“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us to be happy. – Benjamin Franklin
….yep, good ‘ol Benji got it right.
As my sister was about to embark on her journey out of college, and into the working world (after a 20 day gallivant around Europe, of course), and I was balls deep (ew, but accurate) into our motorhome to tiny house renovation, as well as wedding planning… I schemed up a way to not only enjoy some solid sister time-off, but celebrate my sister’s huge accomplishment.
It didn’t take her much thought to agree to do a road trip down to Napa Valley.
We both have been lucky enough to enjoy Napa and Sonoma adventures before. Both times were due to my sister, Becca, having internships either with a winery or in San Fran with Ghirardelli (rough, I know.) Realizing the road trip was only roughly an eight hour drive from Corvallis, it was a no brainer. Wine, adventure, food, sister time, wine… We immediately started booking.
Taking my car as opposed to driving saved us the hassle of flights to and from, extra baggage charges, and rental car fees. We could load as much sh*t into my car as we wanted. With my impending wedding, and Becca’s trip to Europe we knew we wanted to save money where we could, and splurge on the important things (like wine). If you are heading that way from anywhere in Oregon, the drive is breathtaking – I mean, until you get to Redding (sorry Redding).
We also decided to book our hotel in Fairfield to save about $200 per night on hotel cost. Not the most glamorous of places, but we weren’t going to spend much time there any way. This increased our drive in by only 20 minutes, and still had a pool and comfy beds… the most important parts.
The packing list:
Sun dresses… all of them. They are appropriate for wineries, and lessen the sweatiness.
Wedges, and sandals (it was hot, and after wine I don’t trust heels on cobblestone)
Athletic clothes and one pair of tennis shoes
A cooler full of food: Greek yogurt, baby carrots, sliced apples and strawberries, protein bars, light string cheese. < Grab-and-go foods that would help us hit our protein and fiber, leaving plenty of room for bread/cheeses/cured meats. We opted for these choices for light snacks and breakfast.
To keep the blood pumping and help us mentally validate all the food and drink we were about to consume, we found a nice (extreme incline) local hike to do before we head out for the day.
First stop, day one: Domaine Carneros
| Favorite wine(s): 2014 The Famous Gate, Blanc de Noir sparkling wine
This place is breathtaking as you arrive. And huge… safe to say we got lost trying to find the tasting room. Luckily for us, our soon to be server Patrick led us in the right direction. One of my favorite things about Domaine Carneros is that you get to sit on the patio shaded by an umbrella, and they serve you your flights right there at your table.
AND THE POURS OF YOUR TASTES ARE GENEROUS! After realizing what we were in for, we decided that we should probably get some food to soak it all up, and hang out for awhile before finding our next destination.
PRO TIP: If you are as fortunate enough to be from the Willamette Valley like us, let your wine server know. Talk up Oregon Pinot Noirs and nine times out of ten, they will bring you out some of their “reserve” wines to try to match your expectations.
Out of the four wines we were anticipating trying we ended up with seven tastes each. Be nice, engage in the descriptions of the wine, know a lil’ somethin’ somethin’ about viticulture, and enjoy. I’m pretty sure Patrick had a bit of a crush on my sister… so that may have helped as well.
Next stop, day one: Starmont Winery
| Favorite Wine(s): 2014 Starmont Syrah, 2014 Starmont Chardonnay Carneros
A totally different vibe than what we had at Domaine Carneros. This was small, quiet, and casual. We sat out near a courtyard on adirondack chairs and our server brought out our tastes one pour at a time. This time, however, we decided to split a tasting. We unintentionally saved money, for the primary reason of wanting to be able to drive home. We slowly sipped and shared our wine, lounging in the shade. There was a group of couples near by that had brought their three beautiful well-behaved dogs, which just added to the casual vibe. The wine was phenomenal and the atmosphere was so pleasant.
We ended our day with a little jaunt around downtown Napa. We walked through the chocolate and candy stores, various bakeries, and stores filled with knick-knacks and local artisan work. Prior to embarking on our journey home we stopped and shared a mezza plate at the Mediterranean restaurant, Tarla – delicious, and filling.
PRO TIP: Split everything. Most wineries will let you split tastings with a partner… just ask! This can save you quite a bit of coin, as well as allowing you to try more wines throughout the day without becoming a hot mess. Enjoy more kinds of foods without wasting money or being uncomfortably full by sharing local dishes with your cohorts.
