Best Complete List of FREE Wine Tasting in Napa Valley, including ALL the ones that Yelp! misses. Let Local Wally show you how to do Napa on a Budget and where to find all of the free wine!Read More
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Coming to Napa Valley for the first time? Overwhelmed? Confused? Don't be - just follow my easy Napa Do's and Dont's and you'll be sipping wine like an expert!
DO HAVE A PLAN: The days of driving up and down Highway 29 and pulling into any old winery that looks interesting are over. You should have your winery stops mapped out, the first one at 10AM and the last one at 4. Give yourself 45 minutes to an hour at each stop and make sure you google map the distance between wineries so you don't end up driving up and down the valley.
DON'T OVERBOOK YOUR DAY: Think you can hit 8 to 10 wineries in a day? Forgetaboutit! Figure 4 to 5 max. You don't want to be rushing from one winery to another.
DON'T FORGET YOUR ANNUAL WINE PASS: There's no more free wine tasting in Napa other than Sutter Home - you know, the White Zinfandel folks, enough said on that! Most Napa wineries now charge $25 or more per person, meaning it's very easy to run up a couple hundred bucks in fees per day. That's why I recommend the Priority Wine Pass - it gets you two for one tastings at over 75 wineries, saving you half on your fees. Get it here with my discount - it will be $39.99 but you only need one pass per couple. Here's the ever growing list of wineries who accept the pass - Get the pass and I'll even help you pick out the best wineries for you if you email me with your dates.
DO MAKE RESERVATIONS: This is especially true during the busy seasons - Summer and Fall being the busiest. With huge crowds that rival Disneyland, waiting in line at the "come one, come all" wineries can mean long waits. But book a reservation and show up on time and in you go like winery royalty - built in crowd control.
DON'T DO LUNCH, DO A PICNIC: Lunch is for suckers. I mean, you're in Napa to taste wine, not waste two hours doing lunch. Instead pack a picnic and make sure your winery stop at noon allows them. That's right, not all wineries allow picnics due to regulations but here's a recently updated list of the ones who do. A little crusty bread, a little cheese, some salami, get your supplies either at Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, Oakville Grocery, or Dean & Deluca. And there ain't nothing wrong with just snacking on the go, dropping crumbs in your rental car as you head to the next stop. Don't forget the waters!
DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE: There was a time when everyone on the road in Napa probably had a bit too much to drink but don't chance it. Either have a Designated Driver or hire someone to drive your car. Who to hire? Start with my friend Jamie, the gal who owns the Priority Wine Pass company. She's my first pick not because she's my friend but because she knows all the wineries so when you walk in with her they'll treat you like a VIP. Other drivers who have earned the Local Wally Stamp of Approval are found here.
DO VISIT THE BOUTIQUE WINERIES: Quick, name some wineries in Napa! I bet you came up with Mondavi, Sterling, Beringer, and maybe Castello di Amorosa, the Napa Castle. Well guess what? Every other first timer came up with the same names meaning these wineries will be packed. But Napa has hundreds of wineries tucked away that offer great wine, friendly hospitality, and a Napa experience that's not unlike what you would have found twenty years ago. Don't believe people on TripAdvisor who claim the boutiques are "second rate" - they don't know what they're talking about. Just remember to make reservations at the boutiques and they are limited by how many people they can serve in a day so Pop In's are not allowed.
DO MAKE YOUR DINNER RESERVATIONS AT A RESTAURANT NEAR YOUR HOTEL: When you're home and deciding on where to eat dinner it's easy to make the mistake of picking a place that's far from your hotel. After all, you figure, you're only here once so who cares if you need to drive 15 miles? Well trust me, after a day of wine tasting you're going to want a restaurant that's walking distance from your hotel or so close the air conditioner in your car doesn't get cool before you arrive. If you do have your heart set on a restaurant that's far from your hotel, plan out your tasting day to end near your dinner destination.
DO MORE THAN TASTE WINE IN NAPA: Don't forget that Napa has more to offer than wine tasting. Some of the popular excursions are the Napa Wine Train, hot air balloon rides, mud baths and spa treatment, and golf. If you plan to do any of these make sure you get the Priority Wine Pass (see above) as you can often get discounts with it. And if you are here for more than a couple of days a side trip to Sonoma is a good getaway and a nice contrast to the more developed Napa area.
