Hi friends! The bags are unpacked, and the dust is settling from our most recent trip. We spent a long weekend in California to nerd out about and enjoy some world class wine in Napa Valley. Our very first time to visit the area was a little over two years ago, and I remember how overwhelming it was to decide where to go and plan an itinerary that made sense. (I shared our favorite places we visited here if you want to check it out!) Since we were so happy with how this trip turned out, I wanted to share our plans so you can use it as a framework for your first trip if you aren’t sure where to start.
Over the last couple of years, R and I have started to become total wine nerds. We love reading about wine, learning about wine, talking about wine, and most of all, sharing a glass wine with friends. Compared to our last trip, we felt much more prepared to choose which of the hundreds of tasting rooms to visit during our stay. There were wineries we wanted to visit because they have become some of our most beloved bottles to enjoy at home, and others that we’d been dying to try based on our research and recommendations from friends.
Living in Oklahoma, it can be challenging to source niche fine wine, so we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to try some things we couldn’t get at home. We also wanted to spend more time in Napa Valley since we spent the majority of our visit in Sonoma County last time.
Where We Stayed
We opted for an VRBO this trip since we were traveling with friends, and I definitely think that’s the way to go. We loved being able to come “home” after dinner and play board games, eat snacks, and relax by the fire pit.
The place we chose had some distance from the super popular areas, but that meant the rate was quite a bit more affordable. The space was perfect for 4 people, with one primary suite and another bedroom. It was clean, cozy, and had everything we needed to make ourselves at home including professional-grade stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, a Nespresso machine, and some of the comfiest pillows we’ve ever slept on. (My friend loved them so much she purchased them on Amazon after the first night!)
The only negative was the location, but as I mentioned before, the extra drive time was worth what we saved on the room rate.
Wineries We Visited
J Vineyards & Winery
This was the only place that was a repeat visit for us. However, this time we did a different tasting experience than we did last time. Since we arrived for lunch, we opted for The Bubble Room tasting which included a 5-course tasting menu with wine pairings from their portfolio. J is known for their sparkling wine, and we were able to enjoy several throughout our experience.
Overall, we enjoyed our time there, and it was a good way to start off our trip. Although not every single thing on the menu was my favorite, I always appreciate the wine pairings. The work that went into the presentation was undeniably well thought out. I also appreciated that they accounted for my shellfish allergy and provided an alternative dish to compliment the same wine everyone else was drinking. There are several experiences to choose from on their website, so even if sparkling wine isn’t your thing, you can find something to your liking at J!
Hamel Family Wines
This was the 2nd stop on our trip, and one that our friend chose to add to our itinerary. I hadn’t done a ton of research on them prior to our visit just for the sake of being surprised, and it was great!
We did the Estate Experience which included 4 estate wines along with some cheese and crackers. Our wine educator greeted us at the front door and made us feel right at home. We were able to take a tour of the winemaking facility and caves, as well as meander our way through the vineyards before settling down at our table on the patio of the Estate House to enjoy the lovely view from the top of the hill.
This was one the that had come highly recommended by some friends who are members of the wine club. Rombauer is well-known for their Chardonnay, and it’s one of our go-to bottles to grab if I’m in the mood for a big, buttery California-style chard. We were very excited to see what the rest of their portfolio had to offer and chose to do the outdoor tasting which is definitely what I’d recommend, weather permitting. The tables are tucked up in the forest with lots of shade, and the hospitality staff at Rombauer is lovely. Our wine educator was full of personality (he’d previously worked at Disney World) and made our experience so much fun.
Our tasting included 8 different wines from Rombauer’s portfolio PLUS 2 other surprise tastings that were favorites of the sweet gentleman running our tasting. We had the best time and the environment really catered to those of us who like to ask questions and have a fun time. It’s not stuffy or pretentious, and for $25 per person, it’s one of the best deals you can get for a tasting in Napa Valley.
