The most frequently asked question for visitors to the Napa Valley is, “Which wineries should I visit?” If you ask ten people who have been, you’ll get ten different answers. There really is no “best” or “worst” winery – it’s all about what you want. But how to know what you want, especially if you have never been?

Answer these five questions and give that information to the concierge or Innkeeper wherever you are staying. They should be able to guide you well!

1. How do you want to get to the wineries?
As a Napa Valley concierge for over 20 years, the best advice I can give you is to not drink and drive.
Even the most experienced wine tasters can become over served if not paying very close attention. Calling it a wine “tasting” is deceptive, as you imagine having a few sips of wine and going on your way. In reality, you may end up being poured the equivalent of up to three glasses of wine at one winery.
Sure, you can take a couple of sips and pour the rest out, but let’s face it, most people come to drink the wine, not dump it!
Besides the most important aspect of a driver getting you there safely, they also can provide information and history, they know how to get to those wineries that are off the beaten path and they will keep you on time so you don’t miss any appointments.
You have three options for transportation. The most budget-friendly is doing a join-in wine tour that offers transportation, tasting at four wineries and a box lunch. If you want to go on your own, then you can hire a designated driver for your rental car or hire a car and driver.
Rideshare can be an option too – I will discuss that in more detail in a future blog post.

2. What is your budget for wine tasting and purchasing wine?
There are two costs to consider for each winery; the tasting/experience and the cost of the wine. Tastings are generally about $30 – $50 per person and go up to $60-$100+ if it includes a tour, a food and wine pairing or other special experience.
It’s a good idea to consider the price of the wine too. If you enjoy the wine, it will be a big disappointment to find that the price is higher than you can or want to spend.

3. What are your favorite wines?
If you feel strongly about particular varietals (all reds, all whites, only Pinot Noir, etc.) then you can head for the wineries that make what you like. Though I do suggest being open to all varietals, because you might be surprised!

4. Know your intentions
Are you visiting for the first time and just want to have fun and explore? Are you looking to buy a case of wine or more? Is this trip less of a focus on wine purchases and more about the romance?
I know it sounds wonderful to make an appointment at a small boutique winery off the beaten path. But get ready, because I’m going to get very real with you.
Small production, family-owned wineries have strict permits on how many visitors are allowed and they have limited staff.
So as you might imagine, they are hoping for visitors who have an interest in purchasing their wines. If you know before you go that you might buy “a bottle or two” then the very small wineries are probably not a good fit.
However, if you are interested in tasting with the intention of buying at least 6 bottles, or joining a wine club or two, then be sure to book your reservation with them in advance.
Although all wineries are hoping you will purchase wine or join the wine club, you will find it more comfortable to buy less at the medium to larger wineries.

5. Do you want to experience something more than just tasting wine?
Of course there are tours where you can learn how the wine is made – probably one for still and one for sparkling is enough. But you can also do a wine and cheese or chef’s bites pairing, a wine and food pairing lunch, ride an ATV into the vineyards (weather permitting), have a picnic, stomp on grapes, taste in a cave, do a blending class and more!
So do investigate your options if any of this interests you.

Planning can be part of the fun, so I hope these five questions help you create an itinerary that is best for you when visiting Napa Valley!

Kellie Fuller – Concierge
The Cottages of Napa Valley