Ballpark estimate: $10 to $100+ per person
If you’re looking for a weekend jaunt that’s both relaxing and also offers some entertainment at the same time, how about planning a trip to Napa Valley and touring the wineries there? Napa Valley is rich with culture, nature, and delicious flavor, and it changes from season to season, offering something for every taste.
Fall for Napa Valley
Many tourists flock to Napa Valley in the summer, so accommodations are pricey and lines are long. But in fact, fall can be the ideal time to visit Napa Valley, when grapes are harvested and prices are more reasonable and you can experience the best that the region has to offer.
Where to Stay
When planning a trip to Napa, you’ll need to decide where to stay. Your accommodations will make or break your trip, since the style of what’s available, as well as the costs, can span a large range. For convenience and value, you may want to book a room at an inn or bed and breakfast in the Downtown Napa area. For more local flavor, another option is to select an inn in the quaint town of Yountville. When price is no option, then consider booking a high-end resort or stay at a ranch in St. Helena, Rutherford, or Calistoga. Do a search online for possibilities or check with a travel agent for tips. Be sure to look at the photos and read the reviews of anything you plan to select in advance. Note that some experts say you can find less expensive rooms in other locations that are off the beaten path, but if you stay too far outside of these areas, you may find yourself regretting your choice and you may not save enough to make it worth the sacrifice of being so far removed from the action.
Exploring Napa Wineries
There are so many wineries in Napa Valley that you may be unsure of how to navigate the options to narrow in on a select few that will most appeal to you. One way to plan your trip is to focus on some of the better-known wineries that draw people from around the world. Once you’ve worked your way through these more touristy places, then you may want to add in some of the smaller, boutique wineries. Some travel experts suggest picking three or four wineries each day to visit.
You may also want to plan to include one special event each day, such as a formal tour, a sit-down wine tasting, or a food and wine pairing. With anywhere you plan to visit, it’s best to make your reservations well in advance so you won’t get turned away on the spot. Many wineries are extremely popular and their tours book up quickly, so this will help you avoid missing out on something you want to experience.
What’s in a Name?
There are some well-known wineries that you’ll want to make sure you include in your itinerary. For example:
- Robert Mondavi is a great place for Napa Valley newbies to begin their touring of the winery and the surrounding vineyards. You can select from walking tours, food and wine pairings, and lunch and dinner experiences.
- Beringer Vineyards takes visitors on a tour of the caves and tunnels of this old winery, and offers them a sampling of three different wine blends. Visitors can also opt for a sit-down food and wine pairing.
- Inglenook Winery offers a chance to experience the old-world charm of Napa Valley while being seated for a cheese and wine tasting in the grandeur of an old salon. Visitors can learn about the winemaking process, ask questions, and engage in discussions.
- Castello di Amorosa: For a royal experience, be sure to allot enough time to visit this 13th century castle, complete with turrets and dungeon. You can do a general admission visit with premium or reserve wines for tasting, or book a guided tour of this masterpiece and experience a small group, private tasting.
Some smaller, more eclectic wineries worth checking out include:
- Regusci Winery: This old-time family winery provides a picturesque setting that will make you feel like you’ve landed in Italy. Visitors can also tour a ghost winery. An added bonus is that dogs are welcome here, too, as long as they remain on a leash.
- Hall Wines: While most of the wineries in Napa Valley are oozing with old-world charm, Hall St. Helena, is no different. But what makes it unique is a show-stopping display of contemporary artwork gracing the walls. There is also a second location, Hall Rutherford, which is a state-of-the-art facility that offers wine and small plate pairings and other premier options for visitors.
There’s an obvious logistical challenge when it comes to visiting wineries. Since you’ll be tasting different types of wines, even though they’re provided in small quantities, the alcohol content will add up throughout the course of your touring and it may be unsafe (and illegal) to drive. Therefore, if you don’t have a designated driver in your group, you might consider renting bicycles to get around. Or you could hire a car service (you’ll probably be required to pay them for a minimum number of hours), or call uber for a ride.
Cost to Visit Napa Valley Wineries
The cost for visiting wineries in Napa Valley starts at about $10 for general admission to view the setting, while tastings can be from $20 to $45. These might include three to five samples to try. On the higher end, the wine is often paired with cheese or other light snacks. For reserve wines, more tastings may be included and the price could be higher. If the wine is paired with small plates or gourmet foods, you could end up spending on a food and wine pairing as much as $100 per person or even much more. Another option is to purchase a special “Taste Downtown Napa” card through the City of Napa for $30 that provides access to seven wine rooms located in the downtown area that enables you to walk from one to the next. With the card, the cost is 10-cents per wine sample (which can range from a glass to a flight). This can be a convenient alternative to visiting the wineries themselves.
For getting around, you can rent a bike for about $45 per day, or hire a car service for about $100 or more for two to three hours (which is pricy unless you are in a small group and can spit this multiple ways).
Other Cost-Saving Options
The cost of visiting wineries and paying for tastings can add up fast, especially if you’ll be visiting several vineyards in one day. Therefore, you can ask your inn or bed and breakfast if they have any discount admission passes or coupons. You can also check with the local tourism office or do a search online for specials. In addition, when paying for tastings, some couples consider sharing one serving of wine samples instead of each getting their own. This can cut down on the price and still allows each of you to get enough of the flavor to enjoy yourselves. This is standard practice that is accepted at most wineries in Napa Valley. Another option is to buy a bottle or two of wine from each winery. Many will waive the tasting fee for their customers, and this way you’ll have something to enjoy both now and later.