Right across the street from Rombauer, there’s a small but mighty winery called Chateau Boswell. They recently burned in the fires that engulfed the area during 2020, so they are currently rebuilding what they lost. Now hear me out, the wines are at a higher price point, but if you truly love wine this is a must-visit place. You’ll need to send them an email to reserve your tasting, but I’d highly recommend it if you have time!
We have some neighbors who told us about Chateau Boswell, and we are eternally grateful. Because the previous “chateau” was lost to the fires, the tastings are currently held privately in their wine caves with their one and only wine educator (Jeff is awesome). It was such an intimate and fun experience, and we already can’t wait to go back. They make one of my favorite rosés, but all of their wines are beautiful and well-done. The guys in our group were also obsessed with the wine glasses they used during the tasting, and our friends actually ended up purchasing them (and I’d guess we aren’t far behind).
This was another recommendation from several of our friends back home. We’d tried their Chardonnay, but everything else was new to us during the tasting. One thing I liked about AO was that you can mix and match the tastings within your party. You just have to reserve the table at a particular time. I did the signature tasting, and Rob did the reserve tasting. We also covered more ground that way by tasting each other’s wine flights as well.
The hospitality side at AO is great, and if the weather is nice you can sit outside to enjoy the fountains. The vibes are fantastic, and it’s a really laid back atmosphere that would be fun to visit with a larger group.
This was the absolute dark horse of our visit. I didn’t do much research ahead of time about Barnett because I wanted to go in without any bias. I’m so glad I didn’t because they have since become my favorite winery (yep, I said it). They are located in St. Helena, and if you get the chance to go you MUST.
We booked our tasting with our group of four, and it was semi private with another party of two. Our wine educator was lovely, tailoring the tasting to what the group might like based on what they had available. I love the wide portfolio that Barnett offers, and we actually ended up joining their wine club.
The best part of the entire experience was actually after the other party left. We were spending time snapping photos of the incredible views, and taking in the experience when the wine educator subtly invited us into the cave. He then surprised us with a barrel tasting of their 2021 Rattlesnake Cabernet Sauvignon and it was truly so special. It was our first barrel tasting ever, it made for a highlight of our trip. We cannot wait to go back and visit the next time we are in Napa Valley.
Pride Mountain Vineyards
This was our last tasting booked of the trip, and it was my most anticipated winery to visit. Pride is just down the road from Barnett, so it’s easy to visit both in the same day! R and I have both been huge fans of Pride’s Merlot. Several months ago, we joined their mailing list, and they have been on our list to visit ever since. We love so many wines from Pride, and it’s one I recommend to all my friends.
The Summit Room tasting was a must for us. We knew we wanted a private experience with our friends to enjoy Pride’s winemaking facility to the fullest extent possible. The county line between Sonoma County and Napa Valley runs right through the middle of the property which makes their winemaking process really unique.
We were guided through their caves where we stopped periodically to taste different wines among the barrels stored there. Eventually, our wide educator led us into a massive room with cozy couches, dim lighting, and an entire array of wines to continue to try. The experience was by far my favorite and lived up to the hype.
Where We Ate
Russian River Brewing Company
There are a few locations of this place in the area. It’s great if you’re a little “wine’d out” and want to try something different. It’s casual, and their craft brews are delicious. We really loved the pizza we shared, and I was very happy with my beautiful salad. Rob went for the wings and gave them a thumbs up!
Brasswood Bar + Kitchen
We stopped for lunch at this place, and it did not disappoint! It’s the perfect place to take a rest between wine tastings and enjoy foods that are cultivated locally. There is something for everyone on the menu! They also feature wine tasting on site, including a really unique “sensory tasting” that seemed like it would be a lot of fun if we’d had time.
The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil
Admittedly a splurge, we wanted to throw in one really special dinner during our visit this time, and this Michelin Star gem was fantastic! The service, the presentation, and of course the food were all impeccable executed. I’ve been told we need to go back for brunch, so that’s on our to-do list, but if you’re looking for somewhere to celebrate or just experience fine dining with a lovely view, pay them a visit!
That wraps up our itinerary for this trip, but don’t worry, there’s another one in the works! We’re always planning to head back to wine country, so expect another similar post soon!