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Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Do's and Don't's for Napa Valley

Napa Valley is just over the hill from Sonoma County. I've been there lots of times and have even worked over there -- without needing a work visa! :) Here are a few helpful hints for your visit this summer.

Traffic and Crowds
Up valley Napa is a little quieter

The main road through Napa Valley is Highway 29. It will be packed. Traffic backs up into the town of St. Helena. Tasting rooms will be crowded, tours will be crowded. So plan on spending some time waiting.

Turning left onto Highway 29

There are numerous streets that cross the valley and intersect the main highway. You may be using those cross streets to visit a winery along there or to come back from the Silverado Trail. (The Trail is a smart choice for wine tasting). Like I said, the traffic lines up along 29 so don't put yourself in a position of attempting a left turn from one of those cross streets into the unrelenting lines of vehicles on 29. I've driven by and seen cars sitting there and think to myself, "You'll get out in November." 

Open containers, public drunkenness, and other tomfoolery 

No, this stuff isn't legal. Some folks think otherwise as I've witnessed this going on in Napa Valley. Yes, drunk driving will get you thrown in the local jail. And, no, they don't serve cheese plates and Chardonnay at the county lock-up just because it's Napa.

Eight wineries a day

Speaking of getting drunk you'd be surprised (or maybe not) at how many people want to hit about eight wineries in a day. First, it'll be damned expensive as tasting fees can be pretty high in Napa. More importantly, that's too much wine even if you aren't driving as after about four stops your taste buds are pretty shot. This is where people wind up buying wine only to find out later at home they don't like it. Happens all the time--that's why some tasting rooms will stay open until 6 or 7 pm. That last hour or two is a big money-maker. If you just want to drink I'd suggest a wine bar.

Some Napa wineries are a bit rustic
and a lot less crowded
Hitting the big names

Most first-time visitors spend their weekend at the famous stops only like Mondavi, Sterling, Beringer, and Castello di Amorosa. It's okay to visit some of these, but there are a bunch of small wineries you've probably never heard of that are just as good or better and don't have 500 people milling around.

Do this
  • Visit mid-week if you can. 
  • Get off Highway 29. 
  • Go small. Visit smaller, less crowded wineries
  • Go up valley. Once you get north of St. Helena the crowds thin out.
  • Plan you day. Pick four wineries to visit. Research before you go. Plan a lunch stop (or pack one).
  • Make some appointments. Not every place requiring an appointment is hard to get into and only sells $100 Cabernet.  
  • Have fun. You're in Disneyland for adults!