Napa Neophytes: How to Navigate Wine Country
I was flattered when Dallas Wine Chick asked me to blog about my first trip to the Napa region. For background, my company, Weber Shandwick, gave my husband and me a trip to the Napa region for my 10th anniversary at the agency (thank you, Weber Shandwick!). Fortunately, that also included expert guidance from the Dallas Wine Chick, who is one of my colleagues. Her guidance helped make our first trip to the region more special. Here are a few tips if you, too, are a Napa Neophyte – or if you’ve never visited the wineries in the Dry Creek Valley or Russian River Valley near Healdsburg. While more laid back than the Napa or St. Helena area wineries, this area has excellent wine makers.
We stayed in Calistoga, which is close to Healdsburg, the area where we focused our time discovering smaller, but great wineries. We stayed at Aurora Park Cottages, which are owned and run by Joe Hensley and Celeste Ford. Everyone in town knows Joe and Celeste! They were able to offer us good discounts at many of the places we visited, including wineries, restaurants and spas.
Bed and Breakfasts are worth a little extra money because they can set up special tastings that you can’t get without a connection. For example, Joe at Aurora Park Cottages set us up with a private tasting with Beringer’s sommelier, which was interesting and informative.It included a private tour of The Rhine House, Frederick Berringer’s 17-room mansion that has amazing stained-glass windows.
You can hire a driver for significantly less money than a car service. Dallas Wine Chick helped us find Sharon Garrow, who we added as a driver to our rental car. Her off-season rate is $225 for the day and her on-season rate is around $300 for the day. It was worth every penny because we didn’t waste time lost – and she was knowledgeable about the wineries. And, best of all, we didn’t need a designated driver!
Our favorite stop was at Yoakim Bridge Winery, where Virginia and David make the tasting so much fun! You also get to sample their famous Yoakim Bridge Zinfandel Sauce (a recipe that Wolfgang Puck bought from Virginia), which features a blend of their estate Zinfandel wine, raspberries and other secret ingredients. You get to sample the sauce on a meatball, and it is worth every calorie! They have the sweetest English Bulldog who has enjoyed many a meatball during tastings!
Take lots of water! You definitely should heed the warnings to drink as much water as wine to stay feeling well throughout your day(s) of wine tastings.
The Dry Creek General Store makes amazing sandwiches and has perfect wine tasting lunches and snacks. It’s definitely the place to stop for food while you are visiting the wineries. Since everything is made to order, it can be a bit slow if you stop for lunch during the rush – but the tasty food is well worth a bit of a wait!
If you are a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson, he wrote Silverado Squatters about his time in Calistoga. You can see his tree in the Petrified Forest, which is only 10 minutes away from Calistoga. It was a fun and easy ¼-mile hike that helped work off some calories from our wine tastings.
We took our trip in late February, when the mustard plants were blooming. Locals say that they started planting the mustard in the vineyards about a century ago because the legend is that mustard plants will bring luck for a good harvest. Now, the mustard plants grow wild all over the area. Although it was off-season, we enjoyed our trip because the tasting rooms weren’t overly crowded. Dallas Wine Chick suggested this time of year since the winemakers and growers aren’t as busy during this time of year, and we enjoyed learning neat tidbits about each winery we visited. My favorite part of the trip has been enjoying all the wines now that we are home. I’m sure you’ve also tasted a wine on vacation and bought a few bottles – only to get home wondering what you were thinking! Dallas Wine Chick gave us great guidance to ensure we made it home with wines that are as good now as they seemed while we were in the Napa region. Thanks again to Weber Shandwick and Dallas Wine Chick for a memorable trip!
– Dawn Kahle is an aspiring wine taster, mom of two and PR pro