Are you visiting Napa Valley for the first time in 2013? Avoid this most common of mistakes: the speed racer visit.
It is generally a first time offence, not often repeated: you dash out the door on the first morning of your holiday as if responding to the starting bell of a race. The next eight hours will be a marathon of pulling into wineries and gulping wine while simultaneously waving goodbye and running off to the next place on your list.
You may not even have a list. With well-known wineries at every head turn along Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, it can be quite intoxicating to fit in as many winery experiences as possible: “Look! That’s Cakebread, and it’s right next to Sequoia Grove! Swanson is around here somewhere!”
You can almost hear the announcer on the crackling radio, “Here they come, ladies and gentleman, rounding out the corner from Mondavi and back onto 29. Looks like its four wineries they visited so far…FOUR wineries. No, no.. ladies and gentleman, its FIVE, five wineries so far, and INCREDIBLE, its only 11:00 am. This is a fine day for the wine races!”
This is definitely not the vacation you envisioned while in the planning stages back home. Usually wine country visitors idealise about slow, leisurely days, sipping fine wine on terraces with faces upturned towards the bright California sun.
But then we step foot in the valley and it’s as if we are being chased by rabid dogs. Even given the eight hours of constant comings and goings on day one, the really big offenders, come 5:00pm, start desperately scouring the guide books, searching for wineries that stay open until 6pm.
Once you get back home, your adrenalin still pumping from the exercise, you realise one very unfortunate fact: you don’t remember the wines you tasted and all of your stories to friends are as vague as a 10-minute old dream.
Taking the time to stop and smell the roses (there happen to be many planted here) is the real treat to the Napa Valley wine experience. There are intriguing winery structures and interesting characters at every turn, not to mention the Napa Valley wines.
For your Napa Valley holiday, we list a few places which would build a wonderfully diverse and spectacular holiday in the Napa Valley. Stay a while at each of them and soak in the different personalities and wine styles. If you have more time, don’t forget the venerable Robert Mondavi Winery, and goodies like Merryvale and Beaulieu. We promise you’ll bring back lots of good stories for those at home.
Smith Madrone, Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena
Don’t be put off by the (sometimes) long-bearded and dusty boot-clad mountain men that come out to greet you from the winery cellar. These are owners Stu and Charles Smith, both having a long list of academic degrees and both knowing more than most in the valley about the history of wine in Napa Valley. They certainly have great stories about the characters who first built up Spring Mountain, which is where their winery is located. You’ll want to leave yourself a good hour to reach them from Napa, and a half hour from St. Helena. But you’ll also want to make an appointment. Their Riesling sells out every year; if you are lucky you’ll get to taste it, and their other wines are constant award-winners.
B Cellars, Silverado Trail, Calistoga.
You’ll get answers to the toughest wine pairing questions here as well as a sip on some pretty incredible wines. Go ahead and ask: can you pair sour lemons with Cabernet Sauvignon? Not the first thing that comes to mind for many people. Sure, rich, juicy steaks and smoky barbecue, but a dish doused in lemons? Spend some time with B Cellars’ chef Christina Machamer, and you’ll find out that citrus generally lowers your perception of drying tannins. Even chicken pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon, just make it a lemon-peppered chicken. The lemon makes those tannins in the wines seem softer, and the pepper is a bridge to the spice in the wine.
Machamer not only helped open several famous US restaurants, including Gordon Ramsay’s London West Hollywood, and Thomas Keller’s Beverly Hills Bouchon. More notoriously, she won the fourth season of Fox TV’s Hell’s Kitchen. Pitted against 15 other chefs, Machamer surpassed the current record for Challenge wins. The wines themselves have been getting big attention since the winery opened in 2003.
Now that you’ve climbed a mountain and savoured some A+ wine and food pairing tips and bites, the next stop on your day’s tour is to see one of the most lavish of Napa Valley’s properties. The wine is also quintessential Napa Valley, so this is a great stop.
Darioush, Silverado Trail, Napa
Owner Khaledi Darioush was inspired to share the culture of his homeland, Iran, with his new friends in Napa Valley. His 22,000 square foot winery has grand columns and stone reminiscent of those found in ancient Persian cities.
Khaledi grew up in Iran in the wine growing region of Shiraz region. His father made wine for personal consumption and even as a young man, the winery shares, Khaledi would sneak sips from the barrel. The focus of the wines is Bordeaux blends but makes a long list of single variety wines as well.
So come, visit the Napa Valley, just leave the drag racing to those less in the know. We look forward to seeing your travel posts about a holiday well-spent; with wines and experiences that you actually remember.