Local Wally dines at The French Laundry and answers all of your burning questions - Is it work it? How much does it cost? How to get reservations? With photos of every bite!Read More
Local Wally's Blog to Napa | NapaTouristGuide.com
Read Local Wally's Blog to Napa for up to date news, features, and stories from Napa Valley. Guest Posts Welcome!
Culinary Institute of America (CIA): Lively Discussions (and awesome food) at Conversations at Copia
Conversations at Copia, foodie lecture series hosted by the Culinary Institute Arts (CIA), foodie photos and event schedule. Get tickets now!Read More
How is Napa Valley After the Big Fire of 2017?
You've been dreaming of a trip to Napa, you've been planning, you're ready to go - but then the Oct 2017 wildfires hit, the worst fire in the history of California, and you think - should you come or should you cancel? And I totally get it. Napa is romantic, Napa is lush with vegetation and vineyards, is it still good after the big fires?
And here's what I say - Yes, Napa is still GREAT after the fires. The media did a great job of covering the fire, perhaps too good of a job because I still get questions from readers wondering if there are any wineries left and if the area is too scorched to visit. The truth of the matter is that most visitors will not even notice that there was a fire unless they look up at the tops of the hillsides to see the burned trees. The hillsides are coming back green and ready for your snapchat.
But wally, didn't the wineries burn down?
No, only two wineries actually burned to the ground - Signorello and Patland Vineyards. The rest of the wineries were either not impacted or 100% back in business. But the wineries, especially the smaller, family run wineries, need your support. They lost months of income and revenue while the valley was recuperating and need visitors like you to come in. And while you're there buy some wine, ship home a few bottles, and know you're helping a small business stay afloat.
visit these wineries most impacted by the fire
PATLAND WINERY: One of only two wineries that actually burned to the ground, Patland is bouncing back with the Patland Cave Experience. Tasting and tours are only $40 per person and if you have the Priority Wine Pass they'll give you a two for one. This will be a true VIP sort of tasting experience and you'll feel good about helping one of the wineries that needs your help the most. If you don't have a Priority Wine Pass you can get it here - get just one per couple. Reservations required.
RELIC WINE CELLARS: You probably have never heard of Relic Wine Cellars because they are not open to the general public - you have to know somebody to be invited. But they were hit hard by the fires so working with myself and the Priority Wine Pass they are offering FREE tastings for two with a $300 purchase, or $40 per person without purchase if you just want the cave tasting experience. It's near Patland so do both. You can only get this offer with a Priority Wine Pass, buy it here - one per couple. Reservations required.
CHIMNEY ROCK WINERY: The fires came close but the winery was saved. They're offering FREE tastings to Priority Wine Pass members with only a 2 bottle red wine purchase. This is a great opportunity to taste some of Napa's best reds and saves you $100 on tasting fees. Like the other offers you must have the Priority Wine Pass so buy it here, one per couple. Reservations required.
READ LATEST UPDATE HERE: NAPA VALLEY AFTER THE WILDFIRES OF 2017
OCTOBER 14TH UPDATE: The skies are blue, the air is good, the worst is over. If you are planning a trip the week of Oct 15th just make sure you call the wineries to verify they are open. But don't postpone or change your trip! Napa is nearly back to normal and we look forward to seeingyou!
ATTENTION NAPA VISITORS: A huge devastating wildfire is moving through Napa, mainly on the Silverado Trail side. Some wineries have been rumored to be destroyed, hundreds of people evacuated. The fires in Sonoma continue to rage out of control as well. This is a significant and dangerous fire, now considered to be California's deadliest fire in its history.
UPDATE 10-13: Fires still active and air quality very poor, I would avoid visiting Napa or Sonoma until at least next week. A number of wineries and the Napa Wine Train are predicting they will be back in operation on Monday. If you were planning on visiting this weekend I would still reschedule. If your plans have you here next week there is hope your trip will be OK, especially if later in the week. They are predicting higher winds again this weekend which could fuel the fire so everyone pray that this gets under control quickly.
UPDATE 10-12: My advice? I would try to reschedule if you are coming in this week. Fires are still pretty much out of control with the Silverado Trail area severely impacted. I heard Cakebread is planning to reopen this Sunday and some wineries along Highway 29 are now open but the air quality is not great. Signorello Winery is completely burned down, though their vines are safe and unscathed. As of this morning the entire town of Calistoga has been evacuated This is a serious fire so think twice before coming and try to reschedule if you can. Most locals are suggesting it will be a week before things return back to normal.
If you are planning on coming later this Fall when the fires are out you should reach out to me and let me help you pick or re-pick your winery visits. I can help route you to wineries who have had less impact as well as wineries who really need your business to rebound. Napa is a small community made of up locals who appreciate your business so if we all pitch in we can get through this.
