Napa 102: First Timer's Silverado Trail | Local Wally's Napa Tourist Guide
Discover a quieter side of Napa on the Silverado Trail. Day 2 agenda for first timers to Napa uncovers the BEST wineries, restaurants, and picnic spots. Local Wally's Napa Tourist Guide.
Napa 102: WINE Tasting on Silverado Trail
Discover Napa’s Lesser Known Wineries
In a way the Silverado Trail, once a wagon trail for the silver mines, is like how all of Napa used to be. The crowds are fewer, the traffic more manageable, it's a leisurely drive in the country dotted with quaint wineries and friendly tasting rooms. Oh sure, there are a handful of gargantuan wineries but you'll mainly find smaller, more intimate experiences with a family run feel to the wineries.
Because there are no restaurants along the way you'll also want to pack a picnic lunch before you go. But that's just fine with me as a Napa picnic is just perfect for a laid back day in wine country - and do I have the perfect spot for you!
And don’t miss my Napa 101 guide with everything a first timer needs to know before coming to Napa, from budget hotels and faq’s to the top wineries on Highway 29.
Is the Wine Pass Worth It if I Only Use it at a Few Wineries?
If you are here a full day or longer it would be pretty hard for the Priority Wine Pass to not pay off but do the math. When planning out your trip pay attention to the wineries on the pass - you’ll typically save at least $25 at these wineries. The Wine Pass is $39.99 and you only need one pass for every two people so as long as you hit up 2 wineries you more than come out ahead. And some people max out their savings by only visiting wineries on the pass - a good strategy for Napa on a Budget!
Explore The Other Side of Napa, the Silverado Trail
The main artery through Napa is Highway 29. It’s lined with big name wineries like Robert Mondavi, Opus One, Beringer, Sterling, and the famous Napa castle, Castello di Amorosa. It’s also typically lined with cars and tourists during peak season. If you want a quieter Napa head over to The Silverado Trail where the country roads meander and a bit less traveled. I’ll give you plenty of options along the way - some have discounts, some do not, so do the math and add it up to stay within your budget. And yes, I’ll even give you my top pick for each stop just in case you get overwhelmed and can’t decide!
Remember to check with each winery if you need reservations - some require it even for a party of 2.
Stop 1: 9:00, Get Up, Get Going! Breakfast, Napa Style
Downtown Napa has plenty of eateries but watch your time as you don’t want your coffee time to take away from your wine tasting time! Get your food fast, but not fast food, when you go to my two favorite stops, both conveniently located before you jump on the Silverado Trail.
Downtown Napa in the Oxbow Public Market (google map)
Picnic tables outside, English Muffins inside, Stumptown coffee, good morning to me! Located in the Oxbow Public Market you can also get picnic supplies and other goodies inside. Everything is freshly made, a Napa favorite.
WALLY’S PICK: Why do you do this to me? OK, if I had to pick I would go with Model Bakery even if you were here the day before. I just can’t get enough of their English Muffins and their breakfast sandwiches are so good.
Stop 2: 10:00, From Wine Caves to an Italian Villa, First Stop is a Good One!
Option 1: Del Dotto Wine Caves
Don’t get confused! Del Dotto has 3 locations, all with wine caves, in Napa Valley. The one you want is on Atlas Peak Rd., the original historic location. Walk through the caves and taste straight from the barrels. Make reservations.
Option 2: Krupp Brothers Winery
Spoil yourself and take a short trip to an Italian villa for a private tour and tasting at Krupp Brothers Winery. Oh sure, you could go to their downtown tasting room but the stone walled winery and beautiful surroundings will take your breath away. Make reservations.
Option 3: Prime Solum Tasting Barn
A hip and trendy tasting barn showcasing some of Napa’s finest wines. Savor 6 single vineyard tastings or dive in with wines by the glass - why not, you’re on vacation! Snacks and small plates available.
Wine Pass Deal: Two for One, save $65
Option 4: William Hill Estates
Quiet, peaceful, start your day sipping great wines with a calm overlook of the vineyards. You seriously might not make it to your next stop after sitting her and contemplating life and wine at one of Napa’s best view settings. Make reservations.
