I recently traveled to Napa, CA for a college reunion with my girlfriends. It was an absolute blast! I loved it so much that I wanted to document everything we did so you can refer to this if you ever plan a trip to Napa.
This guide to a Four Day Weekend in Napa Valley, CA contains winery recommendations, a few interesting facts about wine, and the biggest takeaways of the trip.
The first day was our travel day. The six of us all traveled into San Francisco from all over the country.
San Francisco is about two hours away from Napa with traffic, so we took our time making our way from the airport to Vallejo, where we stayed.
Lunch at Lucca Deli
We made our way into the city and stopped at Lucca Delicatessen, a famous Italian deli in San Francisco. The shop was opened in 1929 by the current owner's grandfather.
This deli was full of the good stuff - a variety of cheeses, wines, pastas, and of course, a whole deli full of Italian meats and fresh sides.
There were SO many delicious sandwiches to choose from on the menu. I ordered The Pork-etta, which had Italian porchetta, olive oil, arugula, red onion, salt, and pepper on fresh Ciabatta bread.
The sandwich was packed, full of flavor and much lighter than you'd expect. It reminded me of sandwiches I've had during my visits in Florece. Flavorful, filling, and aways leaving you wishing you had more.
After lunch, we walked down to the water and took some photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the perfect way to see some of San Francisco before we took our drive to Vallejo.
We stayed at an adorable Airbnb - the link is here! It was so adorable and had a great amount of space, plenty of kitchen supplies, and 4 spacious bedrooms! Plus, it was furnished perfectly for plenty of Instagram-worthy photos.
Our house was about 25-45 minutes to the wineries, depending on where they were located in Napa Valley.
We wrapped up day 1 with dinner at the house and catching up. It was a great evening and left us refreshed for plenty of wine tasting the rest of the weekend!
Day 2 was our first wine tasting day - woo! This was my first trip to Napa, and I was so amazed by how truly beautiful it is. Even driving through the streets looking at all the vines is so beautiful!
Silver Oak was our first stop on the first day of wine tasting. This winery was founded in 1972 and they mainly focus on one type of wine: Cabernet Sauvignon.
We tried Napa Valley and Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignons as well as an older vintage. Our guide walked us through tastings and I learned so much about the wine!
A few things I learned:
- In order to be considered Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine has to have at least 75% of those grapes. It can be 25% Pinot Noir, Merlot, or any other blend of grapes. This can really influence how the wine tastes.
- In Napa Valley, there are several micro climates that really impact how the wine Tates. So even though the same grapes are grown a few miles down the road, the wine can be different based on the microclimate! I thought this was really fascinating.
Here are the wines we tasted:
- 2017 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - This wine was high in tannins with notes of red currant, cassis, plum, cardamom, and coffee. If you like a wine that makes your mouth pucker, this is one for you.
- 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - I loved this wine! It has notes of cassis, raspberry, and coconut. It was super drinkable and had a really delicious finish.
- 2012 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - This one was my favorite. This wine was absolutely delicious and full bodied. 2012 was an especially great year for Napa Cabs, so this bottle was really special. It had notes of vanilla, cocoa, and berry flavors.
The next winery we went to was Rutherford Hill. This was a totally different winery - it has super interesting architecture. A fun fact about this winery - it was actually owned by Pillsbury before being sold to the current owner.
Rutherford Hill is known for it's red wines, particularly for Merlot.
We had our private wine tasting in the cave above - it was SO cool! I definitely recommend coming here for a really unique wine tasting experience.
Our wine tasting included a tour of the cave leading into a room with a seated tasting. We were able to taste 5 of the red wines from the estate. All were so delicious that I decided to join their wine club!
Also - like the name, the winery is on a hill. And the view was absolutely breathtaking!
One of the biggest things I learned at Rutherford hill was how to properly smell wine. Did you know you're supposed to smell wine up and down and side to side? Here's why:
Up and down
Holding the glass to your nose at an angle, smell the top, middle, and bottom of the glass. The wine will smell different at each angle. At the top of the glass, you will get scents of the notes of the wine, such as berry or vanilla smells.
The middle of the wine glass holds scents of where the grapes were grown. Master sommeliers can often identify the region of the wine just by the smell in the middle of the glass. Isn't that wild?
Finally, the bottom of the wine glass will smell the strongest. This is where the alcohol sits in your glass, so it will smell stronger and maybe even bitter.
Side to Side
Now this exercise really blew my mind. When you are poured a glass of wine, smell it with one nostril at a time. The smell will be different in each nostril! I thought this was so cool.
The reason? Your nostrils will have a strong and weaker side, but ti can change throughout the day. So you haven't smelled the wine completely until you've smelled it with each individual nostril. Neat, right?
