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.
Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index for 2019
2019 Napa Valley Wine Tasting Index
We started the Napa Valley Wine Tasting Index Fee in 2014. Back in 2014, the average tasting fee on our Index was $18.50. Today it is $30.50. We are using ten wineries along Highway 29. These wineries allow drop-in visitors to the tasting room. We are using the cost of a basic tasting for this index. In the late 1960s, when Janelle and I first began to visit the Napa Valley, no wineries that we visited charged a tasting fee. Ah, the good old days of the Napa Valley!
This year we were quite surprised to find the smallest increase on a year-to- year basis since we started tracking tasting fees. $30.50 vs $29 from a year ago. Perhaps the wineries are in the mindset that the fees for the entry level tasting fee has reached a saturation point.
Most of the Napa Valley wineries have discovered it is much more profitable to have elaborate wine tastings, accompanied by foods to the match the wines. Indeed, one restaurateur who recently closed his restaurant citied wineries offering food for the decline in his restaurant’s patronage.
Elaborate tastings combining foods, tours, and barrel tasting can easily be over the $100 range. These require reservations.
Wineries and the Basic Tasting Fee
Tasting fees will change periodically throughout the year. Always check the winery’s website for the latest information on tastings and fees.
Mustard growing in vineyards owned by Frog’s Leap next door to the Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena
About mustard season in wine country
In the Napa Valley and Sonoma County, and in other wine regions, it is the mustard season in wine country. The Napa Valley once had an annual “Mustard Festival” that ran from January to the end of March. A whole set of events were featured around the mustard plant. The idea of the event was to draw visitors to the area during this beautiful season in wine country.
The Mustard Festival may be long gone, but the mustard plant puts on a show during this time like no other. It is beautiful! Where did the mustard plant originate in wine country? Folklore has it that the Franciscan Missionaries dropped mustard seeds as they walked through the countryside looking for sites to establish Missions.
Today there is some wild mustard growing here and there, but many vineyard managers plant mustard as a cover crop. Mustard seeds will continue to grow year after year without a need to replant. The seeds sprout after the first heavy rains in December, and usually one month later the plants display their wonderful bright yellow color. At the end of March, when the pruning of the vines is completed, the mustard plant is plowed under. Such is the life of the mustard plant in wine country.
Because of the astonishing rainfall in December 2018 and now in February, mustard is flourishing. Mustard looks it best on any type of day. It is a wonder.
Rolando Herrera, owner and winemaker at Mi Sueño in the Napa Valley
Learn about your local winemakers
NBC Bay Area TV: Bay Area Revelations is an award-winning series. The program returns on December 8, 2018, at 10 pm. Bay Area winemakers will be featured in a new documentary: America’s Wine Country. America’s Wine Country features vintners whose stories have been instrumental in shaping our wine country to world-class fame.
From our own wine country backyard in Northern California, winemakers featured are: Warren Winiarski, the founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Rolando Herrera, owner of Mi Sueño Winery, Bo Barrett from Chateau Montelena, Randall Grahm from Bonny Doon, Carolyn Wente from Wente Vineyards, Dick Grace of Grace Family Vineyards and the family at Gundlach Bundshu.
If you love wine, you will love this series on wine country. Here is a preview of Revelations.
Bay Area Revelations - America's Wine Country - December 8, 2018 - YouTube
Wine writer Eric Asminov identifies and describes the best wine books published in 2018. If you are looking for a gift idea for your family member or friend who loves wine, a wine book might be the perfect gift. See this link: Wine Books
The Inglenook Chateau is beautiful in December. Take a tour or taste wine at this historic Napa Valley winery
Five Fun Things to Do in December in the Napa Valley
Click to view slideshow.
How to have fun in the Napa Valley in December
December and January are certainly the quietest times in the Napa Valley. Fewer tourists come at this period of the year, so everything is much less crowded. Yes, we do have rainy days in these two months, but more than likely there will many sunny and crisp days to enjoy the greatest wine region in the world. Here are five fun things to do in Winter in the Napa Valley.
Pauper’s Feast at the Calistoga Inn
We are on the docket to attend this wonderful local annual event. The Pauper’s Feast is held every December in the restaurant at the Calistoga Inn. The date is Thursday, December 20. There is a set menu at a very reasonable price and a local group that sings Holiday cheer. Reservations are recommended at the Calistoga Inn Restaurant. If you cannot make the Pauper’s Feast, you can substitute a walk up and down the streets of Calistoga. Calistoga is much more laid back than the rest of the Napa Valley. There are plenty of tasting rooms, boutique shops, quaint restaurants, and even a museum. Calistoga rocks!
