Having recently completed (successfully, I might add) a trip to Napa for Jenn’s 4-Oh, I figured it would be polite of me to share a few of my observations.
1. Always go to Del Dotto. Their barrel tasting is over the top.
1(a). Recognize that there’s a reason other wineries refer to Del Dotto as “Del Blotto.” Make it the last stop of the day, or you won’t appreciate your other stops.
2. Find a driver. Taxi, Limo, whatever. We used Jill Sandbek (707-225-4067), who took us to some places she has scouted that are off the beaten path. Jill really cared that we had a good time; as a result, we did!
3. If you ever have the chance to eat a dinner at Caldwell, jump at it. John Caldwell is a great host. You might, however, leave your credit card at home. Otherwise (and this happened to more than one of us), you’ll make some really phenomenal purchases that are not on the…shall we say…fiscally responsible side.
4. Wine clubs can be good things. At Chandon and Mumm, for instance, having one person sign up pretty much paid for the tasting fee, plus got us a few perks to enjoy while we were there. The fine print on all these clubs gives you a pretty quick cancellation period (1-2 shipments, usually), so they’re probably worth it, especially at the larger vineyards.
5. Always bring a camera.
6. See note 5.
8. You might, however, want to reconsider posing every time a camera comes out. (Driver Jill)
9. Tours at larger wineries tend to be informative. For instance, we went through Castello di Amorosa, which ran a group of about 12 every 10 minutes. I would say that a good third to half of the tour was devoted to the wine making process and technology. I certainly wouldn’t spend too much of my visit checking out the big guys, but you shouldn’t avoid them altogether.
10. That being said, staying off the beaten track gets you a more rewarding experience. We enjoyed a tasting in the Celanis‘ living room. Martin’s owner, Greg, took us on a tour of his home to view his antique arms and armor collection. Bart O’Brien lit a fire for us to enjoy while the sun set (he left us alone to be with his family).
11. Finally, if you find you’re not enjoying some place, bug out. There are plenty of vineyards to see. Not everyone understands marketing, and a few (i.e. those who can’t smell because they did too much coke in the 80s) don’t understand making wine. Don’t let someone ruin your day.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to attend a TRO hearing. My liver is NOT happy with me just now.