I recently spent a week in San Francisco for meetings and wanted to sneak in some fun, so naturally Napa was on the top of my list. Just a little over an hour outside of San Francisco, Napa Valley is the perfect way to spend a day in the sun with some great glasses of wine. To get to Napa (we were staying in downtown San Francisco) we ordered a Lyft, which is about $100 to the region each way. We obviously didn’t want to drive and drink, and Lyft is also a great way to get from winery to winery once you are in Napa (each ride cost us between $5 and $9). Based on suggestions from friends and research, we arranged for tastings at some amazing wineries. Here’s our itinerary for the day:
Our first stop of the day was Grgich Hills Estate, which has a really rich history. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the wine world took the Napa Valley or even America seriously, and the reason the rest of the world now views California as a premier winemaker is because of the man behind Grgich Hills, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich. Mr. Grgich participated in a blind tasting in Paris where some of the world’s most renowned judges tasted wines from around the world. They decided almost unanimously that his 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was the best, shocking the wine world.
At Grgich we tried a number of wines in their tasting room. While I’m usually not a big fan of Chardonnay, I really loved all of their Chardonnays which were very smooth. We even got to try to replica of the Chardonnay that won Mr. Grgich the Paris competition. In our private tasting, we also sampled some delicious Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon paired with the most amazing cheeses that really brought out the flavors of the wine. It was a lovely way to spend an hour while also learning about Grgich’s rich history and importance on the Valley.
The vineyard itself was a lot of fun. They have a wine-crushing event currently going on where you can stand in a barrel and stomp grapes and then step onto a Grgich shirt and leave your footprint.
Our next stop was the famed Corison, which is run by a rockstar female winemaker named Cathy Corison. Corison is known for their standout Cabernet Sauvignons.
A tasting here is a tough ticket to get, so we were really grateful to have a private tasting and also explore Corison’s beautiful grounds. Cathy has a Master’s in Enology from U.C. Davis and her philosophy is to let the fruit speak for itself. We learned during our tour that the vineyard does not use some of the tactics common in winemaking such as adding chemicals to its wine, but instead has more of a purist approach to winemaking.
I really loved the aesthetic of this vineyard. Out back, you can explore the rows of grapes and taste them while taking in views of the mountains. The tasting room is in beautiful barn and their is another teal-colored house with he most charming porch swing.
In the tasting room we had a lovely experience getting to try the complex flavors of Corison’s Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon and other Cabs (Corison specializes in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, no blends). We also got to try their Corazon Anderson Valley. Tastings run for $55.
Our third stop was Duckhorn Vineyards, where we had some amazing wine but also a really fun time. We love the layout of Duckhorn and its fun factor. It struck us as a really great place to come with a group of friends or celebrate a birthday.
Duckhorn’s grounds are picture-perfect. I pretty much had to resist the urge to be on my phone the entire tasting because everywhere you turn is a major Instagram opportunity. Beautiful flowers adorn the grounds throughout and it has this amazingly rustic, barn vibe with aged oak barrels serving as the base for tables and lovely little arches throughout.
We made a major mistake grabbing lunch at Dean & Deluca before heading to Duckhorn (Although the Dean & Deluca in Napa Valley is legit my favorite Dean & Deluca in the world). I only say it was a mistake because the food at the winery looked awesome. Even though we had just eaten, we got the most delicious pairing of dried fruits, cheeses, cured meats and breadsticks to go with our wine tasting.
We sat on the wraparound porch patio of the stunning estate house while trying a flight of Buckhorn’s best wines and learning about each from the most amazing sommolier — Sam. We adored their Stout vineyard Merlot and Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignons in particular, but everything we tried was fantastic. Tastings start at $35 and our private tasting which included some really special wines runs for $75. I only wish we had more time to explore their grounds and gardens.
Our final stop (Yes, we did four tastings in one day) was Quintessa. Quintessa’s estate is a bit secluded and has a really cool vibe to it. If you visit, ask them to take you to its highest point on their grounds overseeing their rolling hills — it’s worth the hike. It produced the most beautiful views of Napa that we saw while in the region.
In a private tasting room, we had the privilege of sampling their Illumination 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2014 vintage (which was our favorite) ad had notes of blackberry and cherry, their 2012and 2011 bottles. All of the wines we tried were complex and really smooth and it was the perfect finish for the day, especially given how beautiful the grounds are.
Quintessa is a newer winery, but they’ve sure learned quick and give a really great tasting experience. Our guide, Joe, was very knowledgeable about each our our tastings and the state of the wine industry in general.
Aside from being great spots to take in the wine and sun, each of the vineyards listed above has their own wine clubs where you get access to special bottles and events.