This unique wine country web site recommends which wineries are worth visiting and why. The site gives individual winery recommendations and maps out tours for visiting the best wineries in each California wine region.
The Margrit Mondavi Summer Concert Series 2018 – 49th Year
The Margrit Mondavi Summer Concert Series is one of the great summer traditions in the Napa Valley. Check your travel calendar and purchase your tickets as soon as you can. The Margrit Mondavi Summer Concert Series takes place on five consecutive Saturday evenings beginning June 30 through July 28. Tickets are on sale as of April 10.
“The Margrit Mondavi Summer Concert Series began in 1969 when Mrs. Mondavi’s passion for the arts was put on the big stage. In its 49-year history, the series has raised millions of dollars to support a number of Napa Valley-based charitable music organizations. In keeping with this tradition, Robert Mondavi Winery will donate proceeds from this year’s ticket sales to the Napa Valley Unified School District’s music programs.”
Announcing Events at Copia – The CIA presents Conversations at Copia
Each month the CIA at Copia in Napa will host weekend-long Conversations on timing topics of that impact our lives. The next event will be on April 7-8, Sustainable Seafood and Bay Area Watersheds. We as individuals can contribute to sustaining the wondrous world of water and marine activities. For more information on this event, please see Conversations.
Beringer has several levels of tasting wine ranging in price from $25 to $100
The Napa Valley is one of the hottest wine travel destinations in the world
Tasting wine at a Napa Valley winery varies from $20 to $100, depending upon the level of tastings
Many Napa Valley wineries require an appointment for tasting wines
This is the fifth year in succession that we have tracked Napa Valley tasting room fees. This is an unscientific study with a small sample of wineries. The intent is to give wine country travelers an idea of what it costs to taste wine in the Napa Valley. A trip to the Napa Valley is expensive these days. With the economy booming, Napa Valley is a fashionable getaway and a paradise for folks with plenty of splurge money. For the Napa Valley Tasting Room Index, we have chosen the same set of wineries as last year. These are wineries on Highway 29 that are accessible and popular with tourists. The cost of the tasting is for the bottom-tier level of tasting. Many wineries have several levels of tastings of all types. Be aware that most wineries require an appointment for the top tier and exclusive wine tasting experiences.
Napa Valley Tasting Room Index 2018 – Tasting Room Fees
These wine tasting fees represent the entry-level wine tasting.
Alpha Omega – $50 for two reds and two whites*
Beaulieu Vineyards – $30 for four wines
Beringer Wines – $25*
Grgich Hills – $25 for five wines*
Louis Martini – $25 for four wines*
Peju Province – $35 for four wines
Provenance – $30 for five wines
Pestoni Family Estate – $20 for four wines*
Sequoia Grove – $25 for four wines
Whitehall Lane – $25 for four wines*
The Napa Valley Tasting Room Index for 2018 is an average of $29. This compares to the 2017 rate of $27.50.
Six things you need to do when you go wine tasting
As Spring approaches, the vineyards awaken from their winter sleep, and it’s time to go wine tasting in California, Oregon and Washington. Whether a first-timer or veteran wine country traveler, we offer these six things you need to do when you go wine tasting. Be safe and get the most out of your wine country getaway.
It seems obvious yet, time and time again, people drive under the influence. It is easy enough to do if you visit several wineries for wine tasting. The local sheriff and Highway Patrol are always patrolling the main routes and popular backroads. Have a designated driver or hire a driver for the day. It is not worth the risk of endangering your life and the lives of others or spending the night in jail.
Hire a driver for your day of wine tasting
Visit a small number of wineries
Don’t try and jam in a packed day of visiting tasting rooms. The idea is to discover a winery, take a tour, or do a food pairing, or a barrel tasting. Sip and enjoy the wines and enjoy the conversation about the wines with your server and others in the tasting room. We recommend three wineries in one day. One in the mid to late morning, one at lunchtime, and finish with a late afternoon visit. A picnic lunch at a winery is a terrific way to relax and enjoy the serenity of wine country.
Picnicking at a winery is always relaxing and fun
No distractions in the tasting room
This means no cologne or perfume. Strong scents are a no-no in the tasting room. It interferes with your tasting senses as well as others in the room. The tasting room guests will surely be put off by these fragrances. Keep the conversation down. Have fun but be courteous to others in the tasting room. A big distraction in the tasting room can be unruly children. Same goes for pets.
