One of the top places on my list of travel destinations has always been to experience the beauty and culture of wine country. You hear the stories of lush mountains, never-ending vineyards, and amazing sunsets, and at some point, begin to ask yourself, “why have you not bought your plane ticket yet?”
But why do we tend to gravitate to wine country, particularly Napa Valley?
What is it that makes Napa Valley wines so special?
History of Napa Valley:
To understand what makes a great wine, you have to understand where the grapes are being grown. The reason Napa Valley wines are in such demand is due to the combination of Mediterranean climate, geography, and geology of the valley is structured so that is conducive to growing quality wine grapes.
For decades, France was considered the crème de la crème of wine regions across the globe. It wasn’t until 1976 during The Paris Wine Tasting, that a Napa Valley Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars won first place over some of the most famous French labels in a blind tasting, putting Napa Valley on the wine map, opening the eyes and palates of wine lovers globally.
Napa Valley is now considered one of the top wine growing regions in the world, hence the inspiration for our story.
Traveling To Napa:
An opportunity arose in which our team was invited to cover one of the largest food and beverage events in the country. While planning our trip to San Francisco to attend the 39th annual Winter Fancy Food Show, we decided to take a little time after the show to visit the Napa Valley wine country. This would turn out to be a great decision.
Located only about 50 miles northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area, the drive is not only easy (at least once you get out of rush hour traffic in San Francisco), but it is also breathtaking.
The Napa Valley is roughly 30 miles long and 5 miles across at its widest point. Majority of the land is what you would think, vineyards, leaving nothing much in the way of shopping centers, subdivisions, or office buildings. This being said, when we began looking for somewhere to rest our heads, we wanted to find somewhere that would give us a centralized location to stores, restaurants, and of course, great wine.
After doing some research, we decided that the area that fit our needs the best was the recently formed and steadily growing Downtown Napa. Positioned in the heart of the valley, this downtown area is provides easy (even walking distance) to shopping, dinning, beautiful views, and most importantly, centralized access to Napa wineries and tasting rooms.
Once we knew where we wanted to be, we needed to decide on who to stay with. We chose to reach out to our friends with Hyatt who recently opened their new Andaz Hotel in the heart of the downtown area. This convenient and elegant property comfortably hosts 141 guestroom and suites, each with Lush King size beds, natural hickory hardwood floors and large Eastern white marble bathrooms. In addition to the beautiful amenities, and delightful staff, some of the features that helped us with making our decision was the free parking, access to a fully equipped gym with lap pool, hot tub, multiple saunas, but of course it came down to location, location, location.
Providing a laid back, “come as you go” mindset, your visit begins by walking into a lobby filled with couches, a bar, dim lighting, and no apparent front desk. Soon, a friendly staff member walks over asking if you are checking in (walking with luggage helped) and sits you on a couch followed by an offer of your choice of their wine of the day for you to try while you check in and wait to be directed to your room (and so it begins).
Once settled in, it was time to put together a game plan (most plan ahead, we like to get the local opinion). The next day, we spent some time wondering the newly renovated Andaz, experiencing their restaurant with delicious breakfast options and locally sourced menus. After 3 days of constant nibbling and sipping at WFFS, it was also nice to use a gym, relax in a hot tub and steam for a few…then back to the true goal of the trip…the wine!
We then decided who better to give us some advice on where to go with a limited time frame than someone local. After exploring a little on our own (just drive and you will find somewhere to taste) we decided to reach out to a friend from the East Coast who had recently made wine country her home.
We were happily introduced to T Beller, the owner of Verve wine country touring company, at lunch and quickly realized, this is the person we need to be with for our Napa Valley experience.
Day three of our trip, we met with T and the rest of team Verve, along with other wine tour guests for an outing in wine country.
The first winery we visited was Redmon Estate Winery, a small, family owned estate housed in St. Helena, CA. Producing no more than 1000 cases a year, don’t be fooled by the small production. Lisa and her husband Scott make sure that no shortcuts are taken. Using French oak barrels, the best fruit, and winemaking practices that result in a truly hand-crafted product. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I suggest their signature Redmon Cabernet Sauvignon. Lisa and her assistant graciously greeted, toured and served us a delicious 3 course meal with paired wines to complement the dishes. This was a great stop and perfect for a quite day with quality people in a soothing atmosphere, but still plenty of room for a private get together with friends to enjoy a glass (or three) of wine with plenty to purchase for later.
Our next stop was to the beautiful estate of Sullivan Wines. This newly renovated property provides plenty of space for ceremonies, celebrations, dinning events, and of course a tranquil afternoon of tasting fabulous wines. Always prepared for a good time, T and team Verve surprised Mindi (marketing admin) with an anniversary celebration, complete with thank you cake and presents for all of her hard work.
Our third stop was the well established and also newly modernized Hall Wine Estates. This property is one of the most up to date wineries you will find and they spared no expense. From the 2 story tasting rooms and distillery, to the expansion of the grounds with new areas for entertaining, receptions, balls, and of course, the production of new wines. As our day began to come to an end, we were able to watch the sun begin to set on wine country and reflect through our glasses of beautiful rose to close out a perfect day of culture, food, history, and of course, amazing wines.
To put Napa Valley on a bucket list is an understatement. If you love culture, beauty, ambiance, and of course wine, make an effort to enjoy this region with a special someone and friends to truly experience wine country.
See our previous articles on Napa Valley wines