Travel Guide – Napa Valley [Pt. 3]August 12, 2021
Here we are again. Thessali is writing about Napa Valley. If you’re my kind of person, you’re eager to read yet another guide to the Valley. Each time I go, I come back with more honed recommendations and opinions so these posts, like wine, get better with age. If you’d like to start chronologically with Part 1 and Part 2, click here and here respectively. And as a bonus: click here to shop the outfits you see in this post – I put together a packing guide before we left that has everything linked!
So let’s get down to it, shall we?
Every trip I’ve taken to Napa has been a unique experience both in the company I’m there with, the accommodations I stay at and the wineries and restaurants I visit. Because of that, these guides truly have a good amount in variation.
This trip was spent with one of my best friends and her boyfriend, we all stayed in an Airbnb together and while we visited some wineries that at this point have become tradition, we experienced so many other new ones so I’m here to dish the dirt on the good, the bad and the not-so-worthy.
Our Airbnb was honestly astounding, but unfortunately our hosts let us know the day that we left that they decided to pull it from Airbnb. It is a guest house on their property and we think their in-laws are moving into it. So I’m bummed that I can’t recommend it for your future booking and I’m also bummed that now that it’s been pulled from Airbnb, there are no pictures for me to share here! But I do have this one to share:
Over the years I’ve stayed at an Airbnb in Sonoma with my girls on my bachelorette trip, a Bed and Breakfast, a luxury boutique hotel and now this Airbnb experience. The only thing we haven’t done is stay at one of the larger hotel resorts and spas. Hotel Yountville has been on my list for so long and I’m hoping our next stay will be there!
Since my friend lives in Sacramento, we scrapped our usual tradition of flying into San Francisco and driving across the Golden Gate Bridge on our way to Napa and instead we flew into Sac where our friends picked us up and we headed to the Valley. Honestly is there anything better than landing on your first day of vacation, meeting up with your friend you haven’t seen in a year and getting some jams on the radio, eating unhealthy pastries and just gabbing it up on a roadtrip? Nah. It was the perfect start to the trip. And we drove straight to our first winery – White Rock. Adam and I are members so not only did we get to taste for free, but we got to introduce our friends to such a special place in our hearts. I’ve talked about White Rock before in previous Napa posts, but to reiterate here for those that haven’t read them, White Rock is one of the best hidden gems in Napa. It’s off the beaten path, they don’t distribute their wine and so you either have to be a club member to receive it or buy it directly from the winery at a tasting, and it’s one of the most non-pretentious vineyards in that the only structure on site is just their wine cave. Most wineries in Napa build monstrous, architecturally impressive estates and there’s really nothing wrong with that, but White Rock completely skipped that and instead focuses on just producing the best wine possible. Tastings are done in literally a trailer or outside at a picnic table in their vineyards. Truly do not let this discourage you because it is still such a BEAUTIFUL scenery and experience and the wine is not to be missed.
Fun fact: did you know that wine evaporates a bit while in oak barrels? This is partially why wineries have begun to use steel vats, especially for white varietals. But in France, when they began to discover some of the wine was “missing” from the barrels, they came to the conclusion that it must be the angels drinking their wine…if that’s not the most French thing you’ve ever heard. This missing portion of evaporated wine came to be called The Angel’s Share.
Now, let’s discuss dinner. One of my favorite Napa traditions is to have our first dinner in town at Angele. Napa is obviously not short on culinary greatness, being the home to multiple Thomas Keller concepts. But I gotta say, there’s just something about Angele that feels like I’ve made a little home there. I love that feeling of the day before we leave home when life is routine, but I’m thinking about the next day and knowing that when I have dinner that night it will be on the River in downtown Napa, with a glass of Sancerre, a mountain of oysters and a dish of their current pasta. I’m a creature of comfort, you know what I mean? I like my traditions.
Let’s talk about day two! I have to acknowledge at some point that the normal culture in Napa is weird in a way. In what other scenario would drinking a ton of wine be socially acceptable at 10 am?? But that’s exactly what winds up happening. Tastings can take up a good amount of time (about an hour and a half each) and driving distance, depending on your itinerary, can be up to 30 or 40 minutes if you’re a poor planner haha but they definitely wind up being 10-20 minute drives between wineries on average I’d say. I mean, unless you just plan to hit up ones right across the street from each other – for example, Artesa and Domaine Carneros. And wineries close at either 4 or 5 so even if you start at 10, you can only really fit in three tastings in a day with all of these factors combined. So, yeah, heavy Cabs for breakfast, anyone? LOL!
