I became a wine connoisseur ever since wine tasting my way through Slovenia 3 years ago. I promise to blog about that experience sometime soon. It was truly incredible! For spring break a friend and I decided to road trip up to Napa Valley and go wine tasting for a few days. I love road trips and adventures!
So from Long Beach, we drove through the central coast via I-5 for 5 hours, entertaining ourselves with singing loudly in the car. That’s the best part about road trips isn’t it? Unfortunately the view isn’t the prettiest with only orchards, cow farms smelling like manure, and barely alive rolling hills. My sister lives in Northern California so we were able to drive all afternoon arriving to her place around 9pm for a good night’s rest before our adventure wine tasting.
The next morning my sister made an amazing baked french toast dish before we left (around 10am) for Napa Valley. The drive was only a little over an hour getting us there just in time for lunch. Not only is Napa Valley know for wine, but they have amazing food as well. After arriving we made a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center, which I highly recommend because the lady assisting us was extremely helpful and she gave us some 2 for 1 tastings. Before heading up to Castello di Amorosa for a Castle tour and wine tasting, we hit up the OxBow for some delicious tacos. The OxBow is an indoor market full of all sorts of food. We decided to grab tacos at C Casa, where I had the best salmon taco I’ve ever tasted! They also had an amazing Mexican Coffee (cinnamon spice flavoring).
After driving about 45m minutes to Calistoga, where Castello di Amorosa resides, we checked in for our tour. Our guide was Italian and very knowledgeable. I learned that Napa Valley is know for the Diamond Mountain District AVA (a type of scoring), a very special climate only here in California best for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The tour included a view of the dungeon (with torture instruments), wine cellar, a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting from an oak barrel, and 4 tastings in a private tasting room beneath the castle (we upgraded to a $5 chocolate pairing too). Well worth the $40/person I thought and I’d highly recommend it to anyone.
The wineries all close around 4 and 5:30pm so after our tour, we decided to go check into our Airbnb in Sonoma (only a 25 minute drive west). Airbnb is a site for people to rent out their room or house for guests at a reasonable price (usually). It was my first time using Airbnb and was a nice alternative to using an expensive hotel. We found a place for $75/night which was perfect for our budget. I tried Couchsurfing (a community where people offer their couches or rooms for FREE and no more than good conversation), but no one was available for the dates we where in Sonoma. After settling in, we grabbed food at a local pizza joint called Mary’s Pizza Shack. Afterwards we headed to Sweet Scoops Homemade Ice Cream, where you can find all sorts of unique flavors like: Lavender Fig, Balsamic Raspberry, or Pumpkin Oreo! They pride themselves in using local produce which I am a huge supporter of! Definitely stop in and grab a unique flavor when you are in town! Unfortunately we visited Napa Valley Monday-Wednesday so there wasn’t any live music or nightlife going on. So although we avoided the crowds, take into consideration what you will do after the wineries close at 5:30pm if you visit during the weekday.
The next morning we scheduled a tour of Beringer Winery, the oldest continuous winery in Napa Valley, at 10:30am.
Interesting Fact: Although they were not the first winery to open in Napa Valley, they stayed open during prohibition due to a loophole of making wine for the Catholic Church.
Before heading out, we stopped by a quaint local coffeeshop in Sonoma called Basque Boulangerie Cafe. They had some delicious breakfast sandwiches and coffee. You definitely need to stop by and grab breakfast or lunch here!
The $45 Beringer Wine Tour was okay, but I wouldn’t pay it again. We basically just went into the “caves” (they aren’t really caves, but just tunnels) and tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon aged a year in an oak barrel. However, my favorite part of the tour was the tasting at the end. We tasted 3 wines: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a desert wine. As we tasted the wine we learned about pairing it with different foods. I found it fascinating how food could change the entire taste of a wine. It was amazing!
After our tour at Beringer my friend wanted to go olive oil tasting. Which sounds weird, at least I thought so, but was actually really fun learning about the types of olive oils and the whole extraction process. We first went to Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch which was a cute, friendly ranch that let us taste a two different olive oils: a lemon and virgin olive oil. It was interesting because when you swallow the oil you get a burning sensation at the back of your throat. The lady helping us informed us that it was how it was suppose to feel. Afterwards we headed to Round Pond Olive Oil Mill for another tasting. Luckily someone was a no-show (they typically require reservations) so we were able to get a private tasting (I believe $10/person). We tasted a blood orange, lemon and virgin olive oil, along with two different vinaigrettes. For the vinaigrette tasting, we dipped a sugar cube in the vinaigrette and then sucked it out through the sugar cube. It sounds weird, but made it a little sweeter and easier to taste the flavors. I ended up buying the Vinaigrette and they didn’t end up charging us for the tasting!
After the Olive Oil Tasting, we went wine tasting at the Rutherford Ranch Winery where we had a 2 for 1 chocolate pairing. The Ranch was beautiful with olive tree groves, a patio to eat your lunch, and the inside reminded me of a log cabin in the woods. The chocolate pairing was fun however, I wasn’t a fan of their wines. But everyone has different tastebuds so not to say they weren’t good, I just like BOLD DRY wines.
Overall the 2 1/2 days in Napa Valley was a fun road trip and I’d love to go back and explore more of the smaller intimate wineries. The smaller wineries like the Farmstead at Long Meadows Ranch were so friendly and laid-back which I loved! There are hundreds of wineries so you could spends weeks, I’m sure, exploring. There is a Sequoia Winery that I wanted to check out but didn’t get to that sounded beautiful. Just go to the visitor’s center and tell them what you are looking to do and they’ll lead you in the right direction!