Contact Wally

Use the form on the right to contact me.

I am happy to help you plan your trip to Napa.  If you need a free winery trip planning agenda please give me as much time as you can due to the large number of requests.  I can typically turn around a custom agenda in 3 days.

Happy also to help you with restaurant and hotel recommendations, all honest and unbiased and based on my own experiences.


Local Wally


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Local Wally's Blog to Napa |

Read Local Wally's Blog to Napa for up to date news, features, and stories from Napa Valley. Guest Posts Welcome!

Conn Creek Winery Barrel Blending Experience: Get a Discount for Napa's Best Winery Tour

Local Wally

Getting Set up for some seriously fun wine blending at Conn Creek Winery in Napa

Getting Set up for some seriously fun wine blending at Conn Creek Winery in Napa

Napa Valley's BEST Winery Experience:  Conn Creek Barrel Blending

Every trip to Napa should have at least one BIG adventure, the winery experience that caps off your wine tasting vacation. Take the Sterling Tram? Tour the castle at Castello di Amorosa? Visit the caves of Del Dotto?  Yes, all good options but for me the BEST Napa experience is the Conn Creek Winery Barrel Blending Experience.  And yes, I have a discount but that comes later.

What I love about Conn Creek's Barrel Blending Experience is that how it makes you define what you like in your wine. I mean, I drink a lot of wine and I know what I like but if you asked me to describe it I get all befuddled.  Umm, tar?  Leather?  Plums?  Yikes, my cover as a self proclaimed wine expert is shattered. 

But not anymore.  That's because I went to the Conn Creek Barrel Blending Experience, a 90 minute "class" where you taste 6 different cabs grown in different areas of Napa.  Like a good student I took a few notes and honed in on what I liked and what I didn't like in each, which was a good thing because before I knew it I was taking my little eyedropper and mixing up a glass like I was some sort of scientist. And then after some tweaking I was kneeling in front of the barrels and carefully measuring out quantities of each to make up my own blend. I call it Local Wally Reserve Cab.  It's limited - very limited!

Conn Creek's blending seminar is super cool, a quick way to get a wine education that's valuable to everyone from newbie wine lovers trying to understand what they like to industry insiders who want to further their knowledge.  And it's fun - no stuffy classroom setting - and afterwards you go straight to the tasting bar to try all of their wines. You like wine, you'll love this experience.

30 Days Later......

After waiting a month I invited my wine blending group over for a blind tasting.  Will our wines hold up?  Will we still love them?  And who made the best?  We wrapped the wines in foil to hide the labels and surrounded ourselves with wine glasses and sipped like the experts we had become.  Surprisingly, all four bottles tasted very different from each other. 

My wine started off as big, bold and nearly over the top but as it sat open and we tasted more I noticed that the LW Reserve was the one we all gravitated to.,  Well, at least that's how I remembered it.  In truth I think all of us could defend our wine blends to the end, just like real wine makers. The winner - the one we all secretly thought was our own - started off soft and drinkable and remained complex without going over the top.  It wasn't mine.  Damn!

The tasting party continued as the rib eyes were tossed on the grill and our wines were so good that all four bottles were gone by the end of the night :-)

Local wally recommended

Everyone needs to do this.  I mean, everyone! It's fun, it's educational, and the wine tasting competition a month later lets you bring home the Napa experience for your friends and family.  And won't everyone be so impressed when you say things like how you wanted a bit more boldness so you added a drop of Petite Verdot and how the Cab Franc really sends the aroma over the top.  Oh you wine expert you.

TIP:  Save your cards with your measurements on it because if you LOVE your wine you can have Conn Creek make you up a custom case. Now that's cool!

This is the winning formula!

This is the winning formula!

Discounts for Conn Creek Blending Experience

Get a $50 discount with a Priority Wine Pass.  Get your pass here, it's $39.99 per couple so the card already more than paid for itself.  And remember, get the pass and I'll build you a stop by stop agenda to make sure you get your money's worth.  OK, sure, it's still $100 per person after the discount but figure you get to take home a bottle of Napa wine that you made - most Napa wines are at least $60 - $75 per bottle these days - and you got to taste at the bar (normally $25 per person) - and you got a wine education that you just can't get anywhere else - so a hundred bucks is really a bargain.  Highly recommended for my readers, skip the tram ride and the crowds at the touristy wineries and do the Conn Creek Blending Experience!


