I found myself in the Los Gatos area of California to photograph a gorgeous west coast wedding at Testarossa winery. Friends who were there to attend mentioned Napa wasn't too far away – perhaps just two hours north of the San Jose region where we were staying. With spare time on our hands to experience the area the next day we decided to make the drive for a day tour of the region. What resulted was a slew of information I wish I knew ahead of time that I've compiled into helpful information about Napa Valley.
I had been interested in visiting the region for a while, not realizing the opportunity would present itself. We were going to drive there early (around 8-9am) when we were told by locals more familiar with the area things don't open until 10-11am! So we pushed back a bit and arrived later. I was surprised by what we experienced that day, completely shattering any pre-conceived notions I had about what “Napa” is.
1. Most Wineries Close at 5:00pm
We arrived to the area with a tour at Opus One winery schedule upon our arrival. After we left we were shocked to find out most wineries close at 5:00pm. Thus, we had less than two hours to hit up a few more spots before they closed for the day. I truly imagined they would close closer to 7:00pm. But they do not! It's super helpful information about Napa, knowing wineries close so early!
2. Napa Exists Off the Highway Total Just Four
Napa is only a couple exits off of route 29. There is a greater “region” but I expected Napa to be geographically larger. Most wineries do not, in fact, have Napa addresses. They are situated in surrounding towns, including Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford, to name a few, and St. Helena, where the Orin Swift tasting room we visited was located.
3. It May Not Have the Rolling Hills of Vineyards You've Dreamt About
Blame is on Hollywood but I envisioned rolling hills covered with beautiful, bright green vineyards. It's just not so. In the photo above you see flat land with vines and hills simply covered in trees. I don't recall seeing any hills with any sort of resemblance of vineyards – and if I did it was certainly incredibly uncommon. It's a beautiful landscape but a valid point to make for helpful information about Napa. Picture pretty scenery including mountains and hills – just not vineyards on those hills!
4. It's Not Easy to Drink Wine All Day
I love wine but quickly realized I have a limit. Everyone's tolerance for alcohol is different: I have friends who can't drink more than a sip of wine because their body can't process alcohol. Then we all have a friend or two who can drink alcohol ALL day. For me, it's difficult to do that. And if you're like me you think spitting it out to simply “taste” it how the pros do is a waste of money and all around goodness wine provides!
(You DO have the option of tasting and spitting but I opted not to. I quickly realized the red wine was affecting me, making me feel nauseous. An abudence of sulfates in red wine does that to me. So I laid off the wine past a certain hour and opted for….water! Luckily there are great restaurants in the area and we stopped at Gott's Roadside to enjoy some amazing tuna tacos as a break. So if you don't want to drink it's helpful information about Napa to know you can still enjoy the food, ambience and conversation at vineyards, wineries and restaurants there.
5. It's Only Recently Become a Notable Wine Region
Blame it on my 1980's birth date but I figured Napa was a region with deep roots (no pun intended) in centuries of viticulture. On our tour at Opus One we learned it wasn't really until the 1960s it became a region worth acknowledging in the winery world, with quality wines to show for it. Who'd have thunk it? Before that time the wine community frowned upon wines produced in the United States. But not anymore!
Heading to the west coast? Also check out:
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- How to Spend Two Days in Palm Springs
- My 12 Favorite Spots Around San Diego