Want to get a literal bird’s-eye-view of the valley? Go on a hot-air balloon ride! Drift high above the valley floor while gazing at perfectly groomed vineyards and the endless horizon. There, in the stillness of the cool morning, you may discover just how incredible this wine region really is.
If you’re afraid of heights you shouldn’t be in the balloon in the first place! Otherwise, look ahead at the endless panoramic in front of you.
Our pick for the best hot-air balloon company is Balloons Above the Valley. While staying at the hotel, just walk a few steps to the Napa General Store and let the adventure begin! Note: This adventure will begin at precisely 5:30AM (time of year depending). The wind conditions are normally the calmest and safest in the early morning. You can literally roll right out of your comfy bed and into the main parking lot.
Once you meet your party, you will be transported by van to a designated departure location. Once there, file into groups and choose a basket. Watching the actual balloon fill up is incredible! They may look tiny in the sky, but those balloons are huge. No matter what time of year, I would suggest wearing layers. The mornings here can be chilly year round. Hats are recommended for anyone that doesn’t like their head getting too warm. The heat from the flame of the balloon can be a little hot. Other than that, enjoy! Most rides last about forty-five minutes to an hour in actual fly time.
Once you land in the picturesque countryside, you will be transported back to the Napa General Store here at the Historic Napa Mill. From there you will be treated for your bravery with a delicious champagne brunch with the staff and pilots. Bon appétit and enjoy the rest of your morning!
Special values are available through the hotel front desk. The typical full price rate is around $199-$230 per person. Although, prices can change with the season. Balloons Above the Valley requires a 48-hour cancelation policy.
One of the most important factors to consider before arriving in Wine Country is tour transportation. This can sometimes make or break the best vacation in the making. But, we’re here to make it easy for you ..which is why you’re probably reading this blog. One of our favorites is Beau Wine Tours!
This is by far one of the best transportation companies in the valley. Beau Wine Tours makes it easy. They will meet you in the hotel lobby on the day of your scheduled tour. They can also create a fun-filled itinerary according to your tastes, a few wine words, or simply by saying, “This is my first time in Napa!” Let your experienced driver do the rest. If you are a wine connoisseur, you can simply drop your pre-planned itinerary into your driver’s hands and they will get you on your way.
You may also be in interested in a group tour. Get to know other visitors while you share a day of wine tasting and friendship. The group tours also leave daily from the hotel and transport you in a limousine. Prices vary, but this option is usually much less costly than renting a private car and most guest’s love hanging out with other like-minded people for the day. They typcially keep the groups small so it’s still a very imtimate experience.
I would suggest wearing layers on your tour as well as closed-toe shoes in case you take a vineyard tour. Remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Your driver will have bottles of water waiting for you in the car (and, ahem, for those of us who like to get started early, a bottle of sparkling wine!) .
Did you remember to drink plenty of water? Wine-tasting fatigue is a common ailment suffered by Napa Valley visitors. It can occasionally (extremely rare) carry over to the next day in headache form. Don’t say we didn’t warn ‘ya! As you inch closer to lunchtime, those riding the daily tour will be presented with a delicious picnic lunch. It’s best to eat a light lunch while tasting and these guys know how to picnic. You can expect fresh fruit, sandwiches, and a sweet treat to awaken those Gewürztraminer taste buds.
Just beware that the price you pay for the tour does not include tasting fees. Your driver can instruct you on what to expect given the wineries you will visit. Some tastings are complimentary, while others can range on the higher end at $25.00 or more per person.
Beau Wine Tours can be reached at 707-938-8001 or on their website at www.beauwinetours.com. The hotel concierge is also always available to make arrangments for you. They offer private and group tours daily.
If casual wine tasting is your style, pack the jean shorts and grab a light sweater as you head off to McKenzie Mueller Vineyards & Winery.
Nestled in beautiful Napa, McKenzie Mueller is a family-owned winery with dogs to boot! You can park once you pass the private house and be sure to head around back towards the tasting room.
Julius Mueller, a third-generation Napan and son of namesake Robert Mueller, offers family tales and wine bits galore! Having grown up around the family winery, Julius could tell you a thing or two about the land, the grapes on the land, and even the history of his family on that land. During our visit, we tried about 12 wines. Be sure to pace yourself-the road is long and delicious! I especially enjoyed the not-too-buttery Chardonnay.
This winery is definitely a must see for anyone that loves the “talking with an old friend” feeling. Or, anyone that wants a new tasting experience without feeling that experience in their pocket book! The tasting fee is $15.00 per person, but they will waive that if you purchase a bottle…or two.
Tastings are available daily and by appointment from 10am to 4pm. Visit www.mckenziemueller.com for more information.
If you’re an adventure seeker, crazed hiker, or looking for exercise outside of the gym, try a trail in wine country. And if you’re not looking for any kind of adventure…well, you probably wouldn’t be coming to Napa!