Get the Priority Wine Pass to get your $50 Discount

More Info on the Conn Creek Blending Experience

Napa Valley and Sonoma Wineries Open New Years Eve 2016

Local Wally

Beaulieu Winery Napa

Napa Valley Wineries & Tasting Rooms
*Open New Year’s Eve

    Back Room Wines:  707.226.1378Open 10:00am – 5:00pm
    Black Stallion Winery: 707.227.3250Open10:00am – 5:00pm
    Bennett Lane Winery:   877.629.6272Open 10:30am – 3:00 pm
    Castello di Amorosa:  707.967.6272Open 9:30am – 5:00pm
    Cliff Lede Winery:   800.428.2260Open 10:00am – 2:00pm
    Chateau Montelena Winery:  707.942.5105Open 9:30am – 12:000pm
    Chateau Potelle Winery:   707.255.9440Open 10:00am – 3:00pm
    Cuvaison Estate – Napa: 707.942.2455Open1 0:00am – 4:00pm
    Cuvaison Estate – Calistoga:  707.942.2468Open 11:00am – 4:00pm
    Del Dotto – St. Helena: 707.963.2134Open 11:00am – 5:00pm (Appt. Required)
    Domaine Carneros:   800.716.2788Open 10:00am – 4:00pm
    Domaine Chandon:  888.242.6366 opt. 3Open 10:00am – 5:00pm
    Elizabeth Spencer Wines:  707.963.4762Open 10:00am – 4:00pm
    Grgich Hills Estate:  800.532.3057Open 9:30am- 4:30pm
    Hall – St. Helena:   707.967.2626Open 10:00am – 3:00pm
    Hall – Rutherford : 707.967.2626Open By Appointment
    Hess Collection:   707.255.1144Open 10:00am – 2:00pm
    Inglenook:   707.968.1100Open 10:00am – 5:00pm
    Judd’s Hill Winery:   707-255-2332Open 10:00am – 4:00pm
    Louis M. Martini:   707.968.3361Open 10:00am – 3:00pm
    Markham Vineyards:  707.963.5292Open 10:00am – 5:00pm
    Merryvale Vineyards:  707.663.7777Open 10:30am – 3:00pm
    Pine Ridge Vineyards:   800.575.9777Open 10:00am – 4:30pm
    Raymond Vineyards:   707.963.3141Open 10:00am – 4:00pm
    Robert Mondavi Winery:   888-766-6328Open 10:00am-3:00pm
    Round Pound Estate:   707.302.2575Open 10:00am – 3:00pm (last appt. at 1:30pm)
    Signorello Estate:   707.255.5990Open10:00am – 5:00pm (by Appt. only)
    St. Supery:  707.963.4507Open 10:00am – 2:30pm
    V. Sattui Winery:   707.963.7774Open   9:00am – 5:00pm
    William Hill Winery:  707 265 3024Open 10:00am – 3:00pm

*Open New Year’s Day

    Alpha & Omega Winery: 707.963.9999Open 10:00am – 6:00pm
    Bennett Lane Winery:  877.629.6272Open 11:00am – 3:00pm
    Castello di Amorosa:   707.967.6272Open9:30am – 5:00pm
    Cuvaison Estate – Napa:  707.942.2455Open 10:00am – 4:00pm
    Del Dotto – St. Helena: 707.963.2134 Open 11:00am – 5:00pm (Appt. Required)
    Domaine Carneros:   800.716.2788Open 12:00pm – 6:00pm
    Elizabeth Spencer Wines: 10:00am – 4:00pm 707.963.4762
    Raymond Vineyards:   707.963.3141   Open 10:00am – 4:00pm
    V. Sattui Winery:   707.963.7774 Open 9:00am – 5:00pm


