I was always a bit hesitant to visit Napa. I thought it was too fancy, too expensive and not my style. Well to clear it up, its not any of those things. Yes it has it’s touch of class but we found it affordable, fun and gorgeous. We decided to save money by staying at a Hampton Inn and Suites located in Napa versus staying on a property. It is great experience to stay on a vineyard. We have experienced that in Temecula, but honestly you pass out from being wine wasted so you can’t even enjoy the views.
Our first day we drove ourselves to a few wineries. I was shocked how far away some of them are. The Napa/Sonoma Valley is crazy huge. We hired Ryan from Napa Driver Tours for our second day of tasting. He was very helpful on making our reservations and telling us where to go. He suggested we do the “bigger” wineries and the next time we visit he will take us to the secret spots. What I love about their concept is they drive your rental car, so naturally we rented a convertible. It made the drive through wine country even more breath taking. Below is my breakdown of the wineries we visited.
When you arrive on property you see their sign, a beautiful drive in and a magnificent stairwell inviting you to your adventure. We went upstairs to their First Flight Experience ($25/pp). This tasting showcases some of their specialty wines. We had 4 tastings. This was the first Chardonnay that I enjoyed ever, the rest were reds. Our favorite was the Archimedes. Our server was very informative. We learned a lot about the Coppola history, how some of the bottle labels got their labels and his favorite movies. The building has a restaurant and fun artifacts from his movies.
We then went downstairs for their Sonoma Inclusive tasting ($18/pp) were we tried 4 more delicious wines. Our hostess was so sweet. I have had a few Coppola wines that I have purchase in local liquor stores but we signed up for their wine club to get exclusive bottles only sold at the winery. Now as a wine club member we get great discounts, wine shipped to us 4 times a year and member exclusive wines. https://www.francisfordcoppolawinery.com/
One of my favorites! You can make reservations for your tasting on line day of. We purchase the Silver Experience ($49/pp). The whole tour was so fun. You take an aerial tram up to their property. Our first tasting was a Chardonnay, another one I actually liked, and we were directed upstairs to a gorgeous room. We were greeted by Charlie who served us our tastings. We had 3 more wines paired with charcuterie plate. We had another delicious Chardonnay paired with espresso dusted cheese and dried filet mignon. It was followed by a red blend and a Cabernet paired with manchego cheese, dried fruit and a little pepper. Charlie was great in explaining more in depth about tannins. She also let us try their 2011 Yountville Cab, which we purchased of course. After our pairing, we went along the rest of the self guided tour of the property that had 2 more red tastings and their Malvasia Bianca along the way. The end of the tour had a gorgeous patio to enjoy the views, enjoy an extra glass and soak up the sun. Do not miss this vineyard. https://www.sterlingvineyards.com/
Cakebread, what an awesome last name. They offer 5 different types of tastings. We did the Red Wine Tasting ($30/pp). We were greeted with a tasting of rose while we waited for our group to gather. James was our host. He used to be a wine maker and was very engaging and informative. We tasted 7 different reds. Our favorites were 2013 Guajolote Red Blend, 2013 Benchland Cab Sauv, 2013 Vaca Red Blend and 2013 Dancing Bear Cab Sauv. James went into detail his wine tasting ritual he uses to help identify what he is drinking.
2) Look at the legs; the thicker means its most likely a cab.
3) Smell BEFORE you swirl, this will help you identify the fruit.
4) Swirl and smell to get different scents of oak or spices.
5) Taste! Roll in palate to a count of 8.
Cakebread also has theses awesome pamphlets with tasting notes, vineyards used and winemaker’s process. The best past is there is a recipe to pair with the wine on the back. https://www.cakebread.com/
Ryan is obsessed with this wine and now winery. The grounds are gorgeous with a big farmhouse with rustic glam decor. The living room had a grand fireplace with shelves full of the history of the frog including their label designs and their first bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. We were seated out on the porch with views of the vineyard and garden. Frog’s Leap’s vines are dry farmed and organic, which is very impressive. Stephanie was our host and we were also greeted by Abbie, the winemakers dog. Our tasting ($25/pp) began with a delicious 2015 Chardonnay followed by a 2015 Zin, 2014 Merlot and 2014 Cab paired with nuts, cheese and dried fruits. They were all delicious yet the reds can lay for another 20-30 yrs, so cheers in 2037! Stephanie offered us more tastings to take around the gardens and enjoy. Frog’s Leap is the perfect winery to pack a picnic basket and soak up the sun. I am excited to announce that we joined the “Fellowship of the Frog” and brought home a few extra bottles. They had a 1997 collection of 3 reds that came home with us and are excited to taste them. https://www.frogsleap.com/
Auberge du Soleil
This was a quick stop to grab a bite to eat in between wineries. Our driver told us it was very expensive to stay but worth the views. We sat outside and enjoyed a glass of wine with calamari and truffle fries. Their service was great, the view was worth it and I would come back for a delicious dinner. https://aubergeresorts.com/aubergedusoleil/
Del Dotto has 2 properties and one on the way. We visited his Venetian inspired winery and caves located in St. Helena. The architecture is spectacular; cathedral like ceilings with Italian marble and ancient tiles surround you. It felt like we were in another country. We upgraded to the Delicacies by Del Dotto tasting ($95/pp) which included a private cave tour, barrel tasting and lunch with wine pairing. Upon arrival, we tasted a white and were greeted by Simon, our entertainment for the next 2 hours. He took us into the caves, siphoned wine from the barrel and tasted. We had 6 2015 variations of Cab Sauv and one 2015 Merlot. At this point in the tour the multiple reds were hitting me. Simon took us upstairs to our private table where our food adventure began. OMG amazing food and wine pairing. Joshua Schwartz is the executive chef and I highly recommend this experience. For those of you who follow my IG or blog, know I’m a foodie. Listed and pictured (except for dessert; I was a wine-wasted hot mess at that point).
Chesapeake Bay Soft Shell Crab & Osetra Caviar Butter 2016 Piazza Rose
Garden Kale Lasagna, Sweetbread Sugo & Fiore Sardo 2013 Syrah
SRF American Waygu Beef & French Black Truffle Slider 2011 Villa Del Lago
Bleu d’Auvergne Brûlée, Beets & Valencia Orange Dolores
This was the perfect way to end our day in Napa. Simon was so fun and really got to know us and he was very patient with us. Do not skip Del Dotto. https://www.deldottovineyards.com/
Castello di Amorosa
We stopped here on our first day but I don’t recommend it. The Tuscan castle is what caught my attention from the Sterling patio and it is absolutely breathtaking with lots of detail but too crowded and overwhelming. It’s a tourist trap winery with too many wines and too much going on. Ryan wasn’t going to taste but we still had to pay for him to enter ($25/pp). Our host was way too busy to pay attention to us because he was trying to sell the guest next to us crazy expensive wine. You could tell they worked on commission. We purchased a sweet white wine for my sister and spent 15 minutes waiting to check out. Please skip it, not worth your time.