10 THINGS YOU MUST DO IN NAPA VALLEY
1. EAT AND DRINK AT V. SATTUI
Food and wine go together like peas and carrots. I mean, they dedicated a whole term to it—pairing. Some of the greatest wineries of Europe have some of the best restaurants as well. These wineries enhance the drinking experience by pairing wine with food, and some even offer accommodations (Tuscany’s Badia a Coltibuono is an example).
If you’ve ever gone to Napa County after 1990 though, you know that you won’t see a restaurant or lodging at their wineries. In fact, until 2010, you would not even see “instructional” wine pairing or corporate events.
Napa has rules and ordinances preventing most wineries from selling food or lodging. The city wants to separate the wineries from the other types of business—so the other type of businesses can flourish – or that is this blogger’s opinion anyway. However, a select few wineries were grandfathered in before the ordinances took effect—and V. Sattui is one of those wineries.
At V. Sattui you can have weddings, buy food at their deli, and eat food on their picnic grounds. All of this makes V. Sattui one of the most popular wineries in Napa.
2. HOW IN THE WORLD DOES A 121,000 SQUARE FOOT CASTLE WITH 107 ROOMS GET BUILT IN NAPA?
It is hard to believe that an amazing, beautiful and huge castle, down to a moat and draw bridge, would be built in the middle of a Napa vineyard, but that reality is true.
The masonry at Castello di Amorosa is so precise that there are certain rooms where you can whisper in one corner of the enormous room and hear that whisper on the opposite corner. Something you have to try.
Dario Sattui had dreams of building the castle for decades. Yes, the same Sattui from V. Sattui above. Dario’s great grandfather, Vittorio Sattui founded V. Sattui Winery.
He spent many years trying to buy the particular land, on the Calistoga end of Napa. He took notes from his favorite castles in Europe, then tried to replicate his favorite parts in Napa. He even hired European masons that specialized in medieval architecture to precisely build the castle.
When first building the 107 room castle, Dario believed that he could let VIP guests stay in the rooms. However, realizing the Napa ordinances do not allow it, they are left for storage and other uses. WOW! Can you imagine?
There are many things to see there but probably the most memorable is the torture chamber that has a centuries old Iron Maiden.
An article was written about thirteen amazing castles that one must see in the United States and Castello was number five. See the amazing castle (down to the torture room) when you’re in Napa. You won’t regret it but you may need reservations in advance. It is a popular destination.
3. MAKE YOUR OWN WINE AT RAYMONDS VINEYARD
Ever wanted to go into the wine business? Do you think you can make better wine then the wineries? At Raymond’s Vineyard you can have fun trying. They have a wine expert help a group make their own wine. You dress up in cool but often ‘laughed with” futuristic cigar jackets (to protect your clothes from the inevitable splashes of wine) and become a mixologist.
You use chemist’s graduated cylinders to precisely add your proper proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carbernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Syrah, etc. while the wine expert gives you some background on the varietal. The best part of the excursion, though, is bottling up your wine with wine labels you created before arriving. So if you want your dog Muffy’s picture on the label with a slogan like, “Every dog has his day and so will this wine!” –you can do so.
That’s not the only thing cool about Raymond’s…One of their large wine tasting areas, where some of their wine is being fermented, has a future meets circus theme to it. It has futuristic mannequins hanging from trapeze swings and very surreal “things” everywhere.
4. STRAIGHT FROM THE MOVIES –CHATEAU MONTELENA
Until 1976, Napa Valley was considered by many, especially the French, as a 3rd Class wine area. That changed when a winery was entered into a prestigious blind wine tasting contest in France and won! That story was memorialized in the movie Bottle Shock, starting Chris Pines and Bill Pullman. People from around the world visit the Chateau made famous by the movie.
But that is not the only reason to visit Montelena. It has an amazing Chateau, amazing Japanese architected grounds and is just a beautiful place to visit in general.
5. FANCY FANCY
Napa has some of the best restaurants in the world – I’m not kidding! The United States has 13 three-star Michelin star restaurants and two of them are in Napa Valley. French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood are the two but Napa has other Michelin star restaurants, namely: The Restaurant at Auberge, La Toque, Solbar at Solage (Calistoga), Bouchon Bistro, and Terra.
Also, Napa has a celebrity chef (Chef Michael Chiarello) restaurant named Bottega.
6. GOT GOTT’S
I don’t know about you but sometimes I like something a little less fancy when I’m drinking – like a good burger. Gott’s Roadside in the middle of the Highway 29 Napa Valley corridor is the perfect place.
You can always judge a good “food dive” place by the line. Gott’s line is always packed with people wanting food off their delicious menu. It’s scrumptious!
A Highway 29 and Napa Icon – Gott’s Roadside – is a must see. If for no other reason than drinking makes you hungry.
It’s hard to make it to all the good wineries in Napa, especially since the traffic on Highway 29 traffic can be incredibly bad. It’s a one lane highway. One way to get a taste of the good wineries in Napa and not have to go up and down Highway 29 is by going to a wine broker house where they have all different kinds of wines. It’s killing many birds with one stone.
Ma(i)sonry, located in the beautiful Yountville area of Napa Valley, is a wine broker that has a selection of really good wineries that you can try without having to visit the actual winery. If you get on their list, they can ship to you based on your preferences.
8. THE LEGEND
If you’re a first-timer to Napa and you want to take a tour of a winery, you cannot miss the Robert Mondavi Tour. It’s something you ought to do. One of the oldest wineries in Napa, its large facility is a must see.
They have great stories and a great state-of-the-art facility. Some of their reserve wines, in particular, are spectacular.
Ask them why they paint the barrels red, always a good story at any winery.
9. AMAZING VIEW AND GONDOLA RIDE
Looking for a stunning views? Then look no further than Sterling Vineyards! They have amazing scenic views and it’s fun to make the ride on their Gondolas to the top of their mountain. The winery’s building itself is amazing too –it looks like a large monastery set on the French hills of Burgundy.
10. SPRING MOUNTAIN and DIAMOND MOUNTAIN
Speaking of views, try Spring and Diamond Mountains. They have some of Napa’s very best wineries, each with their unique views. Going up the winding mountain roads is not for the car-sick type but the trip is well worth it.
When grape vines have to work to stay alive (little water, tough soil, or griping onto a steep countryside), it is a very good thing. Spring and Diamond Mountain vineyards have their estate vineyards on steep mountains, which makes for some fantastic wine.
Some of the great wineries of those two mountains are: Schweiger Vineyards, Pride Vineyards, Terra Valentine Vineyards (written about here), Hard Six Cellars (currently custom crushing off-site), Robert Keenan Vineyards, Sherwin Family Vineyards and many more.