Sonoma County Wineries & Tasting Rooms
*Open New Year’s Eve

    Anaba Wines:  707.996.4188Open 10:30 am – 3pm
    Battaglini Estate Winery:   707.578.4091Open 10am – 4:30pm
    Cartograph Wines:   707.433.8270, Open 12pm – 4pm
    Chalk Hill Estate:   707.657.4837Open 10am – 4pm
    Christopher Creek: 707.433.2001 Open 10am – 6pm
    Deloach Vineyards:  707.526.9111Open 10am – 5pm
    Dutton Estate Winery:   707.829.9463Open 10am – 3pm
    Francis Ford Copolla Winery:   707.857.1471 Open 11am – 6pm
    Gloria Ferrer:   707.996.7256Open 10am – 3pm
    Halleck Vineyard:  707.484.0707Open 10:30am – 3:00pm
    Hanna Winery:  707.431.4310Open 10am – 4pm
    Hartford Family Winery: 707.887.8030Open 10am – 3pm
    Hop Kiln Winery:   707.433.6491Open 10am – 2pm
    Imagery Estate:  877.550.4278Open 10am – 2:30pm
    Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens:    707.571.8100Open 10am – 3pm
    Korbel Champagne Cellars:   707.824.700010am – 4:30pm
    La Crema:   800.314.1762Open 10:30am – 3pm
    Longboard Vineyards:    707.433.3473Open 11am – 2pm
    Mantanzas Creek Winery:  707.528.6464Open 10am – 2pm
    Murphy-Goode:   707.431.7644Open 10:30am – 3pm
    Rodney Strong Vineyards:   707.431.1533Open 10am – 3pm
    Russian Hill Winery:    707.575.9428Open 10am – 4pm
    Selby:    707.431.1288Open 11am – 5:30pm
    St. Francis Winery:  707.431.8749Open 10am – 2pm
    Stephen & Walker Winery:   707.431.8749Open 11am – 7pm
    Topel Winery Tasting Room:  707.433.4116Open 11am – 5pm
    Walt Wines :  707.933.4440   Open 11am – 4pm
    White Oak Vineyards:   707.433.8429Open 10am – 2pm


Special Thanks to for the list.  Always a good idea to contact the wineries directly to verify before coming in.

Local Wally Launches a New SonomaTouristGuide Site (and boy is it great!)

Local Wally

Local Wally's Sonoma Tourist Guide for free coupons, deals, and honest advice!

Local Wally's Sonoma Tourist Guide for free coupons, deals, and honest advice!

If you're spending more than a couple of days in Napa you owe it to yourself to spend a day in Sonoma. There's a certain charm to Sonoma, a laid back agricultural feel to this town that makes it a nice contrast to the more sophisticated Napa. Taste in barns, picnic just about anywhere, cheap tastings, it's a throwback to when wine tasting wasn't an expensive event but something you did on a weekend whim.  And yes, you can still find FREE wine in Sonoma and special discounts.

So check it out:  Local Wally's Guide to Sonoma at and let me know what you think. And yes, I'll build you a custom stop by stop agenda for free if you get a Wine Pass and need help picking them out.

Give Your Napa and Sonoma Wine Lovers The Best Holiday Christmas Gift Ever!

Local Wally

Looking for the Ultimate Christmas Holiday Gift for Your Napa Wine Loving Friends?  Get them a PRIORITY WINE PASS!

Here's the deal:  Use promo code WALLYSALE when ordering your pass at and they'll send you the physical plastic pass, excellent for gift giving and good for two for one tastings in Napa and Sonoma and other popular wine regions for only $45.   It's good for a full year so your friends can visit the wineries again and again, saving half on tasting fees and getting exclusive VIP treatment.  You only need ONE pass per couple. $45? Christmas gift - DONE!

The pass is excellent for anyone traveling to Napa or Sonoma for a vacation visit but even better for your friends who live in the Bay Area and go wine tasting multiple times a year.  They will LOVE YOU for this!


  1. Go to any of the 75+ wineries in Napa and Sonoma that accept the pass.  Here is the complete list:
  2. Show them the pass and get Two for One tastings!  Save on average $25 at every wine tasting stop!

As a bonus you can let your friends know that if they want a custom stop by stop agenda all they need to do is ask me and I'll create it for them based on the types of wines they like.


Looking for a Napa Driver? Let Priority Wine Pass Drive You Around Napa!