For our second day, we started with a 10 am tasting at Hall. Hall is a vineyard that I have driven by multiple times and I have always been intrigued by their art sculptures, which they’re known for, but never really knew anything about the wine itself. And I am so glad it found its way to our itinerary. I could not have been more pleased with our experience at Hall. Our wine educator, an Army vet with all kinds of personality, was exceptional and the tasting experience was really a stand out experience in my opinion. The owner, Kathryn Hall, is a former diplomat and Ambassador to Austria so you already know I was invested! And thankfully, the wine exceeded my expectations for a winery that’s just a little bit more commercial than the ones I would typically want to visit. Absolutely delicious, you guys!
After Hall, we stopped at V. Sattui. Guys, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t love the wine at V. Sattui. In fact I wouldn’t even say that I like their wine. But wow you cannot skip V. Sattui because they happen to have the BEST deli in Napa. It’s always worth a stop for a delicious lunch or to grab some items from their market for a picnic or charcuterie spread on a porch somewhere (which we’ve also done and it’s one of our favorite memories) – so for this reason I definitely recommend V. Sattui but with the preface that I don’t necessarily recommend their actual wine. Oh and their property is definitely photo opp worthy.
To round off our tastings on our first day, we ended with Alpha Omega. And if you’ve been reading my Napa posts you already know that AO has also become a tradition. We stop for a tasting every time and it never disappoints. We were so immersed in our tasting this time that I didn’t even snap any photos which is obviously highly unusual of me!
At this point it kinda feels like I’m just telling you about all these places I’ve already been, so you’ll be glad to know that I finally have a fresh rec for ya. Our second night’s dinner was at Charter Oak and wow I’ve been sleeping on this place, you guys. It was quite possibly the most aesthetically pleasing restaurant experience in Napa – a bold statement? Sure. But am I wrong? Probably not. Sitting in the courtyard with stone lions and string lights hung from trees, ivy crawling up the walls and people holding their glasses of wine, immersed in their conversations. It just truly does not get more Napa Valley than that. The menu is full of smoked meats, interesting veggies (grilled avocado?! yes), really unique desserts and, of course, a wine list that is an absolute dream. I can’t wait to visit again!
On to day three!
So, here’s the deal, you guys. Your best friend on a trip to Napa when you’re over the age of 30? Tums. The acid reflux gets realllly real. Oh how the tides have turned. But with a little help from your Tums friend, you can wake up for another day of 10 am wine drinking! Haha!
We started day three with a tasting at Grgich. Of course, I’ve heard great things about Grgich but if I’m being honest what sealed the deal was seeing that the GOAT herself, Heather Dubrow (Real Housewives of Orange County for those of you non-reality TV junkies) loves Grgich and even had a collaboration with them. They produced a prosecco named Coco after her daughter. I knew that if Heather loved it, I had to get my hands on a glass or two. And although the wine educator, who had just turned 21 and had basically no knowledge of wine past the script he had obviously been trained with, was not the most exceptional…our tasting was a great experience and we left with a few bottles we couldn’t say no to!
For those of you who might not have been to Napa, here’s a helpful note: wine tasting prices vary at each winery. Just for reference our tastings on this trip ranged from $20-$95. However, every winery comps the price of tastings if you purchase wine. In the past, the standard practice has been to comp the tasting if you buy one bottle. Post-Covid it seems to have changed to a two bottle minimum in order to get the tastings comped. If you’re going to pay an average of $40 per person, per tasting, you might as well buy wine to take home so your investment doesn’t just go to small tastings. The more you know!
After Grgich, we headed to Frank Family. I literally cannot say enough good things about Frank Family. I LOVED our experience at this vineyard. Our wine educator felt more like a good friend and more than once just sat down and hung out with us, brought us extra pours of more varietals or vintages to taste and compare, had a wealth of knowledge and provided the kind of experience we expect to have when we come to Napa. It was awesome. And the wine was next level. I had never heard of Frank Family, but it was one my friend had on the list as a must-go and I just couldn’t be happier that she introduced me! We brought home some bottles, but I’m still kicking myself for not joining their club. Maybe next time because I am so positive we will be returning!
Okay so I don’t have any pictures of our last stop, but it was way different than anything we usually do in Napa. It was a tasting room instead of a vineyard and it was a very California punk grunge kind of vibe where everyone was pierced, tatted and bearded and the wines were, well, funky is the best word to describe them. These guys are doing some cutting edge blending with varietals that most wineries in Napa don’t grow or use at all. The tasting room is called Tank and while it wasn’t my normal Napa vibe, it was such a different and cool experience that we really liked. The bottle art is edgy (middle fingers, diamonds, etc.) and the blending is just super unique and makes for a great tasting experience after a few days of tasting “typical” Napa Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons. We came home with a bottle of Tank Pinotage. If you don’t know what Pinotage is, I’m happy to inform you! It’s one of my favorite varietals, originating in South Africa. It’s a wildly unique grape varietal and as a wine, is expected to taste like “garbage on fire, diesel fuel, plastic” and more. It sounds 100% unappealing but please trust me this wine is delicious. Anyway, the owner of Tank is from South Africa and is partial to the Stellenbosch wine region (I’ve been and I’m obsessed) so just knowing this commonality and having the opportunity to grab a Pinotage, which is such a hard varietal to find in the states, made for a worthwhile time. I literally have to special order mine. I was so so excited to find out that they’re making their own at Tank.
