"One hundred bottles of beer on the wall…" Maybe in Milwaukee, but not in Napa Valley, California home to more than one hundred wineries. This region is located in northern California, in the San Francisco Bay Area and is comprised of six locales – Calistoga, Napa, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Yountville. As far as wine growing and manufacturing goes, it is the foremost area in the United States and one of the leading wine regions in the world.
More than five million tourists come to visit the rolling hills covered in grape vines and taste wines both white and red. Along with world class wine, the Napa Valley also churns out exceptional meals thanks to their many well-trained chefs. If you'd like to be one of the millions of visitors to Napa Valley wineries this year, you should plan to fly into San Francisco airport and either renting a car or, better yet, take one of the affordable Napa shuttles to your hotel.
Transportation options in the Napa Valley include walking, bike riding, public bus transportation or renting a car. Keep in mind, however, that driving under the influence of alcohol is against the law and the consequences are very harsh. With all the wine tasting you'll be doing, you should consider all options before renting a car without a designated driver.
Nearly all Napa Valley wineries offer tours and tastings in one form or another. Some have scheduled daily guided tours, like Robert Mondavi, Beaulieu Vineyard, Beringer Vineyards and Goosecross Cellars. Others require you make an appointment, like Salvestrin Vineyard & Wine Company, Truchard Vineyards and Work Vineyard.
Expect to pay a fee for your tour and tasting. While a few wineries, Stony Hill Vineyard for example, offer complimentary tastings and tours, most charge between $5 and $15 per person. There are few that charge more, like Seduction Wine which charges $40 for barrel tasting.
In addition to touring the facility and tasting some of the premier wines of the region, you can purchase bottles to take home as souvenirs or gifts. Some wineries offer special events like vintage wine dinner parties, like the $350 "Four Decades" tasting at Robert Mondavi. This dinner is held just four times per year, is limited to 10 guests per event and features one wine from each of four decades – the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
To get a taste of many wines at one tasting, you can visit COPIA, Napa Valley's gathering place for all things culinary and cultural. With street fairs, concerts, cooking lessons and wine tastings held year round, you'll be able to try wines from dozens of the hundreds of wineries in the region. Daily wine programs are available and are included in the admission fee ranging from free (for members of COPIA) to $20. Friday nights they host "Dinner and a Movie", consisting of a gourmet dinner, glass of perfectly paired wine and a movie in the theater.
Don't plan on seeing it all in one day or any single visit. You'll need at least an hour to properly tour and taste at each of the Napa Valley wineries you visit. With hundreds of wineries to choose from and the wines changing annually, you can always go back to see and try new flavors of the area.