Local Wally

Meet Jamie, the Owner of the Priority Wine Pass

NEW! Priority Wine Pass Now Offering Private Wine Tasting Tours

If picking wineries is hard, picking someone to drive your rental car around is even harder. You don't want some college kid to drive you around, you want someone who knows the area, knows the wineries, and someone who is fun to hang out with all day. Well guess what? Jamie, the owner of the Priority Wine Pass, is now offering her driving services to my readers. That's A-MAZ-ING!

Jamie is a super nice gal who lives in Napa and knows the wineries. She'll take you on a whirlwind private tour of Napa hitting up wineries that most tourists don't know about. And trust me, when you walk into the wineries with Jamie you can expect top notch VIP service that you won't get with other drivers. You'll discover great new wineries and get special attention to boot.


Special Napa Tour Packages for Every Budget

No hidden fees, no sticker shock, you'll know exactly how much you'll spend when you book with Jamie. You provide the car and she will drive you to the winery locations. Wine tasting fees not included but she'll pick wineries that will give you two for one tastings.

The Napa on a budget Tour (3 hours)

  • $85 per person, 2 person minimum
  • Pickup at 930 and stop at Oxbow or nearby Market where you'll get picnic supplies.
  • First winery stop at 1030 where you'll get a two for one tasting.
  • Second winery stop at 1130 where you'll enjoy your picnic and get two for one glasses of wine.
  • Drop you back off at hotel OR if you wanted to do more tastings she will drop you off in Yountville where she'll give you a list of tasting rooms where you can get more two for one tastings. All the tasting rooms are walking distance so you can easily spend an afternoon exploring and later dining. You should be able to squeeze in 3 more wine tasting experiences, all two for one and then call a taxi for a ride back to your hotel (taxi fee not included).
  • Includes 1 Priority Wine Pass per couple that you can keep and reuse for more two for one tastings, good for a full year.
  • BONUS:  Ask for the Local Wally special when booking and get a FREE bottle of exceptional Napa chardonnay or cab to enjoy later!

The VIP full day napa tour (6 hours)

  • $165 per person, 2 person minimum
  • Pickup at 930 and stop at Oxbow or nearby Market where you'll get picnic supplies.
  • First winery stop is Bell Winery where you'll experience the 90 minute Grape to Glass tour, a wonderful introduction to how wine is made with a private tasting deep inside the winery. Two for one, of course.
  • Second winery stop at 1230 where you'll enjoy your picnic and get two for one glasses of wine.
  • Third stop is an Exclusive VIP tour at AuburnJames where you'll do a bit of wine and cheese tasting along with additional pours from their top of the line cab, a $125 bottle of wine. Two for one again.
  • 2 more winery stops, two for one tasting fees, selected based on your wine tastes.
  • Drop off at hotel OR Yountville if you wanted to do more two for one tastings on your own.
  • Includes 1 Priority Wine Pass per couple that you can keep and reuse for more two for one tastings, good for a full year.
  • BONUS:  Ask for the Local Wally special and get a FREE bottle of champagne that you can enjoy later that evening.

Expect the unexpected like barrel tasting or tasting in a cave!

How to Book a Tour with Jamie

That's easy. Just email her and let her know the dates you want her to drive you and she'll confirm availability and set up your pickup times.  Why let any old driver take you around when you can get VIP treatment when you walk in with Jamie from the Priority Wine Pass? This special offer is for my readers only so check it out!

Remember - EMAIL HER for more info!

Get a FREE Discount for Tram Ride and Upgraded Tasting at Sterling Vineyards

Local Wally

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.

Tram at Sterling Vineyards

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!

Get a $50 Discount For Two on the Napa Valley Wine Train!

Local Wally

Get a discount on the Napa Valley Wine Train

Get up to $100 Off the Dinner or Lunch Napa Wine Train Experience!  New Deal on the Napa Castle Train Excursion!

Now Priority Wine Pass members can get $50 off the gourmet dinner or lunch experience on the Napa Wine Train. Hop aboard the refurbished luxury dining car and experience for yourself what life of the rich and famous was like.  It's a ton of fun for all ages and there's simply nothing else like it, a quintessential experience for those coming to Napa.