For dinner that night, we went back to our gorgeous Airbnb, had a oyster and charcuterie happy hour by the pool with some Frank Family bubbles we had picked up earlier that day and then I cooked up some Spanish tapas for a leisurely night in. If you travel to Napa with friends, you really should consider getting an Airbnb and spending at least one evening cooking and shaking up some cocktails together. It winds up being some of your best memories!
Our last day of the trip started with a tasting at Far Niente. Let me just say that by the end of a trip in Napa, it is so possible to start getting alcohol/wine fatigue. Your tasting palate is exhausted by then and it takes a truly remarkable winery to keep you interested. Luckily for us, Far Niente did just that. As soon as we stepped onto the property, I felt transported to somewhere that felt like a fairytale. I realize how dramatic that sounds but wow, you would have just had to experience it. Just trust me on this. I had no idea when we chose to go there, but as it turns out the original owner is from Oklahoma! So, immediate points with me obviously. But other than that, our wine educator was just such a treat. He was hilarious, engaging, so knowledgeable and the tasting format was exactly what we wanted. He sat with us the whole time and our conversations were flowing just as much as the wine was. I cannot stand when a tasting is composed of someone coming to say, “This is our 2017 Chardonnay” and then leaving until they bring the next wine. I get absolutely nothing from that experience. I will tell you that the tasting at Far Niente was the most expensive, but I will also tell you that it was beyond worth it. Plus, Adam and I became wine club members and therefore had our tastings comped and will now receive delicious estate wines regularly. Um, HAPPY!
The second tasting on our last day was at Turnbull, which is another one that I’d always driven by and wondered what their wines taste like. Honest opinion? Their grounds and tasting room are gorgeous. Very Pottery Barn-esque. But the wines were honestly not great at all. But every tasting experience just better informs my knowledge of the Valley and my ability to order on a menu with an educated stance, so I never count duds as a loss. I learn something from every winery, even if the lesson is how to judge the taste of wine that is more inferior to others. Told ya I’d be honest!
And now we’ve come to the last winery of the trip. We chose Silver Oak to cap off our tastings and I have to say, I was more impressed than I expected to be. The tasting menu was heeaavvvyy on the Cabs, but it was so interesting to taste the different vintages and blends from their various vineyards that span different altitudes, climates and terroirs. Again, every tasting helps to inform my total knowledge base and comparing and contrasting like that is so helpful to hone my inner sommelier dreams haha! Last tastings are always bitter sweet. It’s sweet because by the time the last tasting comes around, I’m always at pretty much my complete capacity of so much wine drinking (and btw that lasts for like 48 hours because it never fails when we get back home I’m like hmm some wine sounds good hahaha), so it’s nice to know a break is around the corner. And it’s bitter because Napa is my heaven on Earth and it’s always so sad leaving the place I love and knowing that it’ll be a whole year or longer before I’ll be back.
Our dinner plans on our last night didn’t work out because the place we had planned to visit – the Kitchen Door at Oxbow Market – had closed! So we pulled an audible and randomly chose to go to Bistro Don Giovanni and like…when I tell you that food was beyond delicious. GUYS. Wow. I literally have craved that food ever since. The owner, Mr. Giovanni himself, was there having a meal with his family and we got to thank him for such a great experience. But like…seriously many times since coming home I have found myself thinking about being in that courtyard, drinking an Aperol Spritz and eating the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life (btw it comes with a mountain of french fries on it). Sometimes it’s the unexpected audibles that wind up being one of the best, happiest accidents. And this was definitely one of those.
Walking down memory lane writing this blog post already has me dreaming of my next trip – or at least I’m very much looking forward to popping the cork on one of our bottles we brought back with us. If you’ve made it through this whole blog post, you are definitely my kind of person. I’m so thankful you’re here and I’m so thankful I get to virtually bring you along on all of my adventures. Of all the things I get to do through my blog, my travel guides are by far my favorite part. Thank you for tuning in and supporting. Don’t forget you can subscribe to my blog too and then you’ll get email notifications every time I publish a new post!
You guys are the best. Have a glass and start to plan your trip to Napa! Cheers!
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