The third and last winery of day 1 was Cakebread Cellars. This was one of my favorite wineries from the trip, both in terms of how beautiful the property was and how delicious the wine was.
Cakebread Cellars was established in 1972 after Jack Cakebread offered to buy the land during a photography shoot. Shortly after the purchased the land, their neighbor knocked on their door telling them that they needed to grow grapes as soon as possible.
Their neighbor was Robert Mondavi.
Some people just get really lucky, right?
Since then, Cakebread is known for it's exceptional Chardonnay wines. But they also have other varietals, including an outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon.
The tour was really great. We walked around the whole property, stopping at different stations to taste the wines. I really liked how this one was set up, and I loved learning about the Cakebread family and the winery's history.
If you love white wine, this is definitely a great spot to visit. But don't sleep on the Cakebread Cabernet! It was one of my favorite ones I tasted the whole trip.
Our last tasting day was filled with three more wine tastings. We sampled a really great variety of wine and were able to visit some really great spots.
Castello di Amorosa
The first spot was the Castello di Amorosa. In terms of beauty, this winery had it all. It was a breathtaking castle with truly beautiful grounds. I felt like I was in the middle of Italy!
The castle began construction in 1994 and was built with hand made materials in the medieval style. It took 15 years to build! The caste features a moat, drawbridge, towers, courtyard a chapel, stables, and armory.
I loved the atmosphere, but the tasting was a bit different than our other tastings. It was not guided and you are able to select wines to taste from their whole menu.
Since it was less intimate, it wasn't my favorite tasting experience, but walking through the castle was very cool.
The second winery of the day was Monticello Vineyards and Corley Winery. It's the same family that owns both under two brands.
The Corley Family has owned and operated the winery for three generations. I really loved their peaceful atmosphere and tasting experience. Members of the family were on the grounds doing tastings and helping with day to day operations - it really felt like a family business, and I really liked that.
We did the Estate Tasting, which was a tasting of five different wines across the two brands. The wines were:
- CORLEY Chardonnay 'Block 3, Clone 95' | 2018
- CORLEY Pinot Noir 'Block 2, Clone 777' | 2018
- MONTICELLO Merlot 'Estate Grown' | 2017
- MONTICELLO Cabernet Franc | 2018
- CORLEY Cabernet Sauvignon 'State Lane Vineyard' | 2017
I truly loved all of their wine! I especially loved the Cabernet Franc, as it's not very popular but is one of my favorite wines.
If you're looking for a relaxed afternoon of wine tasting that doesn't feel commercial, this is a great spot for you.
The last winery of the trip was Domaine Chandon. This was arguably the opposite of Monticello - it's extremely commercial and full of glitz and glam.
I loved Domaine Chandon for so many reasons. First, the grounds are absolutely gorgeous. The buildings are pristine, modern, and sleek. Their tasting was very efficient and full of delicious wines.
I chose the Adventure flight, which features four sparkling wines that were all very different. I don't drink a lot of sparkling wine, but I was blown away by the Chandon sparking options.
All four of the wines were so different that the tasting experience was truly an adventure. It really helped me appreciate sparking wine!
This was the only winery that offered food. After a long day of wine tasting, I couldn't resist ordering the Lobster roll with my tasting. It was the perfect pairing and absolutely delicious! A must get if you go to Domaine Chandon.
This was the last winery of our four day weekend in Napa Valley, CA. After we arrived at the Airbnb, I made my Baked Italian Mac and Cheese Recipe for dinner for our group. It was the perfect meal after a long day!
The last day was our travel day, we sadly said goodbye to Napa and all went our separate ways.
Here are a few lessons I learned from my trip:
- If you're all drinking, get a driver. There were many groups that had drivers, and that's the safest and most responsible option to enjoy Napa. During my trip, my sweet friend is pregnant, so she was nice enough to be the designated driver for the weekend!
- Wine tours will take longer than what they say. Give yourself at least an extra 1.5-2 hours at each winery. The tour portion often goes longer, and does not account for extra questions, bathroom breaks, and most importantly, buying wine! You don't want to be rushed, so book in more time at each winery than you think you'll need.
- Bring snacks. Wineries provide little to no food during your tasting. It's truly about the wine! Out of all the wineries we visited, we only had the chance to buy food at one of them. Because of this, make sure you pack snacks in the car and eat protein bars, fruit, or sandwiches in between wineries to keep you going through your day in Napa.
- Ask questions! Your guides will not expect you to be a sommelier, so don't be afraid to ask a question. They are there to help you understand and appreciate the wine, so definitely take advantage of that.
Overall it was an incredible weekend spent with some of my favorite people in the world. Special shoutout to my friend Emily for doing such an amazing job planning and for being the best DD Napa has ever seen!