I was excited to go wine touring in Napa Valley during our time in San Francisco, there are multiple ways of doing this, you can hire a car and drive yourself (not recommended for obvious reasons), there are private limo services which are more for larger groups as they get expensive, there is a wine train or you can do what we did and join a tour bus. After some research we chose The Napa Valley Wine Country Tours, the price was good (US$99) but it also included a small breakfast and lunch which was an added bonus. They also had great reviews on Tripadvisor!
We met the bus at Union Square which is only two blocks from where we are staying, the bus is like a huge party bus! Inside are leather seats down each side, with LED lighting on the roof, a music system and of course, wine glasses strategically placed. There was a lot of room for us all, we had around 20 people on our tour. Mostly Americans, but one other Kiwi and a some Australians dotted in too. Onboard was a small breakfast, bagels, fruit and croissants with spreads and cheese.
Once we were on the way we had mimosas which was a nice start, from there we left San Francisco via the Golden Gate bridge with a brief stop for photos.
From here it was only around 45 minutes to the first winery, it’s a pleasant drive but not particularly breathtaking.
This winery is named after the Jacuzzi family who invented the Jacuzzi pumps and it’s a Mediterranean styled winery. When you walk in, on the right is an olive oil tasting room and the left is the wine tasting room. The tasting here was free and you could choose any five off the menu (although one of us got eight!) They had a lot of grape varieties that we knew such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Moscato and Cab Sav but then the rest were all new to me as they aren’t grown in New Zealand (which is where the majority of my wine knowledge comes from). For me this was rather exciting getting to try new grape varieties.
Here I personally sampled the Arenis, Rosato Di Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio (I wanted to compare it to ours) and a Moscato it finish. All of them were divine, but I really enjoyed the Arenis. The staff here were extremely friendly, and asked us what we liked to help us choose the wines and he showed us the sugar percentage on the menu which helps you determine the sweeter wines. (I prefer dry wines over sweet)
The winery has a gorgeous marble carved arch in its barrel room but I couldn’t get a photo as there was a private group having a tasting unfortunately. It also has a stunning courtyard, a tree lined avenue, an Italian styled fountain and a watch tower which you can climb.
To end we tried the olive oils and balsamic vinegars, they had so many flavours from the traditional to champagne, chocolate, lemongrass, vanilla and everything in between. Some were delicious and some where just plain interesting but I highly recommend you make time to try them.
As the name suggests this is a family owned winery and is still run by the original family, they pride themselves on being both dog and child friendly and so have a very large outdoor area with plenty of room for kids and beasts to frolic. We did have to pay US$10 here for our wine tasting, for that we got five wines, two white, three reds and they threw in a Brut at the beginning for free. The highlight of this winery was the Three Lab Cab, which is lovingly named after the three resident Labradors, one of each colour! You drink this wine with a matching chocolate sauce!
We were sort of rushed through this winery, the host, whilst educational, spoke very quickly and you could tell that she does this fifty times a week! At the end of the tour, she does a sort of sales pitch for a new style of corkscrew which not only takes the cork out of the bottle but it also means you can put it back in. Handy, but as a lot of newer wines have screw tops these days not really necessary. I found the wines here to be the worst of the tour, I actually struggled to finish most of them. The tasting was free and included four wines, two white and two red.
We also had our picnic lunch here, it was included in the tour price, and so it wasn’t amazing but it was good enough. Ham rolls with cold pasta and falafel patties, with chocolate strawberries for dessert.
The final stop and the most educational, our host here was an older man who has worked in the Napa Valley for a very long time and has a natural passion for wine! Here we tasted five wines for US$12, two reds and three whites. The first was a Californian Sav Blanc, which actually tastes very different to New Zealand’s Sav. Our host explained that the NZ version is very pure, whilst the Cali version has had “the edges rounded off”. He called his Sav a “porch pounder”!
We also tried a Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and a Cab Sav, the Pinot Noir was still being processed and he extracted it straight from the bottle and into our glasses using a thief. This was probably my favourite red of the day.
He also taught us that Cab Sav is the child of Sav, so they are in the same wine family, which made sense! Also that wines are male or female, and the way to tell is by the shape of the bottle. This host was by the far the best and recommended a book called the Wine Bible which I plan on checking out to better educate myself on wine (I love to drink it so it seems responsible to appreciate it properly!)
Once we’d finished here we headed back on the bus and back into San Francisco, thankfully there were plenty of water bottles onboard to help balance the days wine sampling!