Don’t be a distraction in the tasting room
Think twice about joining the wine club
For a winery, the wine club is a huge source of income. Direct sales to their wine club members are the most profitable arrangement for selling wine. Wine clubs can be fun for members. Perks include winery parties and food events. Some wine clubs offer certain wines only to wine club members. It is often tempting to join a wine club because the wine is excellent, your server is gracious, and perhaps you are a bit overserved. You are in a vulnerable situation. But, how about shipping costs? How about receiving varieties of wines that are not your favorites? The wine events usually are costly. We have joined several wine clubs over our many years of wine tasting. We have learned from experience that it is best not to join a winery’s wine club. The Pros and Cons of joining a winery’s wine club.
This winelover just joined the wine club at this winery
Make it Educational
The main aspect of visiting wine country is having fun, but also make it educational. Use the tasting notes provided in the tasting room and see if you can detect the listed aromas and characteristics. Ask questions about how the wine was fermented and aged. A wine pairing with small snacks or appetizers is helpful in learning how wine interacts with food. How about doing a barrel tasting? Find out what wine tastes like in the barrel after just a few months or one year. A vineyard walk is always informative.
A bottle of wine begins in the vineyard
Buy some Wine
Tasting fees can vary from wine region to wine region. Napa Valley is the most expensive followed by Sonoma. If the wine tasting fees are not way out of line, it is always nice to help out the wineries by purchasing wine. This is especially true for the small family-owned wineries. The small wineries usually do not have a distributor, and direct sales are the best way to be profitable.
A six pack of wine is a great way to bring back memories of your trip
Here we are in an old vine vineyard in the St. Helena AVA. It’s February and temperatures are in the mid 70’s. The wild mustard looks radiant, surrounding the old vine. The vineyard is not marked, but the old vine is either Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon. Although we have little rainfall, the wild mustard in the Napa Valley is one of the best seasons in recent memory. Take a ride to the Napa Valley and experience one of nature’s delights.
Please see the attached press release below for Lodi’s Wine and Chocolate Weekend on February 10 and 11, 2018. The weekend is the perfect opportunity to sip a diverse selection of handcrafted Lodi wines and sample delicious sweet and savory chocolate bites while visiting more than 50 Lodi appellation wineries. For more information visit www.lodiwineandchocolate.com. Please email me to request any media tickets.
Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend – 2/10 and 2/11
The Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend is a significant event in Lodi, celebrating its 21st year. Lodi is one of wine country’s best-kept secrets. Most folks think Lodi as producing only bulk wines. Think again; Lodi wines are on the upswing. Here is a link to complete details on the Wine & Chocolate Weekend. The weekend is the perfect opportunity to sample a diverse selection of quality Lodi wines and delicious chocolate bites while visiting more than 50 Lodi appellation wineries.
WINE ENTHUSIAST 10 Best Wine Getaways 2018
Among the 10 Best Wine Getaways 2018 are San Luis Obispo and, surprisingly, the Grand Valley, Colorado. San Luis Obispo is an old favorite of ours for exploring wineries, vineyards and food. We have not been to the Grand Valley, but it looks very promising. It is now on our must-visit list. See the Wine Enthusiast wine destinations for 2018.
What’s this? Mushrooms are healthy food, plus mushrooms add Umami to the mix. The Blendtarian Movement uses mushrooms blended with other ingredients. Try chopped mushrooms mixed with ground beef to make a better and healthier hamburger. Here are two links to the Blendtarian Movement.
Now does this alter your wine choices? I think red wine is best, and a medium-to-heavy bodied earthy wine is perfect. What do you think?
Zinfandel Experience January 18 to 20
The Zinfandel Experience is a wine and food extravaganza. It is one of the most popular wine tastings in California. For over 20 years, Zinfandel fans have flocked to this event in San Francisco. For complete details and to purchase tickets: https://zinfandelexperience.com.
Gary Farrell Winery
Congratulations to the Gary Farrell Winery. The winery has donated $30,000 to the Wine Country Fires Relief Program. The Gary Farrell Winery is the producer of exquisite Pinot Noir wines.
The Sullivan Vineyards in Rutherford in the Napa Valley has been acquired by VITE. VITE is a private investment group with a focus on the fine wine industry. The historic Sullivan Vineyards encompasses 26 acres, and the acquisition also includes the winery. The vineyards are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon.