Skyline Wilderness Park is located about 10 minutes away from the hotel by car. Before you set out, be sure to bring lots of water, as well as sunscreen and snacks. The terrain can change drastically, so dress accordingly. I went on a morning hike in mid February and was greeted by gorgeous sunny rays. As soon as our hike ventured into shaded territory, the temperatures dropped incredibly. You may consider wearing several layers (Mt. Shasta stlye!) for your hike. If you’ve ever attempted to climb Mt. Shasta, or attempted and failed like me, hiking in layers may be second nature to you. After I stop shaking my fist at that mount, I’ll be back with a vengeance! One of the great things about climing at Skyline is that you can take the same trail many times, but end up in many different locations. Part of the fun is discovering where that side trail actually leads. There are plenty of trail maps at the visitor area, so getting lost won’t be an option. There is a small fee for parking, which helps support trail maintenance and park preservation.
If you head north on highway 29, exit at First Street and look for Westwood Hills on the left. I would recommend this hike for families, or those looking for a nice view without too difficult terrain. The trails are much milder and not as demanding as those at Skyline. Always bring water and snacks, and a light jacket if hiking in the late afternoon. There are picnic tables at the bottom of the trailhead and the trail is large enough for groups to walk together. Follow the trail up and up until you reach some mildy-steep rocks. Climb over these and keep pulling yourself up the hill. The view is well worth the struggle! From atop the hill, you can see all of downtown Napa. Try and find the hotel while you’re up there.
If you’re headed up valley from the Silverado Trail, stop at Mount St. Helena on your way. One catch - there is limited roadside parking. The trail starts in a lush and cool environment as it winds its way up the side of the mountain. Once it opens up to the fire road, the temperatures can get pretty warm in the summer months. I was last there in October and the weather was breezy all afternoon. I would again suggest wearing layers, bringing plenty of water, and snacks. The road winds around and around offering magnificant views from each side. You may be lucky enough to see some gliders catching the high winds. There’s even a rock wall that many climbing enthusiasts attempt each time they visit. If you’re interested, be sure to bring your own rope. This hike lasts about two hours each way…unless you’re sprinting. The top is a great place for a victory picnic!
Now for your reward. If you’d like to celebrate your hiking accomplishment in true Napa style, stop for a mid-afternoon cap nearby each trailhead. In St. Helena, visit Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen for an appetizer, a beer, wine, or maybe just some ice water. Near Westwood Hils there’s a grocer called Browns Valley Market that’s sure to refill your empty stomach or quench your thirst. Just a short drive from Skyline Wilderness Park is the Oxbow Public Market. Here you can find food, drinks, gifts, cheese and more to celebrate your return to the living.
Another installment in the series about putting together a perfect day in the Napa Valley.
I had a girlfriend visiting and we thought it would be nice to get away and spend some time – just the two of us. We knew we only had a few hours to hit the wineries and we wanted to hit a few places off the beaten path. It was sprinkling but the weather was actually pleasant and not windy or cold.
With a beautiful new tasting room – this winery is a fantastic place to take a group of friends and walk around. Etude is also home to one of my favorite pinot’s. They have a wonderfully friendly tasting room staff and were happy to answer our dozens of questions. Try their food and wine pairing for an extra treat! I need to go back and do a full tour…
Formerly the Inglenook Winery and Neibaum Coppola, Rubicon is one of the most beautiful historic wineries in the Napa Valley. I know I’ve included this one before but this time we skipped the tour and just did the Coppola Tasting. How did I not know about this before? You’re ushered into a very posh private area and are assigned to your own table (ask for one of the bench seats). A server brings you an array of wines to taste and they are paired with local cheeses and bread. It was a very relaxing and comfortable way to taste Rubicon’s high end wines. Before we knew it we’d been there almost two hours and we had to dash off to the next place. We left with several bottles and it was well worth the $50 tasting fee.
We planned to go to lunch but were full from stuffing ourselves with cheese and bread – and we were pushed for time – so we headed to Pina a bit early. This place is tiny…and by tiny I mean the bar you taste at can only fit about 3 people. It’s a small, locally owned and operated winery that features some of my favorite red wines. The tasting room is in the middle of their actual operations inside the winery. Their family history is truly amazing and they have been here since the mid 1800′s. If you want to see what it’s really like behind closed doors – head here. An unexpected surprise was their delightful Chardonnay that I didn’t even know they offered! Pina is so small that it’s by appointment only, but they are really accomodating if you just call a few minutes ahead and they aren’t too busy.
Our last stop of the day was at Frog’s Leap. Their patio is available year round and it overlooks their garden and vineyards. A spectacular view, it’s a great stop to sit ouside with a good friend and relax. Their staff is friendly but unobtrusive – only interrupting for some friendly chatting or to bring your next taste of wine. They were also very flexible with our requests to switch out certain wines on our tasting list to others they had open. It was a perfect ending to our day. Tasting fees are $20 per person.
