Top Ten Reasons to Visit Napa Valley 6 min read
Every time I open a bottle of wine it’s an amazing trip somewhere - Jose Andres
I have been visiting Napa Valley’s sixteen appellations for over sixteen years, twice a month on average. One might say that it an anniversary of sorts, an odd coincidence. No doubt, Napa was my first love, and although one never forgets, not many of us marry our first love, do we?
As an independent journalist, not beholden to any entity or school of thought, and with no specific agenda, I’ve ventured to every wine region found in California, from Santa Barbara to Lake County. Each region offered an exciting, transformative, and exceptional experience. Richly worthwhile, they were not the same as visiting Napa; which will forever occupy a very special spot in my heart.
At a dinner party, in another wine region, a couple of my colleagues started bashing Napa as pricey and elitist, offering poor value for consumers. This caused my blood to slowly, but surely, come to a boiling point. I have heard the same sentiment expressed all too often for my taste.
It’s time to contribute my two kopecks to the collective cup of kvetching on this subject.
Occupying an area of 788 square miles, the Napa Valley stretches from the Mayacamas Mountains to the foot of Mt. St. Helena. It is home to over a dozen grape varieties. In truth, it won a geographical lottery. The location embodies superb geological and climatic conditions, ideally suited for grape growing.
Napa’s first successful marketing efforts started after Prohibition, when Beringer Vineyards invited Hollywood stars, the likes of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard to visit the winery. Today, 4.5 million people visit Napa Valley’s 450 wineries each year. It is the largest wine and food tourist destination in the country.
How has the Napa Valley earned it well deserved reputation as one of the world’s premier food and wine destinations?
Lets face it—every wine region offers fine hospitality, but what sets Napa apart is the level of guest experience. Think of Napa as the Four Seasons of the wine world. There are a lot of wonderful, well-run, even charming hotel chains, but there is only one Four Seasons.
Let’s state the obvious. The area is steeped in viticultural and winemaking talent, plus Napa has unparalleled access to technical and financial resources. The influx of capital, much of it from the Silicon Valley, into this small valley has insured that you will be drinking well. What happens when capital and skills meet? Good things for the consumer.
Yountville alone has more phenomenal restaurants within one freeway exit than a large number of US cities. It is a capital food crime to visit Napa Valley and not have a memorable meal.
Whether you eat at Michelin star restaurants or a get in line at Gott’s Roadside outdoor diner (which famously made Robert Parker’s Favorite Meals of the Year), you will be well sated.
Unlike many other wine regions, Napa is geographically compact and easy to navigate. There are six major stops, Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga, all of which are a just few miles apart. Spring Mountain, a wine tasting paradise, is just a few minutes away from St Helena. Should you feel adventurous you can venture into the more remote Angwin or Lake Berryessa. They are close by, yet feel quite secluded.
Within a few miles drive, a visitor can experience various microclimates, views, and terrains. A modest, family run winery can have as a neighbor a palatial estate, with all the attributes of ostentatious living. The Napa area offers rugged mountain estates and idyllic valley-floor vineyards, festooned with postcard-worthy wild, golden mustard.
Napa Valley offers a discerning traveler some of California’s best options for a five star experience Especially noteworthy are Meadowood Resort, Calistoga Ranch, Auberge du Soleil, Bardessono, and The Meritage Resort.
Napa Valley had become a Mecca for great mixed drinks thanks to cocktail creators such as Scott Beattie of Goose and Gander and mixologists at Solage Calistoga, Redd, Ad Hoc, and Morimoto. For a fantastic, and inexpensive, Margarita, try La Condesa in St. Helena.
Health and Wellness
Should your trip’s motto be “healthy body, healthy mind and spirit,” Napa is a wonderful destination. Most upscale hotels offer modern gyms, full service spas, yoga and wellness classes. Some have phenomenal golf courses, Olympic-sized pools or tennis courts. You can grab a bike and go for a ride through the idyllic countryside, or lay out by the pool. Charming Calistoga is famous for its hot springs, mineral pools, and mud baths.
Blend Your Own Wine
Wineries such as Judd, Raymond, Mondavi, Franciscan, Conn Creek, and Paraduxx all offer wine drinkers the chance to be winemaker for a day. Why buy “off-the-rack” when you can blend your own custom wine? Raymond Vineyards, for instance, will outfit you with a white lab coat and sit you in a stainless steel room where you can use professional equipment to make as much wine as you’d like to take home.
Food and Wine events
Napa is home to some of the best food and wine events is the country, so you might want to plan your trip to coincide with one or more of them.
Napa’s premier food and wine event is the Auction Napa Valley. For all its glitz and glamour, it is really a charity event that raises funds for the local community, with a strong emphasis on healthcare for immigrant workers. Great hospitality is an art form and combined with unparalleled food, wine and fellowship this event is simply irresistible.
Some other festivals worth considering are The V Foundation Wine Celebration, Flavor! Napa Valley, The Napa Valley Mustard Festival, Yountville Live, Tour de Cure, Festival del Sole, Mondavi Concert Series, Staglin Music Festival, Stag’s Leap District Vineyard to Vintner, and BASH – St Helena Food and Wine Paring.
For the ultimate food and wine experience, consider taking a course at The Culinary Institute of America, Culinary Academy at Greystone to sharpen you knife and wine skills. It’s an opportunity be taught in a state-of-the-art facility by top notch instructors from one of the country’s most prestigious culinary schools, all in a glorious wine country setting.
Napa Valley is what you make of it. You can take a safe route, hire a limo and be taken to some of the most obvious destinations. Or, you could venture a little further and invest into a trip that will become a revelation, and a lifetime memory. I have, and I haven’t, stopped coming back.