I love it when people visit because it forces me to be a tourist again. For a recent girls weekend, I visited Napa Valley located approximately 1.5 hours north of San Francisco. Luckily we hit the vineyards at their peak of fall color just a few weeks ago. The color of the vineyards is based on the variety of grapes – often Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.
Napa Valley is home to approximately 400 wineries, most of which are small family-owned businesses. While the valley enjoys Mediterranean-type weather, soil and microclimates are extremely diverse within the region.
Ninety percent of American wine is made from Californian wine grapes. Although there are 700 grape growers in the Napa Valley, the narrow 35 mile long valley only grows 4% of the grapes used by local vintners. Most of the wineries in the region use grapes from the more inland Central Valley. Stretching 450 miles down the state, the Central Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.
Cutting-edge knowledge, craftsmanship, and attention to detail are bottled up into the small quantities of wine made in Napa Valley. Many handcrafted wines are available only from their winery, local specialty stores and select restaurants.
Just ninety minutes away, the University of California Davis campus boasts a world-renowned Department of Viticulture and Enology which not only provides the most current research and technology, but also secures a future generation of winemakers.
In 1769, Spanish missionaries planted the first grapevines in San Diego, California. Vineyards were cultivated northward, and by 1861, commercial wine was produced in Napa Valley by German settler Charles Krug.
The wine boom coincided with the California Gold Rush in the late 19th century as a flood of European immigrants established vineyards and wineries in the area. Chinese immigrants dug out wine cellars and caves.
Prohibition (1920 – 1933), The Great Depression, and World War II brought commercial winemaking almost to a halt, except for communion wine.
Then something remarkable happened on May 24, 1976. In Paris, 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon won first place in a blind taste test putting Napa Valley on the map for quality wine.
And now 3.3 million visitors visit the region annually to taste wine, enjoy amazing California cuisine, relax at local spas, and shop in local towns each with a unique personality.
Napa Valley wineries require reservations for wine tastings. Most wine tastings cost $10 to $40 for 4 to 5 samples at a stand-up wine bar. With so many wineries to choose from, here are a few worth recommending…
Sterling Vineyards is notable for their unique aerial tram leading
guests to amazing panoramic valley views 300 feet above the town of Calistoga
Quaint Frank Family Vineyards boasts a historical 1884 winery
and attracts a famous clientele possibly due
to owner Rich Frank’s Hollywood film and TV executive career
Their 2012 Winston Hill Cabernet Sauvignon is the best I have tasted anywhere
Decorated in impeccable Restoration Hardware style,
Frog’s Leap Winery was my favorite winery
We sat around an outside table with a vineyard view,
and we were offered something to nibble on during the tasting
As ‘designated driver’ that day,
I was pleased as punch when they offered me tastings of non-alcoholic Dry Sparkling
And really, who can resist the call of rocking chairs with a view
With the local Mediterranean-like weather, there is a plethora of outdoor activities
ranging from hiking and biking to picnicking
Pick up sandwiches from gourmet food market Dean & Deluca
and hop over to St Clement Vineyards, one of the few wineries which allows picnics
For dinner, Evangeline in Calistoga was my favorite restaurant
self-described as ‘a casual french bistro with a creole soul’
The alfresco dining under the stars created a lovely atmosphere
One more perfect piece of our wonderful trip included
rejuvenating spa treatments at Indian Springs Resort & Spa
As a massage therapist in a previous life,
I highly recommend a massage treatment followed by relaxing next to the Buddha Pond afterwards
My girlfriends enjoyed soaking in a Mud Bath filled with locally harvested volcanic ash mud
Family friendly, I could imagine returning here with the whole family
to this casual resort
With Napa Valley’s pleasant weather and numerous activities on offer, the region is beautiful, relaxing, and entertaining all year long.
Autumn beckons the harvest, the Crush, and fall color. Winter offers a fog of yellow flowers as wispy nutrient-rich mustard thrives between naked grapevines. The valley is clothed in green and a spectrum of color in Spring, while Summer turns up the heat and turns those hills golden.
And while Napa Valley is most famous for its wine tasting, the region is an excellent place for teetotalers to visit as well. With so much left to do, I hope to return soon.
Read more about Northern California here