit but beautiful and the best Pinot’s period.
Franciscan Typically very solid wines year in and out
Zahtila Small and just starting out but the wines are fantastic.
Benessere Good Solid Wines
Grgich Hills Pronounced Grrrrrrr.. Gich. Decent wine
Imagery Art gallery. Beautiful place and solid wines to boot
Most comprehensive map of the wineries in Napa.
There are some high dollar places to visit as well (Opus One, Silver Oak, Quintessa, Shafer). They are a bit more pricey but they all have beautiful tasting rooms.
Honestly, there is not a bad meal in town. Fume Bistro has a nice atmosphere, small and not as expensive as a lot of places up there. You go down a side street through a neighborhood to get there but it’s worth it. Trancas Steak House is a kind of an older hole in the wall place but they have fantastic prime rib. Rutherford Grill you can’t go wrong.
Cindy’s BackStreet Kitchen has really good Osso Buco, made it with a pork shank instead of veal. That with the Oyster Bingo and Dessert is simply amazing. Prices are very reasonable. This may have quite possibly been the best meal ever.
The Schellville Grill is great, too. You absolutely have to try the breakfast but everything is fantastic. Matteo and his sister run the place. It’s small and not much to look at but the food is crazy good and he is insane with the things he does to the food. Half the year he studies in Italy and the other half he’s back cooking at the grill. Diners Drive In and Dives did a piece on him.Make reservations for most places. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Most of the restaurants are on Open Table so you can log on to make them.
You will also want to take a day where you stop off at one of the delis, grab a sandwich, some cheese and take one of the bottles you’ve bought and camp out in one of the vineyard. A lot of places have tables set up near or in the vineyards so you can enjoy lunch, wine and the amazing views.
Again, sensory overload but you simply can’t go wrong.
Dress warm for the evenings, make reservations and look ahead to see if the wineries you want to go to have open tours or scheduled tours. If scheduled then you’ll need to call ahead to get on the list. Other than that it’s happy sailing.