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How To See Napa in a Day


By - Posted on 16 August 2010

As a former Napa Valley resident, I have put together a day trip in the Napa Valley that is a real treat. Best of all, it is off the beaten path and will introduce you to some amazing wines. I never get tired of taking my friends on this tour and no one is ever disappointed!

Napa Valley Vineyard, Napa Valley California USA
Napa Valley Vineyard, Napa Valley California © Christopher Cooley

First Things First

The first thing you will want to do is call Pride Mountain Vineyards to make a reservation for the 10:00 am tasting and tour and, if the weather is nice, to have a picnic.

If you live within driving distance, pack up a cooler with your favorite picnic foods. (I usually put together a batch of America’s Test Kitchen Picnic Chicken and a pasta salad.) If you need to order out for your picnic Dean & Deluca will put together everything you need - just call ahead. For a day trip in Napa, it's also a good idea to stock up on bottled water (or your favorite non-alcoholic beverage).

Pride Mountain

Pride Mountain Vineyard is up on Spring Mountain and the views are breathtaking. I was just up there on a clear day in March and we could see the snow caps on the High Sierra Mountains. Jason gives a great tour through the caves, you’ll sample wine from the barrels and taste the line up in the tasting room - all for about $10. Now, this isn’t any run of the mill grape juice, this is extraordinary wine making!

If you enjoy their wine, I recommend joining Pride Mountain's wine club. Their vintages sell quickly but as a member you’ll get their offerings when the wines become available.

Napa Valley Vineyard and Mustard, California USA
Photo of Napa Valley Vineyard, Napa Valley CA © RC Designer

From Napa City proper it's about a 45 minute to one hour drive up to Pride Mountain Vineyards (it is a beautiful drive). If you have a 10:00 am tasting appointment at Pride, I recommend leaving Napa City proper at 8:00 am. Your first stop will be in St. Helena at Dean and Deluca for breakfast - coffee and a pastry - and to pick up the rest of the goodies for your picnic basket, or your picnic depending on your situation. You will find a wonderful selection of olives, cheeses, meats, breads, fruits and veggies, but best of all sweets, and more sweets! (The deli might even be ready with some salads and sides). You will want time to peruse the goods and add to your picnic basket so allow for 30 - 45 minutes here.

From Dean & Deluca, head up to Pride Mountain for your tour and tasting. Purchase wine for your picnic in the tasting room (you can only drink Pride wine on premise). Your host will give you glasses and open your wine for you. There are two picnic areas right in the vineyards - it is an awesome venue - and you are on top of the world. Eat, drink and be merry!

If the weather is not cooperative for a picnic, St. Helena has some wondrful eateries. A few of my favorite are: Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, Market and The Martini House

Whitehall Lane

When you are done with your picnic, head back down the hill to St. Helena. Your next winery is Whitehall Lane. No appointment is necessary so your time is flexible. Here you will find a line up of great wines made by winemaker Dean Sylvester. It is a nice tasting room experience with friendly folks and the Sauvignon Blanc is my very favorite in the valley.

Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley California USA
Photo of Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley CA © Sally Drews

What's Next?

After Whitehall Lane there are a few options. The first is to head back towards Napa City and take a right turn onto Hoffman Lane. Just a little way down on your right is Elyse Winery. This is definitely an off the beaten path winery with amazing wines. If you are able to, give Elyse a call before heading over. They have a small but very worth the visit tasting room. Your day will end tasting the best of the best in Napa!

If shopping is your thing, park on Main Street in St. Helena and stroll around. There are some wonderful shops here.

The Day Cap

One of my favorite things to do is to go for a “day cap” on the porch at Auberge du Soleil. The view of the valley is fabulous from here! It is on the east side of the valley off of Silverado Trail where Rutherford Cross road intersects. If you stop at Auberge du Soleil after Whitehall Lane, you will have time to visit another winery but stick with something north of Rutherford. Here is a map listing of wineries - just make sure you don’t need an appointment before you go.

Some More Grape Advice

  • It's a good idea to bring an extra cooler if you want to buy wine to take home. An empty cooler with a couple of ice packs will keep your wine cool in the car while you travel for the day. Another option is to have wine shipped to you. (Wineries can ship to most states now.)
  • If you have an appointment (on this trip there is only one) please be on time. If you are going to be late, call and let them know.
  • Most wineries will offer water for your designated driver and all wineries offer spit buckets. These are great if your designated driver wants to taste or you want to pace yourself. If you are uncomfortable about spitting, have your tasting room host show you how.
  • A lot of young red wines can leave your tongue and teeth red. This is evidence that you have tasted some really good wines. Just keep each other in check and bring a tooth brush!
  • Get a good driving map for Napa Valley or use your GPS. Don’t rush it on the roads - is better to stay safe.
  • When switching from white to red, the tasting room host should give you a new glass. If not, it is okay to ask. The other option is to ask for a rinse. This is not a water rinse but a rinse with a small amount of the wine you are going to try next. Swirl it around and pour it in the bucket. Tasting glasses should never be rinsed with water - it only dilutes what is to come. It is also perfectly fine to taste a few wines with the same glass without a rinse.
  • Many times your tasting room host will refund your tasting fee with wine purchases so don’t be afraid to buy some wine. It is the greatest way to remember your day!
About the Author

sally-drews-head-shot-photo.jpgSally Drews is a self proclaimed Napa Valley Wino who has spent most of her life in the food and beverage industry. An Atlanta native, she traveled the country working for Houstons and eventually landed in Napa Valley. Here she ran the Rutherford Grill until the wine industry lured her away. She managed the tasting room and events at Cardinal Winery in Oakville, CA from 2000-2003. She now has a 'real' job and spends her nights and weekends enjoying good food and wine.

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