DO TIP YOUR SERVER: It's not required but Napa etiquette is to toss in a few bucks if your wine server gave you an enjoyable experience. And buy wine if you like it - the wineries main goal is to sell wine so go into each winery assuming you will take home a bottle or two.
DO A WINE BLENDING CLASS: If you like wine but have a hard time describing what you like in a wine then splurge on a wine blending class. My favorite is Conn Creek's Blending Experience where you taste 6 cabs grown in different areas of Napa and decide what you like or dislike in each one. From there you carefully add a touch of this or that until you have a perfect bottle suited to your taste. In the end you bottle it up, cork it, and add a label and you'll take home the perfect blend - or is it? Do this with friends and do a blind tasting with you get home to see who made the best wine. It's fun, educational, and you'll gain years of tasting experience in an hour and a half. And yes, you can get a discount with the Priority Wine Pass.
Alternative Napa - Where Do Locals Taste Wine?
I totally get it - it's your first visit to Napa and the labels of the wines you see in your supermarket are haunting you. Mondavi. Beringer. Sterling. Domaine Chandon. And that castle, yes, the famous Castello di Amorosa. Must see, must see! Or should you?
Sure, these are all great stops but there's another side to Napa that locals know and love and that's the smaller boutique wineries. Don't believe what you might have read on places like TripAdvisor who claim that the smaller wineries don't have good wine. I actually found the opposite to be true. That's because the small wineries are hoping you buy a bottle or case so they're pouring the good stuff whereas the famous wineries have buses of people waiting to get in to snapchat and instagram their selfies. Wine is almost secondary to the winery at some of the big names - tram anyone?
So where to go? How do you visit Napa and taste like a VIP?
Here are a few of my favorites. First timers, go ahead and make that stop at Mondavi or Beringer but make sure you spend at least 50% of your time in these smaller wineries if you want to get away from the tourists and deeper into the heart of Napa. For those of you who have been here before you can also email me and I'll help you pick some good ones and even help you get discounts, many unpublished, so you can taste like a VIP without breaking the bank.
Here are a few "off the grid" wineries you should be checking out.
Let me help you plan it out! I don't charge, I don't get kickbacks from the wineries, I'm not associated with any wine shops, restaurants, or anybody! I am just one guy who knows and loves Napa and happy to share my favorites with you, all honest and unbiased recommendations so that you don't leave Napa thinking it was a theme park. Email me and give me your dates you will be here, the number of people in your party and whether you are a wine expert or just looking for fun places to taste. Give me two weeks if possible and I'll get you some free Napa advice on how to taste your way through Napa like a local - on a budget, of course.
Sterling Winery Vineyards FREE Coupon!
I often get asked which winery to go to that offers more than just wine tasting, something that's a bit of an adventure. Maybe you have non-drinking age kids, maybe you want to give your designated driver a break, maybe you just want to do something completely different. If that sounds like you then Sterling Winery might be the ticket.
Climb aboard the tram for a breathtaking ride to the top of the mountain where you can take a self guided tour through the winery and then relax in a seated tasting on the patio surrounded by pine trees and a glorious view. But don't pay full price! Instead just email me and I'll send you the promo code - FOR FREE!
2019 UPDATE: Yes, you can still get the free $10 off deal with me but if you have a Priority Wine Pass you get a FREE tram ride and tasting, save $35. The pass is $39.99 and includes free tastings at 10+ other wineries in Napa, including Charles Krug (save $65), Grgich Hills (save $25), Burgess Cellars (save $35), and many more. Visit this page to get more info.
No catches, no gimmicks, no paying to "unlock" the deal, just ask and I'll send it to you. And yes, it was APPROVED by their Marketing Department for my readers in August 2018 so this is the real deal. And yes, the Sterling Coupon is 100% FREE for the asking. Get $10 off! No unlocking this deal, just email me and I'll send it for free. You do need to book in advance on their website to get the offer so plan ahead.
Did You Want More FREE Napa Wine Tasting Deals?
I have them! Local Wally was the very first website to collect and give away all of the free Napa wine tasting deals on one site. Today there are a number of competing sites but none of them offer what I do - free unbiased advice to help you plan your trip. I'm not a corporation, I don't have a staff of writers, I respond to every email personally and don't charge for my assistance. And I never recommend stuff I don't like! I'll help you pick wineries, restaurants, and even help you plan out a Napa on a Budget trip.
So Email me and get more free Napa wine tasting deals! And enjoy your tram ride at Sterling Vineyards!