Fall is the best time to visit this oenophiles dream
Nestled between northern California’s coastal mountain ranges and only a one-hour drive from San Francisco, this world famous wine-growing region is an oenophiles and travellers delight.
Best visited in the fall for its “crush season” when grapes are harvested and tours of wineries often showcase such processes, Napa Valley is a splendour of rolling valleys and sun-drenched hills with a mosaic of colours and friendly locals. Visitors in the fall can also avoid the summer crowds and slightly reduced hotel rates.
Beyond the 45,000 acres of vineyards, Napa Valley offers a grand variety of gourmet restaurants, bed-and-breakfast inn, spas and extensive shopping. With generous sunshine during the day and chilly nights, this unique climate is perfect for wine production, as well as for touring the vineyards by bike, car or bus.
While many visit Napa for its grandeur of parks, trails, arts and culture, golf, nightlife and more, the majority come for one reason: the wine experience!
With approximately 700 wineries here, ranging from family-owned farms to large enterprises, wines here owe much to the rich Napa soil that is perfect for growing extensive types of grape varieties. The result is a cornucopia of tastes for all from champagne, to chardonnay, to pinot to zinfandel.
But the best part of the wine experience for many is not actually the type of wine, but the actual experience of watching and learning from experts in wide-ranging tours explaining the intricate art of wine making. Amateur and expert aficionados alike can learn plenty on one of the hundreds of tours available, which range from intimate family vineyard tours to larger production facilities.
A recent earthquake and aftershocks in August has resulted in some vineyards being forced to temporarily tidy up, but as with anyone living or working in California, life goes on. According to Margaux Lushing of Visit Napa Valley, almost all of the businesses affected by the earthquake resumed operations within a few days.
In terms of historic winemaking, Napa Valley is essentially the new kid on block, but that hasn’t stopped the Napa Valley from being one of the most toured wine regions in the world.
Wild grapes certainly grew in abundance in early Napa Valley, but it wasn’t until settlers starting building homesteads in the 1840s that the valley really began to see the potential for cultivating wine grapes.
One such settler, Charles Krug, is renowned for establishing Napa Valley’s first commercial winery in 1861. His sudden success and leadership sparked an explosion of wineries in the area, but that explosion was brought to a sudden halt as surplus grapes and root disease took hold. Prohibition in the 1920s resulted in the near destruction of wineries in the region.
After the repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s, Napa Valley’s wine industry began to slowly recover with some legendary wineries emerging under famous names such as Louis Martini, Georges de Latour and the Mondavi family.
In the years since, California and specifically Napa Valley wine, has become famous the world over with several hundred wineries operating in the region today. Over 500 of those wineries are part of the Napa Valley Vinters Trade Association, which encourages its members to produce consistent quality wines, provide environmental leadership and care for the region.
Lodging in the area can be difficult to find regardless of season, so it is best to book ahead when possible. Expect to pay around $200 to $250 a night for decent lodging so be wary of anything cheaper. Some of the best areas to stay include downtown, Yountville, St Helena, Rutherford and Calistoga.
Best Wineries to Tour in Napa
Beaulieu Vineyard – One of the oldest producers in the region, BV has created stellar wine since 1885 and has set the standard for some of the world’s finest California wine. bvwines.com
Black Stallion – Located on the grounds of a historic equestrian centre, visitors can analyze over 17 leaf and cluster-style grape varieties at this winery. blackstallionwinery.com
Buehler Vineyards – This family owned vineyard has some of the most understated and best value wines in the region. Members of the Buehler family even take you on personal tours! buehlervineyards.com
Cade Estate – Take in the views of the Napa Valley below from this LEED Gold-certified winery. Try some of their superb Sauvignon Blanc from their trendy outside living room. cadewinery.com
HdV – French expat Stéphane Vivier has taken his Burgundian winemaking techniques to new heights and created fantastic Carneros Chardonnays. Tour the cellars with their on-site sommelier. hdvwines.com
Cliff Lede – Rock n’ Roll meets upper class at this winery where each of its 39 vineyard blocks are named after a rock song. Pair your wine with appetizers and music for a unique tour. cliffledevineyards.com
Chappellet – Located on Pritchard Hill, this winery offers stunning high-elevation views and some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the region. chappellet.com
Corison – This small, family owned winery has forged a name over 30 years. Here you can actually make appointments to sample truly vintage Cabernet Sauvignon creations. corison.com