By Alison Bailin Batz
Land here for a grape escape in wine country
Beginning in the 1860s, wineries including Charles Krug, Schramsberg and Inglenook began to spring up in Napa Valley, California.
In 1976, the Judgment of Paris took place, pitting cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays from California against the best wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy in a blind tasting. Thanks to big wins by the likes of Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley earned respect as a winemaking region – and became an overnight international tourism hot spot.
Napa Valley is a mere two-hour flight from the Valley of the Sun. Commercial flights at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport head directly into the Napa/Sonoma Regional Airport, and pilots out of Scottsdale Airport can land at Napa County Airport.
This means getting to the premier wine country in the United States has never been easier – or more affordable.
Luxury resorts abound in Napa. And while some are pricey, there are significant discounts available to guests willing to stay Sunday-Thursday. And luckily, flights are readily available during the week. Calistoga Ranch
Calistoga Ranch is an exclusive resort overlooking historic Lake Lommel that features just 50 guest lodges and 22 exquisite owner lodges. Rooms range from 600 to 3,000 square feet and boast floor-to-ceiling windows as well as outdoor shower gardens where guests can (privately) shower under the stars. There is also an award-winning spa onsite as well as one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Napa: The Lakehouse. Solely serving resort guests, the restaurant uses organic ingredients from local farmers to create evolving menus in line with the seasons.
Given the sheer number of wineries in the area, it is worth looking into the experience each one offers before booking a reservation or tour. Care to visit a cave? Blend your own wine? Ride an air tram to a tasting? Napa offers it all – and more.
Not only was Schramsberg among the first wineries in the region, it was the very first to dig into Napa’s hillside to create wine caves. Yes, caves. At any given time, as many as 2.7 million bottles of sparkling wine line the 34,000-square-foot Schramsberg caves, each aging two to 10 years before release. The vineyard offers daily tours of the caves, which culminate in a candlelit wine tasting underground. Each tour is limited to just 12 guests.
“When our wine was selected as an entry to the Paris Tasting 40 years ago, we couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on the American and global wine industry,” says CEO and master winemaker Bo Barrett. “After the win, Dad really said it best: ‘Not bad for kids from the sticks.’”
Kids from the sticks no more, the winemakers gained such acclaim those 40 years ago that their journey was profiled in the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, starring Bill Pullman, Chris Pine and Alan Rickman.
As impressive as the film and other accolades is the show-stopping chateau itself. Draped in bright green ivy, it resembles an English Gothic castle, and its tasting room is perched on the top floor to allow for some of the best vineyard views in the world.
Sterling offers guests a sky-high winery experience – literally. The “flight” into this winery is reason enough to visit. Perched atop a hillside, guests take an aerial tram – the only one of its kind in Napa – to the winery, which offers stunning views for miles in each direction.
From the moment visitors depart the tram, they are greeted with wine as they are ushered into one of several tour and tasting options. Elevated walkways and on-site art galleries abound, and motion-activated flat screens provide detailed information of all the vineyard has to offer. This is a great winery for those who prefer to tour at their own pace.
Other wineries to check out: Davis Estates, Mumm, the Castello di Amorosa, Bennett Lane, Frank Family Vineyards, Del Dotto and Inglenook.
Narrowing down dining options in Napa is nearly as difficult as choosing which wineries to visit. As with the wineries, reserving experiences versus simply making reservations is key.
Robert Mondavi Winery
Inspired by Robert Mondavi’s autobiography, Harvests of Joy, in which the icon shares how he combined his passion for Napa and business savvy with an undeniable joie de vivre to become perhaps the best-known American winemaker of all time, the Robert Mondavi Winery offers an extraordinary dining experience right on property – a rarity in the region.
During the “Harvests of Joy” lunch, which is limited to 10 people, guests are taken on a private tour of the estate and then seated in the Vineyard Room, which overlooks the famed To Kalon Vineyard and neighboring Mayacamas Mountains. Acclaimed in-house chef Jeff Mosier then uses local ingredients to dream up a three-course menu paired with some of Mondavi’s favorite wines.
Other amazing restaurants: The French Laundry, Morimoto, Redd’s, Mustard’s Grill, Celedon, Sam’s Social Club and Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.
For more information or to plan your trip, visit visitnapavalley.com