Should you still come? Is it safe to visit Napa during the Fire?
I would strongly reconsider a wine tasting day in Napa this week. Though some the wineries along Highway 29 are still open the air quality is poor and the threat of fire very real. However, the best source will be your hotel - call them for updates if you are planning on visiting this week. And call the wineries you plan to visit. Many are closed or have partial staff.
How About that Agenda You did for Me?
If I gave you an agenda you might want to reach out to me as my picks might be very different due to the fire - even after it is put out and things return to normal. I've been told that a number of my favorite wineries have been impacted so you will want to check with me to make sure they are still open for business before you arrive.
More to come - Local Wally
New Napa Valley Wine Train Discounts for 2017!
Priority Wine Pass members now get the following discounts on the popular Napa Valley Wine Train! At $39.99 per couple it's always been a good bargain but now that you can get huge savings on the Napa Wine Train there's no reason not to get it. Get my discount when you use this link to order and remember, only get ONE pass per couple!
Wine Train Gourmet Lunch or Dinner: (Downtown Napa) $20 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) $20 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) $35 off 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.
Drive With Uber - Earn money on your schedule!
It's no secret - People want to have fun in Napa without worrying about a DUI. If you live in Napa you should know that Uber is looking for drivers. You can drive people, you can deliver goods or food, it's the easiest way to earn some lucrative money in Napa.
HERE'S HOW YOU SIGN UP! Just click the logo for all the info you need. And think of how much fun and it can be showing people around your home town and visiting all of the wineries!
Click here for full details - Napa needs you!
Napa on a Budget
Do Napa in a Day.. on a budget!
A Short History of Napa
Napa has a long history but here's a short version. It was 1839 when the first grapes were planted and in 1861 Charles Krug opened Napa's first commercial winery and sparked the first wave. By 1899 there were over 140 wineries. Success wasn't guaranteed and disease and prohibition sent Napa into a tailspin. It wasn't until 1933 when prohibition was repealed that wineries like Inglenook, Beaulieu, Louis M. Martini and Mondavi brought Napa back from the dead.
People today take wine for granted but that wasn't always the case. Prior to 1976 most Americans drank beer or cocktails. Wine was fancy, extravagant, and too confusing. But that changed with the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, also known as the Judgement of Paris and documented loosely in the movie Bottle Shock. The French ruled the wine world back then and thought it clever to put their wines against Napa, highly confident they would naturally win. They didn't and Napa soon exploded - and the wine industry in the US as we know it today was born.
Saving Money in Napa
Visiting Napa today is expensive. Hotel rooms are hard to get and $300 a night is considered a good deal, even in off season, and wine tasting is on average $25 per person - most people go to 5 wineries a day so a couple can easily spend $250 just on tasting fees. I decided to try to do Napa on the cheap, to really experience Napa like a first timer on a serious budget. Here's what I did.
WHERE TO STAY: For starters, I skipped staying at a hotel. Instead I shopped the AirBnB's and found a cute cottage for less than $200 a night. That was easily a hundred bucks a night cheaper than the cheapest hotel. I collected the best bets for AirBnB's and put them in a separate article you can find here.
TIP: My friend Jamie rents out a downstairs bedroom as an AirBnB. If you want a fresh, new, and friendly place to email me and I'll put you in touch with her. She also can drive you around if yo want to taste without worry of drinking and driving.
START YOUR DAY: My first stop was Oxbow Public Market where I set my sights on Model Bakery. They have GREAT breakfast sandwiches for around $6, made with their famous English Muffins. You need this breakfast. You need these muffins. Trust me, skip the sit down breakfast houses and eat here instead.
TO WINE PASS OR NOT TO WINE PASS, THAT IS THE QUESTION: If you've been on my site you know I am a big fan of the Priority Wine Pass. I used to promote free coupons, phone apps, passports, but no one does it better than the annual Priority Wine Pass. It's basically a two for one pass you show on your phone, saving you $25 or more on average at every stop. Get it HERE to get my discount - it will be $39.99 but you only need one pass per couple. Of course you don't need to get the pass but you will be kicking yourself at the first winery when they tell you two tastings are $50 and you realize you could have both had tastings for half that price.
FIRST STOP, A TOUR: So with the Priority Wine Pass loaded on my phone I was off to the races. I wanted to experience Napa like a true first timer so I opted for a tour to see how wine is made. I picked Bell Winery and did their Grape to Glass tour which is pretty fantastic. I've been on a lot of tours and most of them have you walking through vineyards in the hot sun and make you listen to a boring presentation before letting you sip some wine. The Bell tour is short, just enough to get a feel for production and history, and before you know it you're in the barrels room and they're popping open a bottle of sparkling. Bell has great wines and you move all the way through the gamut until you get to deep bold reds. It's a 90 minute experience, reservations are required, and it was half off with the Priority Wine Pass. That made it $25 per person which is a killer deal.