Wine Pass Deal: Two for One, save $30
WALLY’S PICK: You can’t go wrong with any of these options so I would narrow it down from a time perspective. Both Del Dotto and Krupp Brothers are top picks for extended experiences - I’d probably go with Del Dotto for the cave tour and barrel tasting, super fun. If you want to max out your time and hit as many wineries as possible then opt for William Hill Estates for a tasting with a view.
Stop 3: 11:00, Sip Lightly or Go Bold, It’s Your Choice!
Option 1: Andretti Winery
He drives cars, he makes wine, I’m talking about Mario Andretti who owns this winery. With easy to like Italian wines it’s a good stop for those looking for that perfect Sangiovese in a picture perfect Old World setting.
Wine Pass Deal: 2 for 1, save $35
Option 2: Darioush Winery Napa Valley
With its over the top Las Vegas opulence, you half expect to see Cleopatra sitting in front or Lara Croft jumping from column to column. It’s a photo op for sure, one you have to see to believe! And yes, the wines are equally impressive.
Option 4: Regusci Winery
Ahhh, talk about romance! Regusci Winery looks straight out of Tuscany with its historic stone building, olive trees out front, and impressively big reds inside. It’s a Napa hidden gem, make reservations and be swept away to the Italian countryside. Make reservations.
WALLY’S PICK: I’m going with Regusci Winery for my pick here. There is something so authentic about this place that makes me want to hang out and linger. And yes, I love big, bold reds and very few do them better then this. Of course you also can’t argue with the two for one as Andretti Winery so if I was looking to stay within budget that’s my pick.
Visit a Local Favorite Picnic Spot, the Soda Canyon Store
You’re going to get hungry so don’t miss your chance to stop at the Soda Canyon Store which features a deli that makes incredible and reasonably priced sandwiches. A local favorite, there’s also both a shady and a sunny picnic area with a creek side vineyard setting. MENU | google map
Stop 4: 12:30, Caves, Champagne, and the Judgement of Paris
Option 1: Miner Family
If you want to visit caves and do a barrel tasting then rearrange your day and make reservations for their 11:00 “Public tour and Tasting” experience. It’s 90 minutes long so you might have to do a bit of rescheduling, or do their standard bar tasting. Make reservations.
WINE PASS DEAL: 2 for 1 Tour with Cave Experience, save $50. Or 2 for 1 standard tasting, save $35.
Option 2: Mumm Napa Valley
If it’s a nice sunny day there’s no way you can’t stop at Mumm Napa Valley and sip a flight of sparkling wine. Seated tastings, lively atmosphere, it’s a party out there! If you can’t squeeze it in now then try to loop back at the end of the day.
Option 3: Pine Ridge Vineyards
A vine to glass tour that features a cave tour as well as wine and cheese tastings, super deluxe experience. You’ll need to rearrange a bit to fit this one in as they only do the caves at 10:00 and 2:00. Make reservations.
WINE PASS DEAL: 20% Off the standard $75 per person fee for the cave tour with cheese tastings.
Option 4: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
There are two wineries with similar names - Stag’s Leap, and Stags’ Leap (note the apostrophe). If you want the winery that made history in the 1976 “Judgement of Paris” blind tasting (aka the “Bottle Shock” movie), this is the one. Make reservations.
WALLY’S PICK: If you have not done any wine caves yet then I would try to work in the Miner’s Family Public Tasting and Tour because it’s a good bargain - $50 for two with the Wine Pass. It will mean you have to do some rearranging and backtracking but it will be worth it. If you’ve already done a cave tasting then save the time and go directly to Mumm Napa for some sparkling wine.
Optional: Visit Maxwell Lake, Napa’s Most Romantic Winery
15 minutes off the Silverado Trail is Maxville Lake Winery. It’s a hidden gem, tucked away in the foothills, a luxurious and modern winery that no one knows about. Make reservations and you most likely will have the entire winery to yourself, a perfect place to hang out, enjoy a romantic picnic, sip some wine, and waste away the afternoon. Of course the rest of your day is pretty much shot but you won’t care!