Wine Train Gourmet Lunch or Dinner: (Downtown Napa) $25 off tickets pass members and up to 3 guests ($80 Savings) Reservations required please call (707) 253-2111 and mention you are a wine pass member during booking. At check-in please bring ID and wine pass to obtain special pricing. 

Castello Di Amerosa Wine Train Tour: (Downtown Napa) $25 off tickets for pass members and up to 3 guests ($80 Savings) Reservations required please call (707) 253-2111 and mention you are a wine pass member during booking. At check-in please bring ID and wine pass to obtain special pricing. 

Collective Tour on the Wine Train-St. Supery, Beringer, & Raymond: (Downtown Napa) Starting November 1st 2018 receive $35off tickets for pass members and up to 3 guests ($140 Savings) Reservations required please call (707) 253-2111 and mention you are a wine pass member during booking. At check-in please bring ID and wine pass to obtain special pricing. 


Dining on the Napa Wine Train

The Napa Wine Train leaves downtown Napa and travels up the valley to St. Helena. Guests who are assigned first seating, dine on fresh soup or salad and their choice of entree in the dining car while traveling up the valley, and will be served dessert with coffee or tea in one of the lounge cars on the return trip. Those guests with a second seating assignment will be served appetizers in one of the lounge cars while heading North to St. Helena and will enjoy their fresh soup or salad, choice of entree and dessert in one of the dining cars on the return trip.

All the rail cars are expertly finished with Honduran mahogany paneling, etched glass partitions, brass accents and original artwork. Guests are invited to explore the train where they may visit the kitchen car to see our chefs in action or the observation deck to enjoy an unobstructed view of the valley.

How to Get Your Discounted Tickets to the Napa Wine Train

All holders of the Priority Wine Pass get this discount. And remember, the Priority Wine Pass not only gets you this exclusive discount but you get tons of other deals as well, including two for one tastings, tours, and discounts at over 75 Napa and Sonoma wineries.  And for my readers who get the pass I offer to build you a free custom trip itinerary, a stop by stop agenda to make sure you get your money's worth from the pass.  Forget the coupons, delete the phone apps, there's no clipping, no tweeting, no fumbling, just show the pass and get free wine - and now get $40 off the Wine Train's Gourmet Lunch or Dinner Excursion.  For complete details go to and search for their Wine Train offer.

To get a Priority Wine Pass just click this link to go to a special Local Wally offer, $39.99 per couple. 

Beautifully restored Napa Wine Train

Top Napa Restaurants with NO or LOW Corkage Fees: Napa on a Budget

Local Wally

cork·age fee (noun) a charge made at a restaurant for serving wine bought off the premises.

You've been tasting great wine all day in Napa so when it's time for dinner I don't blame you for wanting to bring in that "special" bottle you thought you would save for 10 years and wanting to open it that night. Bringing in your own bottle is a great way to extend the Napa experience to dinner while saving a few bucks in the process, as long as you dine at restaurants with NO or LOW corkage fees. Napa dining just got a lot cheaper!

For those of you who not familiar with this a corkage fee is what they charge to open your bottle. Dine at one of the restaurants below who have No or Low Corkage Fees and you get to have it all, a great dinner with a great bottle while keeping enough money in your pocket that you can buy another bottle to take home tomorrow!


8 Noodle Shop:  Delicious Asian cuisine with Seasonal local ingredients, fresh homemade noodles and traditional ramen, rice, additions and appetizers.  Corkage Fee $12.

Allegria Ristorante:  Elegant Italian-Californian restaurant located inside a historic bank, with vault seating available. Corkage Fee $10, waived on Monday night.

Atlas Social: Gastropub serving New American small plates in a rustic space with communal tables & modern flair. Corkage Fee $15.

Azzurro Pizzeria e Enoteca:  Vibrant Italian eatery known for thin-crust pizzas plus small plates, pastas & lots of local wines. Corkage Fee $15.

Boon Fly Cafe at Carneros Inn: Casual Californian dining option with a lively vibe & modern roadhouse feel, at the Carneros Inn. Corkage Fee $15.

Ca’ Momi Osteria:   Industrial-chic enoteca serving elevated Italian pizzas, pastas & mains. Corkage Fee $15.

