Napa Valley is the spot that put the USA on the world’s wine map. As someone who is known to regularly partake in adult beverages, it only made sense to venture out for some tastings when we were in San Francisco. It should be known upfront – I am not a fan of wine that has been aged or stored in oak barrels. Some marvel in the buttery, creamy, and smoky flavors of the whites and reds that make this region so popular – not me. I’m a steel barrel kind of guy.
Crisp. Dry. Fruity. Peppery. Yum.
When it comes to my wine I like Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios, Syrahs, & Pinot Noirs. My favorite is orange wine – classified by the color, not the fruit (if you haven’t heard about it – look it up. You are welcome). We hired a private driver and made our way to Napa Valley with an “I-Know-It-Will-Be-Oaked” open mind.
Napa has a fun history, which started in 1839 when George Yount planted the first grapes in the region. Yountville, the town named after him, has some of the best restaurants in the area. You’ll need to book well in advance (and prepare your wallet) if you want to parttake in the likes of French Laundry. Fancy a $7,000 bottle of wine? Then head over to Screaming Eagle for their first vintage, which was released in 1992. These waitlists and prices say a lot about the prestige of the region and how much this area has changed since George’s first grape.
We love nice things but chose to leave the fussiness behind, grabbed a lovely sandwich at the Yountville Deli, and had our driver take us to a few of the over 500 wineries in Napa Valley. Some we enjoyed a bit longer for tastings and tours, while others we just appreciated the grounds.
Looking for accessible wineries? Here are a couple of the stops we made – none of which required reservations – on our afternoon in the Valley.
//Grgich Hills Estate
When we mentioned to our driver that we enjoyed white wines, he suggested popping by the Grgich Estate for the White Tasting. Grgich gained international recognition at the “Paris Tasting” of 1976 when the judges chose his 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay as the finest white wine in the world. While Chardonnay may be their pride and joy, we enjoyed a range of their whites on offer and thought the Fumé Blanc was the closest to what we tend to enjoy at home.
Cakebread Cellars was founded in 1973 and is a family run operation. I actually worked at a restaurant in my Uni days that carried their popular Chardonnay on the wine list – so was familiar with their offering. The grounds were gorgeous, everyone was very hospitable, and we were able to do another White Tasting without a reservation. We even got a behind the scenes look at how they produced their wine onsite, which was a nice bonus. Tip: Website does say that appointments are required – while we didn’t have one, it is probably advised to check in advance to avoid disappointment.
Keen to change our perception on California wines, our driver mentioned another spot that has a great Sauvignon that we might enjoy – so we stopped in. A younger vineyard, Provenance’s first release of wine was only 1999. We passed on their Cabernet Sauvignon, which is what they are known for, and went in on their Sauvignon Blanc. While their whites didn’t win us over, we did enjoy a Malbec Rose on site, which was delicious.
With over 500 in the area, there area plenty of wineries to choose from. Aside from getting a driver, we really didn’t have a plan and still got the Napa Valley experience. We didn’t walk away from Napa loving the wine, but do have a bigger appreciation for what Napa does to put the USA on the sommelier map. Happy Sipping!