CHEAP LUNCH IN NAPA: Remember how I told you to go to Oxbow Public Market for breakfast? Another reason why I love Oxbow as my first stop is for their cheap lunch supplies. Don't get all fancy, a baguette, some cheese, and perhaps some deli meats is all you need for a great Napa picnic. Don't forget the waters!
For the adventurous and spirited head over to The French Laundry, Thomas Keller's famous high end restaurant where dinner for two will set you back a thousand bucks. No, I'm not saying you should eat there. Instead go across the street to their gardens and you'll find a few picnic tables and a chairs. Be discreet and you found the perfect picnic spot. Of course they might kick you out but that's why I said you need to be adventurous!
My wife is a bit of a chicken so instead of risking being kicked out of the French Laundry gardens we headed over to Napa Cellars, one of the best winery picnic spots. What makes Napa Cellars so good is that they give you two for one glasses of wine with your Priority Wine Pass, perfect for enjoying with your lunchtime snack. Napa Cellars is $20 per person but two for one with the pass - $10 per person for a glass of wine and picnic spot, that's a good deal.
THE LAST FREE TASTING IN NAPA? Sutter Home Winery, the folks who brought you White Zinfandel so many years ago, is perhaps the last free tasting left in Napa. The gardens are beautiful and the wine is free so why not stop? OK, yes, it's not going to blow your socks off but free wine is free wine. I tried it. I did! And yes, the gardens are beautiful :-)
IT'S TOURISTY, IT'S POPULAR, BUT IT'S WORTH IT: Beringer Winery is perhaps the most beautiful winery in all of Napa. Tasting fees are $25 per person but you get two for one so it's another bargain. Lots to see, there's a retail shop, gardens, and lush landscaping all around. It's the perfect last stop. I normally skip Beringer due to the crowds but really loved it here. There was live music, a fun vibe, I liked this stop a lot!
Let's Do the Math
So how much did this day cost you? Let's assume you got the Priority Wine Pass so you got the savings.
BREAKFAST: Less than $20 for two for breakfast sandwiches and coffees.
BELL WINERY: $50 tour for two.
PICNIC LUNCH: Less than $20 for two for a baguette, cheese, meats and waters.
NAPA CELLARS: $20 for two.
SUTTER HOME: Free tastings
BERINGER WINERY: $25 for two.
TOTAL COST FOR TWO: $135 + $39.99 for Wine Pass = $174.99. That's only $90 per person! That's not bad since I didn't really cut any corners. Heck, even the stop at Sutter Home was fun and helped me stretch the wine tasting budget.
Dinner on a Budget?
I didn't forget about dinner. My absolute favorite budget dining in Napa is the Happy Hour at Bounty Hunter where you can get ribs and slaw for $6 and two for one glasses of wine. Bounty Hunter has very credible BBQ and is worth it at any price but the Happy Hour before 6PM, M-F, is place to be.
Don't forget, you can email me if you ever want my free, unbiased advice! I can guide you to the best of Napa on a Budget and show you the wineries, restaurants, and places I love in Napa!
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.
There is nothing worse than being in your hotel room ready to snuggle up with a good bottle of wine only to find out that there's no corkscrew. How to open? Well, you could do the Shoe Trick where you put the bottom of the bottle inside a shoe and slam it on the wall, but that just doesn't seem to to have style. Or you could jam the cork and it's crumbles into the bottle. Or you could be smart and pack a corkscrew in your bag.
But remember, there is only ONE type of corkscrew that always passes TSA security and it’s this one. The rules were modified to include corkscrews with tiny collapsible blades (like the ones waiters use) but pity the fool who has to explain that to a TSA agent who did not get the memo! Don’t take any chances of losing a good corkscrew. Grab one of these cheapies and you are good to go.
Note that there is no little knife to cut the foil - it's the little knife that will have you waiting as the TSA folks tear your bags apart and send you to secondary strip search. But this little handy corkscrew, arguably equally dangerous in the wrong hands, passes through TSA with flying colors. At least for now!
Wait - What? Free Tastings are Back in Napa in 2019!
I know this sounds as fake as the $19.99 Ray Bays offers that flood Facebook but my readers can now get “free” wine tastings all over Napa and Sonoma, for a limited time. OK, yes, you have to buy a Priority Wine Pass to get the deals but the pass is only $39.99 and with it you get a free tasting tastings at some of Napa’s most popular wineries, including the Sterling Tram Ride (FREE, save $35), Beringer (FREE, save $25), Charles Krug (FREE tour and tasting, save $65), Grgich Hills (FREE, save $25), Jessup Cellars (FREE, save $40), and many more, 15 total in Napa alone. Buy the pass, one per person, and taste for free!