“All beautiful wines are created in beautiful places” – Andre Ostertag
A week ago my wife and I realized we would both be in California for work, so we decided to book a somewhat last minute trip to Napa Valley the weekend. We also learned that September and October are the best months to visit Napa because it’s harvest season – when you can often see vineyards actually producing wine. The weather is also beautiful this time of year and there are fewer crowds than in the peak summer months. But unfortunately Napa Valley is never cheap and it’s hard to get good deals when visiting. So we were left with a decision – should we do Napa on a budget or splurge a little bit and try to plan the perfect Napa Valley weekend? We decided to go for it and plan the perfect Napa weekend as a celebration for our recent wedding and my wife’s new job. Most Napa hotels start at $500 per night.
Try to make reservations at the vineyards you want to visit because they can get super crowded during the peak summer months and you want to be able to taste. I strongly recommend taking advantage of the more premium and private tastings to have a better experience – they are always worth it. Wine tasting typically range from $30-$60 per person (for 4-5 wines). Premium and private wine tasting experiences often range between $150 – $250 per person. Also note that most wineries only do tastings from between 10 am – 5:30 pm, with the most frequent premium tastings offered at 11 am and either 1 or 2 pm.
We would only have 48 hours in Napa so we wanted to plan the perfect Napa Valley weekend. Napa Valley is approximately 30 miles from end to end with over 1,100 documented wineries – most of which are exceptional, so you can’t really go wrong with your selection. For a 48-hour trip I recommend only visiting 3-4 total wineries or you can just go super hard – which you see a lot of Napa visitors doing and visit as many wineries as you can, but you probably won’t have enough time to truly savor Napa. Here is my recommendation for the perfect Napa Valley weekend.
2:00 pm – oh yeah, let’s do Napa. Ditch work early and head to the airport. On the plane order a crappy plastic bottle of the Malbec or Syrah available and pay attention to every taste. Get your palate ready for some of the best wines in the world.
6:00 pm – land at SFO and get a rental car, drive 76 miles to Napa Valley (depending on traffic this can be between 1.5 and 2.5 hours. On a Friday evening, you should be able to get there in under 2 hours.
8:00 pm – check in at Auberge Du Soleil, arguably the most luxurious place to stay in Napa and one of the top resorts in the United States (#5 in Conde Nast Traveler). Originally founded as a restaurant 1983, the restaurant is now surrounded by the resort with stunning Napa Valley views.
Grab a late dinner at the Michelin star Auberge restaurant and select a Napa Cabernet from one of the largest wine lists on an iPad I have ever seen. It goes on forever, but if they have a Robert Mondavi Cabernet from 1968 or 1969 you should order it. Robert Mondavi produced his first vintage in 1966 and put Napa on the map. His vintage Cabernets from the 1960’s are packed with cedar and spice notes that let you taste the history of Napa. All of the food at Auberge is next level and offered either prix fixe or a la carte. I recommend the local duck or veal, both were perfect. Make sure that you ask for an Auberge reservation on the patio so you can watch the sunset – one of the highlights of Napa. This is one of the sunsets that we saw from Auberge.
9:00 am – if you’re an early riser some wineries start tastings at 9 am, but you’ve got all day so I recommend grabbing breakfast (included at Auberge) on the patio and reading the complimentary newspaper of your choice (New York Times for my wife, and Walls Street Journal for me). No matter what you order, make sure you order the croissants – they are baked fresh every morning and rival the best I have had in Paris.
10:30 am – get picked up by a private car driver. Private drivers in Napa can be pretty expensive (at least $100+ per hour but they are worth considering). Not only does it allow you to drink and not drive, but the drivers are also often super knowledgeable and can tell you about the vineyards as you drive around. Another option is a bus tour which will take you to 4-5 wineries, but the tour often picks the wineries and they can get very crowded. Or you can drive if you go easy on the wine.
11:00 am – Check in for “The Ultimate Cabernet Experience” at Hall Winery one of my favorite Napa Cabernet producers. You get A LOT of wine with this tasting and it’s all amazing so you’ll want to drink it. Depending on how many wineries you have scheduled you might want to pour some of it out – a common practice for experienced tasters. On this trip to Napa we became Hall members (our first Napa wine club membership), so we will receive bottles of Hall Cabernet every quarter all year. If you love wine then becoming a member of a winery can be a great investment and give you wine to look forward to receiving all year around. The standouts at HALL are the Kathryn Hall ($129/bottle at winery) which put Hall on the list of best US wines, and the HALL Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($24/bottle at winery). Honestly all of the wines are awesome and worth tasting.
1:00 pm – Stop for lunch at Yountville Deli. This deli is attached to a small grocery store and the sandwiches are legit. The club sandwich is my favorite. The store also sells a wide variety of Napa wines, cheeses, and gifts.
2:00 pm – Robert Sinskey Vineyards is my favorite Napa Valley winery. The bio-dynamic wine producer makes a broad variety of great wines that are all easy to drink with many types of food. The vibe at the winery is also really chill and on Saturday when we were there most of the tasters and customers were Millennials. We opted for the standard tasting, which was $40 for 5 tasting samples and a plate of homemade crackers, figs, cheeses, and tarts. At Robert Sinskey they are all about the harmony between wines and food – with pairing dinners and experiences being core to their offering.
Once we started showing interest in the wines and ordering some bottles for shipment, they started letting us taste many of their other higher end Pinots. The wines were all exceptional, unique, and very easy to drink. Some of the highlights included the Abraxas, Vin De Terroir ($36 bottle at winery), the Pinot Noir, Capa Vineyard ($70 bottle at winery), the POV ($40 at the winery), and then last but not least the absolutely delicious SLD Estate Cabernet ($100 at winery). We ended up trying 9 different wines at Robert Sinskey.
4:00 pm – You should be feeling pretty good right now and stop to notice how the light rolls off of the golden Napa hills. Take a deep breathe. This is the good life. Now onto the next winery! Stop at Odette Estate Winery and taste one of the new estates of the Stags Leap appellation from the owner of Cade Winery – another exceptional Napa producer. I recommend you taste both the Odette and Cade estate Cabernets, as well as try the Adaptation Petite Sirah. Below is the tasting menu from Odette, but they will let you taste other Cade Cabernets if you just ask. We ended up trying 8 different wines at Odette, including the wines below.
5:30 pm – Head back to Auberge and take a nap or chill out. Enjoy the view from your balcony. Here was the view from our balcony.
8:00 pm – Head back into Yountville (a 5-10 minute drive) for dinner at Bistro Jeanty – one of the best French restaurants in the heart of Napa.
8:00 am – Wake up and have breakfast at Auberge on the patio.
10:00 am – Get a massage at the hotel or fit in one more winery. Another winery I strongly recommend is Moone-Tsai, but you need to email them to set up a personal tasting. They produce some of the most coveted Napa Cabernets in the world. Some other wineries worth considering for your final tasting are Stags Leap, Conn Valley Vineyard, or Baldacci Vineyards.
1:00 pm – Have lunch at The French Laundry – one of the most famous restaurants in the world if you can secure a reservation and are willing to spend $310 per person for the prix fixe meal. We unfortunately were unable to get into The French Laundry on such short notice, but look forward to going in the future. The French Laundry is open for lunch Friday – Sunday. Instead of The French Laundry my wife and I picked up some In-N-Out Burger (albeit another California delicacy) on the way back to the airport.
4:00 pm – Drive back to SFO to catch your flight home.
That is my perfect Napa Valley weekend or Napa in only 48 hours.