Enjoying the Tastes of Napa Valley
By Burt Carey
There was a time that Napa Valley, California, was a quaint little place known by vintners for its soil, climate and grapevine-friendly growing season. Today it’s the destination of millions of visitors each year who yearn for a taste of world-acclaimed wineries.
The community has grown and now features Michelin-star restaurants, spas, outdoor recreation and resorts that add first-class appeal to the opportunity of tasting and purchasing some of the best wines in the world.
For those whose goal it is to sample many of the varietals that grow so well in the Napa Valley, the key is in understanding the very different experiences offered by each of the wineries here. First, and most important, is that you make reservations for any wineries you wish to visit.
Some wineries are so small they need to know when you’ll be arriving so that they will have someone there to greet you, and some have scheduled tasting times. Wineries may also be restricted to a certain number of visitors they can host each day, but by scheduling your visit several weeks, if not months, in advance, you can reserve appointments for even the most popular wineries.
First-time visitors to the Napa Valley can easily become overwhelmed by the experience because they didn’t know what to expect. While every winery puts its own spin on the wine-tasting experience, there are five basic types of tasting activities.
Wine bar tasting is probably the most common type of wine-tasting experience. Expect to pay between $10 and $40 to step up to a bar, where the winery will have a list or display of the wines to taste that day. The price increases for those who would like to try older or rare library or reserve wines.
An appointment is definitely required for sit-down tastings, and a higher fee is typically charged. A host serves the winery’s choices for the day in a well-appointed room, and will give full descriptions about the characteristic of each pour and how it is made.
Popular among sparkling wine vintners are table service tastings, where you will sit at a table and a winery’s offerings are brought to you.
For those who like to tour facilities as they test, walk-around tastings combine the best of both worlds. As you tour the winery, a host will carry selected bottles for you to taste as they guide you from place to place.
And finally, there’s the barrel tasting experience. Your winery guide will carry a “wine thief,” a fancy term for a siphon, which is used to extract samples of maturing wine from barrels situated around the facility. You’ll be sampling wine that has not yet matured to its full potential but the experience can be exquisite.
For a full list of things to do, places to stay and eat, and wineries to visit in the Napa Valley, go online to the official Napa Valley visitor site. There you’ll find special offers and tips for traveling to Napa and surrounding communities.