A quick day – but still a perfect one in the Napa Valley.
For the hippie in you – go green when you come to the Napa Valley! In a world where it seems everyone is striving to be green, it’s hard to separate the men from the boys. Putting a recycling bin in your employee break room is a nice step in the right direction, but there’s something to be said for the wineries that go through the added steps of becoming a Certified Green Winery. These wineries have not only met regulatory compliance standards, but have gone above and beyond by implementing green practices into their winery operations.
The Napa County Green Winery Program is a joint effort between the Napa County Department of Environmental Management and the Napa Valley Vintners; both working to preserve the unique place that is Napa Valley. Since the Napa Green Winery Program’s inception in 2006, Napa County has moved to the forefront in winery certification.
Currently, Napa County has 18 certified wineries including:
I support businesses that go through the added expense and staff training to reduce their carbon footprint by frequenting these wineries as much as possible..not that it’s all that hard to get me to drink more wine. Besides, green looks good on me!
This is the start of my monthly series about putting together a perfect day in the Napa Valley.
It was a gorgeous fall day so we busted our 1967 Firebird out of the garage and took it for a drive up valley. November through January has the best foliage colors and I could have spent all day in the car driving up and down along the valley. Not too hot…not too cold…kind of like a nice glass of Cab.
Robert Mondavi Winery. Okay, okay….we all know that Mondavi is almost always completely overrun with tourists. But, I hadn’t been there to do a tasting in years and I kept saying I was going to go. We had some friends in town for this trip and they had a couple wineries they really wanted to visit including Mondavi. It was quite pleasant and parking was a breeze. We got there too late to get on the first tour, but the tour cleared out the tasting room so we had the whole room to ourselves. Their reserve tasting was at a reasonable price and they had some pretty tasty wines.
Rubicon Estate. Formerly the Inglenook Winery and Neibaum Coppola, Rubicon is one of the most beautiful historic wineries in the Napa Valley. Owned by Francis Ford Coppola, this winery is worth a stop on your trip even if you just want to take a look around. The tasting room is beautiful and they spare no expense throughout the grounds and inside the winery. Call ahead – you need an appointment and the tour is a bit pricey, but it’s worth it. Don’t forget to hit the gift shop on your way out…
Beaulieu Vineyards. Since we were right across the street we swung in here for a quick tasting. Lucky us – they had several of our favorite wines on sale for 50% off! I love the tasting room staff here too, so much fun.
Rutherford Grill. My favorite part of the day- lunch. Oh wait, and dinner. And sometimes brunch. In any case, I could do all three of those at the Rutherford Grill. A nice glass of wine, sitting in the sun on the patio, perfection… I liken the special ingredient in the smoked salmon to whatever people say they put in the chicken at KFC; you will crave it always. If you get there just before noon, there usually isn’t a wait. By the time we were leaving there was at least an hour wait.
Frank Family Vineyards. This was my first visit to Frank Family since they remodeled their tasting room. I was so excited when we pulled up, and it wasn’t impossible to find a place to park! We were handed a glass of sparkling when we walked in and then another glass of their limited holiday sparkling. We were then shown into one of the three other tasting rooms of the main entryway. A much more intimate setting, and there were only about 5 other people with us. I have to say, Frank Family’s collection of red wines is absolutely stellar. I could have stayed there all day.
Rudd Winery. At $50 a guest for their private tours, this tasting is definitely at the top of the price spectrum. But, just to see how this winery operates and to drink from their high-end wines makes it well worth it. The private tour is nice because you have a dedicated tour guide and you can pick their brains about everything from vineyard maintenance to their concrete tanks. If you don’t want to do a private tour, they have a daily tour for $35 each. Reservations are required for both options.
Naptime. Yes. I said it. Naptime. Nothing like a one hour power nap to rejuvinate you and get you ready to head back out in rockstar style.
Celadon Restaurant. Celadon never fails to deliver and is one of my favorites. We shared the calamari, crab cake, and small green salad. I had the special soup which was fantastic - I don’t think I’ve ever had anything from their specials that I didn’t like. The big hit of the night was the Edge Hill Mixed Black we picked up from Rudd Winery on our way out. Have you ever had that wine that was so good you didn’t want to share? And you wanted to lick up the drops that accidentally spilled on the table? This is that wine. You can only buy it in the winery, but it is well worth the trip. And…buy more than one bottle if you can afford it. If you don’t you’ll wish you had.
Silo’s Jazz Club. I seem to end up here a few times a month. And not just because I work next door… this is the best place in town to enjoy some music without having to worry about the three-people thick bar sandwich crowding the counter. We shared two desserts and a bottle of the Salvestrin Retaggio – my current favorite red blend.
Time to call it a night. While hanging out all night at the club is enticing, it’s been a long day and I’d like to keep it perfect. Not a good idea to end it with a late night last-minute decision to head down to Henry’s…