Castello di Amorosa:  No, it's not a restaurant but rather the famous Napa "castle" winery. If visiting there get a bottle to open that night and go to a participating restaurant who will waive the corkage fee. More info here: Castello di Amorosa FREE corkage fee partners.

Celedon: Upscale Eclectic comfort food is served in cozy digs with weathered brick walls & rustic courtyard.  Corkage Fee $15.

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen: Upscale comfort foods in St. Helena. Corkage Fee $15, waived with a reservation.

Compadres Rio Grille: Easygoing eatery offering Mexican dishes along with California wines, plus a patio with river views.  Corkage Fee $10.

Downtown Joe's: This long-running, casual spot for house-brewed beers & burgers features patio seats & water views. Corkage Fee FREE first bottle, $10 each after.

Fume Bistro: Local haunt offering American fare in an inviting, contemporary space with a pergola-covered patio Corkage Fee $10, waived Tuesday nights.

Hurley's:  A Yountville favorite, casual Californian-Mediterranean eatery with a lively bar, stone fireplace & spacious patio. Corkage Fee NONE.

Gott's Roadside:  Unpretentious hamburger stand with gourmet burgers and other standards.  Corkage Fee:  $5

Hog Island Oyster:  Inside the Oxbow Market, freshest seafood in Napa Valley. Corkage fee $15.

Kitchen Door: Oxbow Market cafe offering Eclectic fare in a casual space with industrial accents & outdoor deck. Corkage Fee is $12.

Market:  Seasonal American comfort fare served in a cozy bistro with rustic stone walls & an old-timey bar.  Corkage Fee NONE

Mustards Grill: Quintessential Napa restaurant with upscale versions of your favorite comfort foods. Corkage Fee $15, waived with a reservation.

Pacific Blues Cafe: Relaxed upmarket eatery with a patio offering creative American fare, plus beer & classic cocktails. Corkage Fee $5

R+D Kitchen: Sushi, salads & American dishes are offered in a modern space with outdoor seating. Corkage Fee NONE

Rutherford Grill: Lively restaurant offering American comfort foods & a robust wine list in stylish digs with a patio. Corkage Fee NONE.

Tarla: Seasonal, locally sourced Turkish & Greek dishes share the menu at this casual bistro & bar. Corkage Fee $10, donated to charity.

UVA: Popular hangout for pizza, pasta & other Italian eats in a casual space with live music.  Corkage Fee NONE.

ZuZu: Popular riverside spot offering Spanish tapas & an eclectic wine list in relaxed surrounds. Corkage Fee $10.

NOTE:  Always a good idea to verify their fees when making your reservation! 

Five Napa Wineries You Should Not Miss (But Most Do)

Local Wally

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.

Tasting wine away from the crowds

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.


Canihan Winery near Sonoma

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.


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.


Relaxing Dutch Henry in Calistoga

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.


Food and Wine Pairing at B Cellars

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.



Tasting Etiquette
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.

Wine Pass
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!

Napa Valley & Sonoma Crush 2018: Top 5 Tips You Need to Experience Harvest

Local Wally

Chris Loxton explains the wine production process in Sonoma

Chris Loxton explains the wine production process in Sonoma

What is Crush?

In the Fall is when the grapes get harvested and wine production kicks in. This is called crush, as in crushing the grapes, and there really is no better time to come to Napa or Sonoma than when the grapes are being harvested. The aroma of ripening fruit in the air mixes with the excitement of anyone who has a stake in wine, from the growers to the drinkers. If you have never been to Napa or Sonoma and can pick one time to visit then this is it!

1.  When do they harvest grapes in Napa and Sonoma? 

Crush happens when the grapes are ready. Simple enough, right? Well, not quite because some years like 2015 grapes were ripe as early as July whereas other years they've held on until October.  It's all a guess (darn you Mother Nature) but one thing is for sure - it is crowded in Napa Valley and Sonoma in Fall as visitors flock hoping to be there at the right time.

