Aside from a dream trip to Thailand or vacationing on your own private island, Wine Country should be pretty high up there on your travel to-do list. While planning such a trip can be pretty daunting; I’ve done you the favor of taste-tasting the West Coast for you. It was rough, but you can thank me later. For now, I give you the best of the best when it comes to wining and dining your way through this fabulous part of California.
Where to Stay: Mount View Hotel & Spa
Almost as overwhelming as deciding where to taste is deciding where to stay. I would recommend the charming “cowboy-like” town of Calistoga where you’ll find the historic Mount View Hotel & Spa right in their very own downtown.
The 101 year old Mount View Hotel and Spa is a registered historic landmark that was purchased by Michael Woods in 1990. This European style hotel has a boutique feel complete with a 12 room spa – you’ve got to try the famous mud wraps or a hydrotherapy bath after a day of vino.
The hotel partners with local wineries for each of its winery suites and cottages. These come complete with complimentary bottles of wine from the selected nearby vineyard. You also enjoy complimentary breakfast each morning brought to your room or by the pool. Their farm to table restaurant, JoLe, is also connected to the hotel and perfect for an evening meal.
One of our favorite parts of the property was that it sits on a geothermal hot spring. After a long day of wine tasting, it’s a treat to relax in the mineral water jacuzzis and feel the true “art of relaxation.”
From the Mount View’s black and white décor to the lemon trees growing by the cabanas and pools, this hotel definitely has our sweet seal of approval. And we promise, the delicious lemon drop candies displayed in the lobby didn’t sway our judgement at all…
How to Travel: Napa Your Way
The safest and easiest way to travel from tasting to tasting is by hiring a driver or car service. Everything is more spread out than it appears on Google maps and traffic does actually pile up on busy tasting days. Having someone who knows their way around, and can safely get you to each destination while you indulge, is a great call.
Napa Your Way’s owner, Brad, really improved our trip by taking out a lot of the stress. He will plan your entire agenda, take you on surprise detours (see ours below!) and recommend amazing local spots to eat and see along the way. If you’re going to do Napa, do it right and do it local.
Where to Dine: Lucy’s Restaurant & Bar
Lucy’s is located in the gorgeous Bardessono Hotel and Spa. Like many restaurants in Napa, they offer delicious farm to table meals, refreshing cocktails, and amazing service.
We personally loved the mimosas, charcuterie and cheese board, and a farm fresh salad – straight from the garden! Plus they had some of the best scallops and mussels I’ve ever tasted – which is saying a lot from a Florida girl. Their Maine Diver Scallops were drizzled in sweet and sour vinaigrette and draped around a circle of fresh mussels and I don’t think I’ve ever captured a better #foodporn photo than I did from that meal.
Almost better than the lunch itself were the custom wine pairings. Yes, for every part of the meal we ordered a selection of wines suited for the choice were brought to the table. If you think lunch is your break from wine tasting, think again.
Where to Wine: Guide to Wine Tastings
Last – but probably most important – our top recommendations for wineries and vineyards. Let the games begin.
The 1976 Treaty of Paris changed everything for Mike Grgich and his wine making. I am not a Chardonnay fan by any means but there’s a reason this clocks in at Number One in a blind taste test. I would recommend the wine and cheese pairing here; not only do you get a tour of the wine making process, but you also get to enjoy your spoils in a library. All of those adolescent dreams of Belle’s library come true, with an over-21 twist.
Some fun facts about Grgich Hills:
- Bottle Shock was based on this vineyard and its story.
- Apparently, Mike Grgich is well known for two things: wine and women. So take that as you will.
Round Pond Estate boasts an outdoor patio terrace that will keep you coming back for more. Not only does this ranch vineyard have fine wine, they also are known for their fresh gardens and olive oils. The chef was nice enough to prepare our food pairings all gluten free and they can create custom meals to meet anyone’s taste buds – or dietary restrictions. The owners of Round Pond were farmers first and their land hosts 33 of the 55 soil types that are required for wine making. Precious property indeed.
One step onto Jordan Winery’s property and you feel like you’ve been transported to Italy. The estate is 1,200 full acres of hills, trees, lakes, streams, pastures and gardens. Jordan produces olive oils, fresh vegetables, and even has its own beef program. They pride themselves on sustainability in all their practices. Their amazing tour included impeccable appetizers and a secret door to a library where an intimate tasting of pleasing reds and whites were served. (Beginning to sense a library theme here?) Put this on your list as a must see! It’s a little bit of a drive but worth every minute and their staff could not of been more accommodating and personable!
Bubbly anyone? The Schramsberg grounds include an adorable frog pound, well suited as its logo displays a frog enjoying a glass of champagne on its own. The tasting rooms appears like a warm welcoming home. If only we could all go home to this place every night. Sparkling fans, put this on your list.
Cakebread Cellars boasts being the number one restaurant wine in the world. And it made sense as to why. No detail was left unnoticed from beautiful arranged bouquets of bright summer flowers to complimentary small bites (horseradish shrimp corndogs? YUM!) and of course, amazing wine! Cakebread should be on the top of your list when visiting Wine Country.
“Life is a Cabernet.” At least, it is at Silver Oak. For all you red wine connoisseurs, this is your place. It was highly recommended by everyone I spoke to and with signs like “We ID anyone under the age of 99”, you know this place must be fun. The tasting room is large enough for big groups and the winery was packed with people from all over. Silver Oak also has a sister property in Alexander Valley if you find yourself in that neck of the woods. They use earth friendly practices to produce what they call a healthier vineyard and the tour of their library wines was definitely my favorite part.
Pride Vineyards, also known for their reds, is settled in the mountains with a picturesque view of St. Helena. It’s a little out of the way from the other vineyards but as with Jordan (above), it’s worth the trip. What makes Pride so unique is the winemaking caves – and my personal first time drinking wine straight from a barrel. Because of Pride’s location, it’s considered to be in both Sonoma and Napa counties so it really does have the best of both worlds, not to mention knowledgeable staff and unforgettable photos just waiting to hit your Instagram feed.
This was actually a surprise vineyard that our driver added on the trip and it was one of our favorites of the day. What’s unique about Ehler’s is that it’s certified organic and a nonprofit. The winery dates back to 1886 with the historic stone house built by Bernard Ehlers. French entrepreneur and philanthropist Jean Leducq began acquiring parts of the land in 1985 and set out to found a vineyard in true French classic style (#priorities). Upon his passing 2002, he left the estate to the Leducq Foundation, which helps support international cardiovascular research. 100% of the profits from Ehlers go back to the foundation, so you can feel good about the wine you’re tasting, purchasing, and enjoying. Go ahead, have an extra glass in the name of science.
One last tip before you go – when visiting the vineyards above, make sure to make an appointment ahead of time! While a few are walk-in friendly, people travel from all over to visit these gems and you want to be sure you get in.
Also, a heads up on lingo: you’re going to be doing a lot of “revisiting.” To “revisit” a wine in the Napa Valley area simply means to “taste again.” Because there is no such thing as too much of your favorite wine.
A big thanks to our fantastic photographer, Derrick Monks of Fertl