The old barn tasting room originally constructed in 1904
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello makes for a unique wine country visit
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello is one of California’s most esteemed wineries. Ridge’s wine was one of the California wines entered in the “Judgement of Paris” competition in 1976. The tasting was revisited in 2006 and 2015 with the same wines, California vs Bordeaux. While the Ridge wine was not the top selection in 1976, it was the best in the next two taste-offs. Paul Draper, the winemaker for 48 years, is one of the most respected winemakers worldwide. That should be reason enough to want to visit Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello. Yes, the wine is fantastic, but we love other aspects of visiting this winery.
There are two Ridge Vineyards locations. Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello is the original winery (1959) and Ridge Lytton Springs (1991) is near Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Monte Bello specializes in Bordeaux varieties, but Lytton Springs is all about Zinfandel. We visited Ridge Monte Bello last week. It has been a good ten years that we had been to this location, and it was an excellent experience. We love the ride from Highway 280 in Cupertino up Monte Bello Road. It is a three-mile ride to the Ridge mountaintop location. One would hardly guess in this high-tech region there would be a winery nestled high above the Silicon Valley.
The views are spectacular. On a clear day, views of San Francisco, the East Bay, and the Silicon Valley are breathtaking. Watch out for cyclists on the narrow, windy road to the top. Cyclists cherish the workout and, better yet, the exhilarating ride down the mountain.
We visited on a Friday. During the week Ridge Monte Bello requires reservations. On Saturday and Sunday, the winery is open to the public 11 am to 4 pm. During the week, appointments are daily at 11 am and 2 pm. The $35 per person fee includes a tasting of five wines and some small bites to accompany the wines. See visiting details.
Our host Allison Mayo greeted us with a glass of the Ridge Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is beautifully balanced with a touch of minerality. The Chardonnay is the only white wine made at Ridge Monte Bello. We then took a short vineyard walk. Most impressive and a “must see” on a visit are the Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in 1949. They are withered and aged but still produce grapes that are used in the Ridge wine. What a sight to see these vines at the very top of Monte Bello with the Silicon Valley below.
Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1949
What a spectacular venue for a wine country picnic. Ridge has several picnic benches and is planning a new one that affords the views mentioned above. Pack your lunch, order your wine, and sit back and enjoy the experience. Picnic tables are on a first-come basis.
Now back to the cozy tasting room for visitors with an appointment. We sat comfortably while Allison poured us four red wines to savor. Allison explained each Ridge wine in detail without being overbearing. Sometimes you get too much information or a hard sell on buying wines or joining the wine club. Allison’s presentation was just perfect. As for the wines, they are all fantastic. The last wine in the tasting was the Ridge flagship wine and the one entered in the Paris competition, the Monte Bello. We sampled the 2014, a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. At $200 a bottle, it is out of our league, but what a treat to have it as part of the tasting!
The five wines we tasted: Chardonnay, Lytton Springs Zinfandel, Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, and the Monte Bello
There is something special in the terroir at Monte Bello. The high altitude brings a huge difference in temperatures. Night time temps drop dramatically at this altitude. The soil is limestone, adding a touch of minerality to the wines. And, what can we say about Cabernet old vines and the intensity of flavors they produce!
Another reason to love Ridge is the philosophy of the winery. The original owners, four Stanford engineers, purchased the old property and released their first vintage in 1962. They basically wanted to grow the grapes with as little harm to the environment as possible. Today, that philosophy is carried on by the new owners, a Japanese pharmaceutical company. The vineyards are dry-farmed and the vines are organically certified. Most of the staff is full time and some even live on the property. Now, that’s loyalty to your employees.
Some very fun Things to do in wine country in January
As the saying goes, “Just Do It,” and head to wine country in January. California wine country is so beautiful and lovely this time of the year. Crowds are few and far between and tasting rooms are quiet. The vineyards with their bare, wild-looking vines are a spectacular sight. Wild mustard and cover crops add another layer of beauty to the rows of vines. Yes, there can be some rainy days but overall January is a very inviting month in California wine country. Here are several suggestions for fun things to do in January in wine country.
Bare vines with cover crops just beginning to grow
Visit tasting rooms and take a wine tour – January is best
This is why wine travelers come to the wine country, to sample wines made by various wineries. The difference in January is that the tasting rooms are much less crowded. In the smaller wineries, you might find the winemaker, assistant winemaker, or owner working the tasting room. Chances are you will get more attention and likely an extra taste of something special. If the tasting room offers a tour, take it. The cellar is usually quiet as well. The flurry of harvest is over and now most of the grape juice is resting and aging.