Crushing grapes at Nickel & Nickel

2.  Where can I see Grapes being Crushed into Wine?

If you really want to see actual grape to wine production then book a tour. Good basic tours can be found at big wineries like Mondavi and Cakebread as well as smaller ones like Bell Winery who has an excellent "Grape to Glass" tour that's available two for one with the Priority Wine Pass (get it here). A walk through the vineyards, the smell of ripe grapes being crushed, it's intoxicating - and that's before you even have a sip! 

Booking tours is a good tip during crush as the giant tasting rooms can get more crowded than Costco the day before a holiday. Tours limit the number of people you are with and taste away from the crazy crowds. More time, more wine, sounds perfect. My favorite tours where you can see wine production are:

  • Frog's Leap:  How fun to walk around the farm (an old frog farm!) while learning about wine, happily sipping along the way?
  • Bell Winery:  Small boutique with big wines, one of the best tours if you are as focused on tasting great wines as you are learning about them.
  • Inglenook:  Historic winery and huge production area. A lot to see and do here as well and the setting is so beautiful you may not want to leave.
  • Mondavi:  This place gets packed so do the tour instead of fighting for a space at the bar and see how wine is made.  Good value tour, though tastings a bit skimpy at the end.
  • Castello di Amorosa:  The Napa castle couldn't get more crowded if they were giving the wine away so get far away from the crowds and do their tour that takes you deep into the castle. Tour is more focused on the castle than wine but still a fun time and you will still see production during crush.
  • Cakebread:  One of my favorite mini-tours, all tastings are done in small groups so no crush of people during harvest crush.

Mike Grgich stomping grapes

3.  Where Can I Stomp Grapes in Napa like they Did in "I Love Lucy"?

If you want to roll up your pants and stomp some grapes with your bare feet like Lucy did then head to Grgich Hills where $30 gets you some stomp time and a t-shirt where you can stomp your red stained feet on to take home. Here's all the info on Grape Stomping at Grgich Hills. No, you don't drink the stomped grapes and no, they don't make it into wine later. I mean, would you drink that wine?

4.  OMG, it's so crowded!  How can I get away from the crowds?

Wineries during crush can get more crowded than Costco before a holiday. Think wall to wall people. Correction, wall to wall people who have been drinking wine all day! Not my style and probably not yours. So make it easy on yourself and make every stop a "reservations required" winery. These are often smaller wineries who have legal crowd limits so your experience during crush isn't much different than if were the dead of winter. You can also upgrade tastings at many of the larger wineries where you have a time and a spot just for you.

Gott's Roadside is a budget crowd pleaser

5.  Where Should I Eat in Napa during Crush?

You would think with the huge amount of restaurants in Napa that getting a reservation a few days before would be a no brainer but if smart people are already booking their spots right now. The most popular restaurants book up very fast during crush so if you have your heart set on going to Mustards Grill or Bouchon or any of the other well know restaurants don't delay.

On the other hand, should you find yourself in a bind know there are some local strategies that won't let you go hungry, such as:

  • Bouchon has a great bar that is first come, first served. Come a bit early and grab a spot!
  • Rutherford Grill's bar is my favorite spot and also open seating. You might need to hang around for a seat to open but these are prime spots and require no reservations.
  • Bistro Jeanty has a communal table (open seating) that works just fine. In some ways it adds to the fun.
  • The Bounty Hunter is ultra casual and has beer can chicken and BBQ and an extensive wine list. Located downtown.
  • Zuzu's is hugely popular and doesn't take reservations so your chances are as good as the next guys to get a table.
  • Don't forget Gott's, the gourmet burger place that's affordable and delicious.
  • Looking for Napa on a Budget cheap eats? Here's my list.

TIP:  How Do I Get a Deal in Napa during Crush?

Hate to sound like a broken record but get a Wine Pass, just $39.99 for my readers  There's no posting on social media required like a phone app, no digging in your pockets trying to find a coupon that probably expired, you just flash the card or show it on your phone and you get two for one tastings.  And if you want me to build you a custom agenda for a fantastic CRUSH experience I'll do so for no charge. I make sure that if you get the pass based on my recommendation that you get more than your money's worth.

No unhappy readers, that's my motto, and so far of the thousands who have bought it the feedback is around 99% positive. Local Wally has never recommended something I don't love so trust me when I say this is the best way to stretch your wine tasting dollar!