Stop 5: 2:00, It’s Still Early, Let’s Keep Going!
Option 1: AuburnJames Winery
A boutique winery, do a private tasting in their cute winery cottage. AuburnJames Winery lets you get away from the crowds and sip some of Napa’s finest - my wine fridge is stocked with their reds, I love their wines! Make reservations.
WINE PASS DEAL: 2 for 1 tasting with reservations, save $40
Option 2: Frog’s Leap Winery
Visit an old frog farm (frog’s legs had to come from somewhere, right?) converted into one of Napa’s cutest wineries. Casual sipping outside, or do the walking tour that takes you into the production area. Great for those with kids, too,
WINE PASS DEAL: Get an extra splash of the good stuff when you show your pass, save $10.
Option 3: Rutherford Ranch Vineyards
Come visit and taste at one of Napa’s most famous big name wineries. If you like your reds big and bold then you must visit Rutherford Ranch. Great chardonnay and sauvignon blanc as well, seated tasting experience. Make reservations.
WINE PASS DEAL: 2 for 1 tasting with reservations, save $40.
Option 4: Quintessa Winery
With the curved stone facade built into the hillside, Quintessa Winery calls out to you and beckons you to come taste their exquisite wines in this ultra chic winery. High end tasting experience, it’s one to splurge on if you love the finest wines. Make reservations.
WALLY’S PICK: Just for the fun of it I would go with Frog’s Leap. If you want to stay casual sip in the garden, but the tour is the way to go here if you want to see production and get a tour of the old frog farm. If you want fancy wines I really like AuburnJames - with the Wine Pass you can do a true high end tasting for $40 for two, a great deal, and their wines are really some of the best.
Stop 6: Last Call and it’s Not Going to be Easy! Call Ahead for Closing Times
Option 1: Boeschen Vineyards
An underground winery, vintage car collection, Victorian gardens, how did you get in here you will wonder! A true hidden gem, private tour and experience, don’t worry about the people waiting in lines at the castle. Make reservations.
WINE PASS DEAL: Buy two bottles of red and the $75 per person tour and tasting fee is waived for two.
Option 2: Duckhorn Winery
The classic craftsman house is enough to make you want to taste here but the experience, pours while seated at the table, are some of the best. Worth it just to see the servers clearing tables stack a dozen or so glasses on one hand. Make reservations.
Option 4: Dutch Henry Winery
When you’ve had it up to here of the big corporate wineries and crowds it’s time to go to Dutch Henry Winery, a simpler, friendlier sort of winery with picnic tables, bocce ball, and great wines and staff (and cool winery dog). Call for hours.
WINE PASS DEAL: Two for one tasting, save $25
WALLY’S PICK: There are no bad decisions here. I think Rombauer is pretty special, especially since they still have tasting fees starting at $20 per person (as of 9-2019), making this a pretty good deal for a winery of this caliber. Still, Dutch Henry offers the best deal, two tastings for $25 with the wine pass, and if the weather is nice it’s hard to beat buying a bottle and sitting under the oak trees. Either of these two get my nod for the best final stop of the day.
Since you are up near Calistoga you might want to pop into SolBar, a Michelin star restaurant inside the Solage Resort. Evangeline is another really solid restaurant for a bit of French Bistro meets Creole cooking.
You can also head back down south if you are staying in that area and hit up a restaurant on the way back. I am never turning down dinner at Rutherford Grill - their grill artichoke is the absolute best in the world and a seat at the bar prime real estate. Another great spot is Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, a casually upscale dining experience with great food and atmosphere. And no one would fault you for stopping in at St. Helena and going to Market, a local favorite with moderate prices and upscale comfort food.
Do the Math to see if the wine pass is worth it for you
Pick your wineries, both here and on the Napa 101 guide for top picks on Highway 29, and do the math. Figure that the wine pass will cost you $39.99 for two people. Count up the savings and decide if it’s worth it. Or go total budget and just focus on the wineries that offer discounts and max out the pass and pocket the money for a splurge at dinner. And if you find yourself in Napa and regretting not buying it as you stand at a tasting room know you can buy it NOW, download the pass, and you are good to go for discounts. Questions? Email me!