The next day we started off with enjoying some sun by the pool – and early enough for no one else to be out there. If it’s offered with your stay, take advantage of it. You bet we took all the apples and hard boiled eggs from the continental breakfast each day.
For day two we met up with our friend Danielle, that Becca met while working in Modesto for E & J Gallo Winery. Danielle is fanatical about wine as we are, and is an engineer for Gallo. We knew we wanted to make at least three stops that second day as far as wineries went, so we started on our way to the furthest out, and we were not disappointed when we arrived.
First stop, Day two: Castello di Amorosa
| Favorite wine(s): 2013 ZINGARO Old Vine Zinfandel, 2016 DOLCINO Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley (I’m a sucker for Gewurtz.)
There’s no mistaking the grand entrance as you head up the huge driveway. One of the busier wineries I have encountered, but definitely worth it. The views are incomparable. Did I mention it’s an actual f*cking castle?!
You get your general admission ticket to go down into the tasting dungeon (yep, there’s even a dungeon). After leaving the courtyards and main level of the castle you head down to the tasting room which is located in the dimly lit cellar, or dungeon. The bar tops surround the wine that is being poured to guests that they have selected from a list of options they are handed as the belly-up. Between the three of us we were able to try a multitude of different wines from the vast list, which was a huge perk. Again: more tastes, less moolah.
After sampling our selections, we headed back out to get a view one last time from the towers of the castle (pushing our way through all of the other tourists) and snapping a few memorable pictures.
Second stop, Day Two: V. Sattui
|Favorite wine(s): 2016 Moscato Frizzante
V. Sattui is hands down one of our favorite places that we have visited each time in Napa. Another beautiful area with places to sit and hang out, a great deli, and if you catch it right… barbecue on Saturdays. Sticky mouthwatering ribs with broccoli slaw for under $15 including tax – can’t beat it.
We decided to grab a bottle of Moscato to go with are various barbecue dishes, and split it while we enjoyed our lunch on the grounds. Heaven. Pure heaven. Ribs and wine. I can’t.
Last Stop, Day Two: Mumm Napa
| Favorite wine(s): 2012 Sparkling Pinot Meunier, Blanc de Blanc
We knew this would be our last stop of the wine tastings for us – this one was also known as our “Champagne Campaign” stop. We wanted to try all the bubbly.
You first see their lovely patio – We chose to be seated inside on the hot (well, too hot for Oregonians) day. Wall to wall windows and Joanna Gaines-esque decor made the inside seating area just as lovely as the patio, overlooking the grounds. We each got to choose our flight of champagne (again, Becca and I sharing) and sipped on full glasses of bubbles. From dry, to semi-sweet, to sparkling pinot… our palettes were entertained more than we thought. A perfect way to cheers, and cap off our winery adventures.
After a long day of wine tasting, we headed into St. Helena for dinner… and pastries. St. Helena is a an ADORABLE town filled with amazing restaurants, more souvenir worthy shops, and Bouchon Bakery. This place IS all it’s cracked up to be. With a line out the door, we patiently waited as the smell of carbs and butter wafted through the air.
When you walk in you are greeted by croissants with more layers than you thought humanly possible. French macaroons the size of your palm in heavenly flavors like nutella and caramel, look like creations straight out of Willy Wonka dreams. If you love bready, buttery, saliva producing baked goods – look no further. Plus, what’s a better way to soak up all that alcohol?
Oh – wood fired pizza. (which is what we had for dinner). We sat at the bar top of a local restaurant while Danielle shmoozed the bartender, and ended up getting Becca’s glass of wine for free… after AGAIN mentioning they wanted to try a few wines before getting a full glass (more free tastes).
PRO-TIP: Don’t be afraid of walking. EXPLORE! Park far away, wear comfortable shoes, look in all of the shops and markets. You will get in those extra steps, and find hidden gems. Don’t be stuck to one restaurant or place to eat – you can find places you weren’t intending with great food for great prices and happy hours with shorter waits if you just keep looking.
We woke up early the next day, grabbed (stole) food from the continental breakfast at our hotel (another money saving tip) and hit the road with two complimentary coffees for each of us. One for each hand.
The important thing about wine is not how expensive it is, or exclusive the winery – but:
If you enjoyed it
Who you shared it with
We easily covered both of those. Don’t be afraid to road trip and adventure. Sometimes with a little ingenuity, you get a magical weekend with no guilt whatsoever.
Ps. Follow me on SnapChat for all of my PNW, food, wine, and outdoor adventures! @Echotay