Anthony Bourdain knows what I'm talking about. He says to skip the Eiffel Tower when visiting Paris, to not fight the crowds at the Louvre, to take a selfie in front of Notre Dame but not go in. Instead he goes to a bistro, orders wine and cheese and gets into the local scene.
That's my advice for Napa and Sonoma. You want to see Mondavi, go to your supermarket shelf. You want a tram ride, go to Disneyland. But if you want good wine, if you want a wine tasting experience that surprises and delights and surpasses all expectations, then you need to follow me.
No doubt, winery tours are the essential field trip experience for first timers. But do you really want to walk through the hot vineyards or stare at a stainless steel tank? No, you came to taste wine and that's why I love Bell Wine Cellar's Grape to Glass Tour, a 90 minute experience that's mainly focused on tasting wine, not looking at it.
There's a bit of vineyard talk, a bit of barrel talk, but mainly it's tasting deep inside the winery and tasting, from sparkling wines to deep Napa cabs. The wines are serious but the tasting experience fun for all levels, it's my favorite tour for first timers and wine lovers.
BELL WINE CELLARS
AVG BOTTLE PRICE: $60
RESERVATIONS REQUIRED: firstname.lastname@example.org
DEAL: 2 for 1 WITH PRIORITY WINE PASS - NORMALLY $50 PER PERSON.
This doesn't look like a winery at all. There are no big screen TV's, no hostess, there's not a tour bus in sight. Instead of a sign there's a mailbox with the address. Instead of a tasting room there's a barn. And inside the barn is Bill Canihan, the guy responsible for making some of the best Pinots in all of Napa and Sonoma.
This is no prop, no marketing creation, Canihan is unpretentious and honest, a hard working guy making wine he hopes you will love. It's my latest find, my favorite new "hidden" winery, make reservations and experience Canihan Wines.
AVG BOTTLE PRICE: $50
RESERVATIONS REQUIRED: (415) 990-9270
DEAL: 2 FOR 1 WITH PRIORITY WINE PASS (NORMALLY $25 PER PERSON), TASTING FEE TOTALLY WAIVED WITH PURCHASE
Pity the fools who are lining up to try to get another sip at one of the big mega wineries. Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards takes you deep into the caves with a small group to sample some of Napa's most exquisite wines. Barrel tasting, of course, and you can even reserve a spot to do some wine and food pairing with the winemaker.
ANDERSON'S CONN VALLEY
AVG BOTTLE PRICE: $75
DEAL: 2 for 1 CAVE TASTING (NORMALLY $65 PER PERSON) WITH PRIORITY WINE PASS
An industrial building for tastings, picnic tables under the trees, bocce ball next to the vineyards, Dutch Henry is a hidden gem in the Calistoga area. Make reservations and you can even taste inside their caves, an incredible experience. Make this your last stop of the day and give yourself enough time to buy a bottle to sip under the trees. Relaxing and fun.
Tip: Bring some cheese and bread for a delightfully low key picnic experience.
DUTCH HENRY WINERY
AVG BOTTLE PRICE: $50
WALK IN'S OK BUT RESERVATIONS REQUIRED FOR CAVE TASTING
DEAL: 2 for 1 WITH PRIORITY WINE PASS
Wine and food pairings taken to the extreme, B Cellars goes beyond the nibble of cheese and expands it into a four course meal. The four course pairing costs $135 per person but those with lighter appetites (and wallets) can still experience B Cellars with a $60 food pairing experience that takes you through the gardens, caves, and back to a seated table where the chef is preparing tasty bites to go with each wine. Outstanding experience for those who love food as much as they do wine.
B CELLARS WINERY
AVG BOTTLE PRICE: $75
DEAL: VIP OAKVILLE TREK TASTING, $300 PER COUPLE INCLUDES TASTING, TOUR, FOOD, PAIRING, AND TWO SIGNED BOTTLES IN WOODEN GIFT BOXES WITH PRIORITY WINE PASS.
Unlike the big wineries who see thousands of people a day these small boutiques have limited visitors. Therefore, visit them expecting to buy a bottle or two (or more), of course assuming you like their wine. If not it's always a nice gesture to tip the person who poured your wine - standard restaurant tipping rules apply so a $50 tasting = $10 tip.
Get these deals and many others with the annual wine pass. The Priority Wine Pass is the easiest way to get Napa deals and discounts without jumping through hoops. No tweeting before tasting from a phone app, no searching for an expired coupon, just flash the card or image on your phone and get these and other Napa tasting deals!