Take a hike
Yes, it may be chilly but hiking in wine country is invigorating. Work up an appetite and take in views most travelers do not see in wine country. Check our Things to Do in each of our wine regions and you find some very nice hiking paths and trails. We like hiking the Napa Vine Trail from Yountville towards Napa. In Healdsburg, we love the Healdsburg Ridge Hike.
Treat yourself to a massage, a mudbath, or a facial
Spa treatments can be found in any of the wine regions. Napa Valley and Sonoma are particularly known for their many spas. Calistoga in the Napa Valley has made the mud bath and hot springs an inviting activity.
Shop the boutique shops and art galleries
Each wine country town has an excellent collection of boutique shopping and art galleries. Around the Plaza in Healdsburg, the Sonoma Plaza, or Paso Robles City Park, you can shop all day long. Antiquing is also a good choice. The bonus in January is that there are fewer travelers and more time to browse and get great deals. If you want to combine wine tasting and art, follow the Art and Wine Lovers Trail in the Napa Valley.
Head to Mendocino
Mendocino is a very romantic town on the Pacific Coast. But getting there adds to the experience. The Anderson Valley is on the way to Mendocino. It is the land of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Alsatian white wine varieties. Highway 128 to the coast is breathtaking. The town of Boonville in the Anderson Valley is a delight. We love what we call the Big Three wineries. Pack a lunch and, even in cold weather, picnicking among the vineyards is rejuvenating.
Head to romantic Mendocino and, on the way, taste wine in the Anderson Valley
Events in January 2018
Because January is the quietest month in wine country, several wine regions schedule planned events. Here is a list:
Napa Valley Restaurant Week January 21 to 28
Enjoy lunch and dinner with multi-course prix-fixe menus. Lunch $20, dinner is $36 or $46. See details at Napa Valley Restaurant Week
Winter Wineland January 13, 14 in Healdsburg Area – this can get crowded and hectic, but folks love this annual event. See details
Calistoga’s Winter in the Wineries Passport The event runs from December 2 to February 4, 2018. Purchase passports and enjoy activities at 17 Calistoga wineries. See details at Winter in the Wineries Passport 2017-2018.
Boutique shopping in Paso Robles around the City Park
The new Archer Hotel is open as of December 1, 2017
Archer Hotel Napa is open in downtown Napa
The long anticipated wait is over. Napa’s downtown biggest hotel has opened. The Archer Hotel Napa began taking guests at the end of November of 2017. A rooftop restaurant and retail shops will open in early 2018. For current dining, the Archer Hotel Napa has Charlie Palmer Steak on the lobby floor. The Archer Napa is a luxury hotel with a spectacular interior. The months of December and January are the quietest months in the Napa Valley. Check the Archer Hotel Napa room rates, and just maybe the hotel will offer some specials during this time of the year. See additional lodging in the town of Napa.
Rutherford Grill veggie burger almost looks like the perfect hamburger
Rutherford Grill strikes again with its Veggie Burger
One of the most popular dining spots in the Napa Valley is the Rutherford Grill. The lunch crowd includes locals, vintners and tourists. Bring a bottle of Napa Valley wine, no corkage. The Rutherford Grill has menu items that have become cult-like. These include the cornbread, the rotisserie chicken and butternut squash enchiladas. We now can add the Rutherford Grill Veggie Burger to the list. We dined at this cozy restaurant last Friday, and we all agreed the veggie burger is delicious. It almost looks like a regular hamburger. In fact, our waitperson told us that very often when she brings the veggie burger to the table, the customer reacts with “I ordered a veggie burger, not a hamburger.” The Hillstone Restaurant Group that owns the Rutherford Grill is very secretive about their recipes. One can Google “Hillstone secret recipes” and likely discover what amounts to a very close match to the real recipe.
The Rutherford Grill is at 1180 Rutherford Road in Rutherford. It is on the corner but easy to miss driving along HIghway 29. If you do not have a reservation, prepare to wait a significant time outside in the lovely garden. Of course, that is a good excuse to order a glass of wine. In Yountville, the Rutherford Gill has a sister restaurant, also very popular, the R & D Kitchen.