Wine Wednesday Series: Napa Valley

Feb 6, 2013

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TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen has a background as a food and wine writer and has covered wine regions all over the globe including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria and many of those in his native California, so we decided to launch a new #WineWednesday series where every week we give you a brief snapshot of wine regions all over the globe and insight on how to get there, where to stay and a couple places you might want to visit while there. Last week we kicked off the series with Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, and today, we’re heading right next door to the state’s most famous wine region and an international powerhouse: Napa.

Napa Valley

With over 400 wineries, a history that dates back nearly two centuries when Spanish friars first brought wine grapes to the area, and a delicious concentration of destination gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels, Napa has become a true world-class destination, so here are some of my suggestions of what to see, do and taste while you’re there.

Flying In

You have a couple airport options when planning a trip to the Napa including San Francisco International Airport, Oakland, and even San Jose if you don’t mind driving about an hour longer, so there are flight options on all the major US carriers whether you’re looking to rack up miles or use them to get here. The drive to Napa takes about 90 minutes from SFO and about an hour from Oakland.

Tasting Rooms

Visit the tasting room at Domaine Carneros for refreshing sparkling wines.
Visit the tasting room at Domaine Carneros for refreshing sparkling wines.

Down in the Carneros area, make a quick trip to the architecturally stunning Artesa Vineyards and Winery, and then sip sparkling wines at Domaine Carneros, which is owned by the Taittinger Champagne house and whose building was modeled after the historic La Marquetterie palace in France.

One of Napa’s other big names, Etude, is also nearby and is a great place to get a benchmark for the area’s renowned Pinot Noirs. For something a little less grand, head west to Anaba, an up-and-coming boutique winery that produces some of the area’s most interesting Pinots as well as an interesting assortment of interesting whites.

Farther up in the valley, I’d recommend a quick stop at Elizabeth Spencer Wines, whose tasting room is housed in the tiny building that was the former Rutherford Post Office at the corner of Highway 29 and Rutherford Road, and which produces small-batch, high-quality, hand-crafted wines.

My favorite
The G7 Major Cabernet from Gargiulo Vineyards is at the top of my list.

Gargiulo Vineyards on Oakville Cross Road is another of my favorites thanks to  their cult Merlots and Cabernets like the G7 Major Cabernet, as well as a tasting room with special touches like a floor that was reclaimed from the old St. Helena High School gym and a ceiling made from the wood of a decommissioned Napa bridge.

Hidden in a little valley at the end of Pickett Road just outside of Calistoga, Kelly Fleming Wines is one of Napa’s newest tasting rooms and appointments are limited since they only make about 1,000 cases of wine a year.

Head farther up into the hills for a visit to Ladera Vineyards on Howell Mountain in the north of the county, which is housed in a winery that dates back to 1886, then for some of the best valley views, climb even higher up winding mountain back roads to Ovid, which has garnered numerous accolades since its launch in 2005 thanks to signature Cabernets whose characteristic dark fruit notes are tempered by silky tannins.

After a day of wine tasting enjoy a meal at French Laundy
After a day of wine tasting enjoy a meal at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry.

You can’t spend all your days tasting just wines, though, so be sure to try some of the area’s most lauded restaurants like Thomas Keller’s world-famous The French Laundry (or his more casual Bouchon or Ad Hoc), Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, and the casual Italian fare at one of Napa’s hottest restaurants, Oenotri, or go for something lighter like the sushi at Morimoto in the town of Napa itself.


The terrace at the new boutique hotel, Andaz Napa, located downtown.
The terrace at the new Andaz Napa, located downtown.

Most of the points properties tend to be in and around the town of Napa, and include a Marriott (Category 6, 30,000 points) and a Hilton Garden Inn (Category 6, 40,000 points) off Highway 29 outside of town, and the new Andaz Napa, which was formerly the Avia, right in the center of town (Category 5, 18,000 points). There’s also the Westin Napa just across a bridge from the center of town (Category 5, 12,000-16,000 points).

Although there aren’t that many points properties around, several of the top properties in town are members of Visa Signature hotels, so though you might not be racking up hotel points, you can still get tons of valuable perks like room upgrades, food & beverage credits, free valet and internet when you book through and pay with an eligible card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card,  Citi Hilton HHonors, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more.

Deluxe rooms at the feature a fireplace and private deck.
Deluxe rooms at the Milliken Creek Inn feature a fireplace and private deck.

Cardholders have a plethora of great options including the sprawling Meadowood resort, whose three-Michelin-star restaurant has been garnering raves, the cozy little Milliken Creek Inn just outside the town of Napa itself, the famous Auberge du Soleil perched on a ridge top with commanding views of the whole valley, its secluded sister property, Calistoga Ranch, which is tucked away in a redwood grove, the eco-conscious and sleekly modern Bardessono in the charming town of Yountville, and one of my favorite resorts in the area, the ultra-luxe Carneros Inn, on a plot of land between Napa and Sonoma with cute little cottages, two beautiful pools, a spa and several restaurants including the fine-dining Farm and the more casual Boon Fly Café. The Carneros Inn is also a member of American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts where Amex Platinum cardholders can get special perks including a $100 spa credit, early check-in and late check-out.

Calistoga Ranch is a secluded luxury resort in Upper Napa Valley.
Calistoga Ranch is a secluded luxury resort in northern Napa Valley.

Whether it’s fine food and wine, a relaxing spa getaway, or just a jaunt to California wine country you want, Napa is a world-class destination that you can’t help falling in love with.

Have suggestions of your own about what to do and where to go in Napa Valley? Share your recommendations in the comments below!

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