Having been on our wine journey for the last several years Napa Valley has always been on our bucket list. We were able to make that trip earlier this spring with the owners of Craft’d in Morganton, Mark and Maryann Koziel. Mark organized this trip and used his distribution contacts to make reservations at the wineries we visited. Most of the Napa Valley wineries require reservations. We took the early flight from Charlotte and with the time difference we arrived around midday. Our driver picked us up and we continued with a 90 minute drive up to Napa Valley. We stayed in the downtown Napa area. It was convenient to the Oxbow Market, a great place for coffee and breakfast. There were also great restaurants within walking distance after a day of wine tastings. We had a late lunch at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto. Our tastings began the next day so we had the afternoon to explore on our own. We visited several of the tasting rooms located close to the hotel. We visited Gustavo Wine and Krupp Brothers Tasting Room in downtown Napa before returning to our room for 3 straight days of California wine tasting.
Our first day began with breakfast from Oxbow Market. Our driver, Andre, picked us up from our hotel and off we went to Peju Winery. Our tasting room host, Robert, led us through an extensive tasting of 8 wines. Peju’s owner Tony, was the first winemaker to sell directly to consumers. He started out selling his wine out of his garage. He created the concept of custom crush. Fermenting facilities are expensive; he developed the idea of a central crushing facility where vineyards could be used for a fee. This idea was innovative and forced the industry to change its requirements of wine distribution. The best selling wine in the tasting room is the Province. It is a blend of 3 red and 2 whites. In France a red and white mixture is called a “cafe drink”. As you walk into the tasting room you are greeted by an incredible stained glass window that takes up the entire wall. It was created in 1906 and Tony bought it in 1991 and placed it in the winery. It depicts 3 entertainers on Mt. Olympus. They even have a 5 bottle collection that when placed side by side mirrors the art work.
Our next winery was Grgich. Owner Mike Grgich, known for wearing a beret, turned 100 April 1. He and I share a birthday. If you haven’t seen the movie Bottle Shock, I suggest you do. Although Hollywood dramatized certain events, it is worth watching. The movie depicts the Judgement of Paris in 1973. Mike crafted the Chardonnay that was chosen best wine in the world in that competition. This one event catapulted California wine on to the world stage. Our tasting room host, Myles, was fantastic juggling many tastings at one time. We were able to do side by side tastings of the same wine but different vintages. The highlight was tasting the Chardonnay that beat the French. The trend seems to be wineries selling to large corporations, but Grgich is one of the few establishment wineries that is still family owned in Napa. Needless to say we brought home a bottle of the “best in the world” Chardonnay.
We visited Alpha Omega to conclude our first day. Owners, Robin and Michelle Baggett, have combined making old world wine with new world technology. Our tasting included their flagship wine, ERA. We had a little time after this tasting so we split a bottle and enjoyed their famous terrace admiring the California landscape. If you plan on 3 wineries in one day, start before lunch. Allow yourself time to enjoy the scenery. The landscape and winery properties are beautifully designed. We completed our day with dinner at Goose and Gander.
Charles and I took a walk up to the East Napa Reservoir before we started with our wine tastings. One thing we found interesting is that many houses had a few rows of vines planted in their yards much the way we would have flower beds. Once back and fueled up we headed off to Rombauer Winery. Rombauer’s winery is located on top of a hillside and the views were amazing. Lucky for us the sun was out and you could see clearly. The sitting areas were incorporated into the landscape and you felt as if they occurred naturally. Javier was our host and gave us a lot of the history of the winery, especially of the 2020 fire that came within 10 feet of the tasting room. You could still see the fire’s devastation. The tasting room has many family pictures and mementos of owner Koerner Rombauer’s military service. There are 2 types of tasting; the classic and the proprietor tastings. We did one of each to taste as many as we could. My favorite wine was the 2022 Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc. Once finished with the tasting we split a bottle and enjoyed a charcuterie box.
We had some time to spare before our second winery. We grabbed a pizza and kale salad at the Oakville Grocery. This place is so much more than a grocery store; apothecary, meat and cheese, speciality products, they have it all. I purchased granola butter and it was amazing. Unfortunately I packed in our carry-on bag and not the checked luggage and it was thrown away in security. After lunch and purchasing a few souvenirs we were off to Caymus-Suison.
Caymus-Suison is part of the Wagner Family wine umbrella. The Caymus label has 3 levels of wine and price points. We participated in a Wagner Family tasting at Craft’d so we were familiar with the brand and were happy that Caymus was on our schedule. The tasting room is enclosed by 3 sides of glass, floor to ceiling. The designer also designed Apple stores. The views were amazing. They have 123 palm trees on the property. They also have tomato and flower gardens. This was one of the most affordable tastings of the trip. Unlike the other wineries there is no wine club. Two wines that stood out to me were the Walking Fool and the Emmolo Merlot. Upon leaving the winery there is free espresso. We concluded our day with dinner at Napkins in downtown Napa.
Today was our final day and boy did we pack it full. When Mark asked us what wineries we wanted to visit I immediately said Pine Ridge. This was a unique experience that will be covered in a separate blog. Needless to say we are now wine club members.
After an early visit to Pine Ridge we headed to Chappellet Winery. Chappellet is located on Pritchard Hill and is built right into the land. The only negative to the visit is the rain kept us from walking around the property. Lyndsay greeted us with a glass of their 2021 Grower Collection Chardonnay. She led us around the bottling facility and we were able to see the process in action. Sometimes it is easy to forget that even though the winery may house the tasting room, it is a working facility. Once the tour was completed we sat down with Lyndsay and enjoyed a tasting and learned so much about Chappellet’s wine story. Donn and Mary Chappellet began construction of the winery in 1976 and continues to be 2nd generation family owned and operated. Again we were able to enjoy a side by side tasting of different vintages. During this trip I learned how much you can tell about wine when you taste side by side. We tasted the reds at the same time.
Our last stop was Stags’ Leap and what a finish it was. The name is cloaked in the legend of stags leaping off the cliff instead of being hunted down. Tastings are offered twice daily and range from a communal seating to a tasting with the winemaker. This experience is one of the more expensive, but well worth the price. The tasting is conducted with the view of the mountain side and the vineyard. The winner of the day was the Cask 23, an estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The lobby is filled with memorabilia of days gone by. One item that is worth mentioning is the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon that won best red in the 1976 Judgement of Paris. I learned today that not only did a California white wine win best wine in the world, but that it also won best red.
We finished our last day in Napa with a great meal at Rutherford Grill. It seemed appropriate to conclude our trip by watching Bottle Shock.
This trip was absolutely amazing and I appreciate Mark and Maryann for organizing and letting
us tag along. We will definitely be returning.
There are a few things I would suggest when visiting Napa.
Hire a driver. There is no need to worry about driving and directions. There are many transportation services available for hire. The drivers are familiar with winery locations and the time it takes to navigate between them. They also know food options, which can be limited in some areas. Most wineries don’t sell food.
Eat breakfast. Even if you aren’t a breakfast person you need to start your day with a meal. I would pack a protein bar.
Drink water. Especially when traveling between wineries. Most transportation services have water for you.
Plan your wineries with proximity in mind. Once you pick out wineries, schedule the ones that are close together to maximize your day. No more than 3 in a day (just my opinion). You want to have time to walk around the property and take pictures. Next time I would like to add a spa day in the middle.
Take the early flight and enjoy the tasting rooms in and around downtown Napa. You won’t need a driver and you aren’t on a schedule.