Visit the Oxbow Public Market
The main portion of the Oxbow Public Market is inside, so when it is raining it’s the perfect place to visit while in Napa. The Oxbow Public Market is a bevy of activity each day. There are artisan vendors selling spices, tea, grass-feed beef, organic produce, plus much more. There are several gourmet fast food services, and two that we can highly recommend are C Casa and Ca’Momi. The Oxbow is an excellent spot to relax and sit while sipping coffee or wine and do some serious people watching.
See Wine Country Photography – Order prints
Tour the Inglenook Chateau
Inglenook is the winery that film director Francis Ford Coppola brought back to its former glory. It is a stunning Chateau, as you can see from the photo at the top. The tour is one of the best, as well it should be at the price of $50 per person. The tour gives a fabulous look back at the wine history of the Napa Valley. The Chateau also has a bistro where you can sip wine or expresso and order a cheese plate and just do some serious relaxing. Explore the wine merchandise shop and the memorabilia around the different rooms of the Chateau. Enjoy the scenery of the surrounding vineyards. See Inglenook Experience.
Visit historic Greystone in St. Helena
Greystone was once the home of the Christian Brothers and their winery. Now the Culinary Institute of America runs its educational activities for professionals and non-professionals. The historic building is just north of the downtown area of St. Helena. Explore the culinary shop and take a stroll to see some of the old Christian Brothers Cellars. Also on site is the Wine Spectator Restaurant with terrace views that are spectacular. Greystone was built in 1889. More information on Greystone
Take in the photography exhibit at Mumm Napa and sip some sparkling wine
Over on the Silverado Trail, you will find Mumm Napa, producing excellent sparkling wines. One of the little-known aspects of Mumm Napa is their fantastic art gallery. There are two sections to the art gallery. One has a permanent photo exhibit of selected works of the great Ansel Adams. The other gallery hosts rotating exhibits. Currently, photographs by Todd Hido are on display. Tours and tastings are available for a fee, but the art gallery is open to the public. Check the Mumm Napa Website for complete visiting details.
Quaint and rustic on the outside, grand on the inside
Tasting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at Talbott Vineyards
The Monterey Bay offers many vacation adventures by the sea. One of those adventures is tasting wine in Carmel-by-the-Sea and in Carmel Valley. We spent a couple of days exploring the Carmel area in search of wine, food, and other delights. From our Four Sisters Coachman Inn, Carmel Valley is 25 minutes away. It is here where we focus our wine tasting experience at Talbott Vineyards.
Before we visit Talbott Vineyard, our top priority is to stop and purchase our picnic lunch goodies. Very near Talbotts is the Jerome’s Carmel Valley Market. This is where the natives’ shop. Jerome’s makes delicious and very big deli sandwiches. What a treat!
During the week, the Carmel Valley has very light traffic. We had the entire Talbott tasting room to ourselves as well as the Talbott picnic area. Our host Josh was able to devote much attention to our party of six. It is $20 to taste five wines, three Chardonnay wines, and two Pinot Noir wines.
About Talbott Vineyards
Robert Talbott and his wife Audrey founded the winery in 1984. Robert and Audrey created R. Talbott’s men’s store, featuring handmade ties. The success of the business led to their adventures in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Talbotts Vineyards is one of the most successful wineries in Carmel Valley.
The Talbotts retired in 2015 and sold the winery and the label to Gallo Familly Wines. So far, Gallo appears to be carrying on with the excellent tradition of quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir comes from two exciting vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. These mountain vineyards are about 15 miles from the tasting room. The vineyards are Sleepy Hollow and Diamond T. The mountain climate conditions provide the perfect growing environment for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
I have been a fan of the Talbott Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that Safeway, and sometimes Costco, offers. Look for the Kali Hart and/or the Logan name on the labels. The wine is under $20 offering exceptional values. The remaining lineup of Talbott wines is sold exclusively out of the tasting room and to wine club members. The wines are delicious. We chose the Sarah Case Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay to share with our deli lunch. The Carmel Valley is peaceful and serene, the perfect spot for a picnic lunch!
Our two favorite wines of the tasting
Talbott Chardonnay Sarah Case 2014 – Santa Lucia Highlands AVA – $52
Talbott Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow 2014 – Santa Lucia Highlands AVA – $42
The Talbott tasting room has ample picnic areas surrounding the tasting room. There are two Bocce Courts that are shared by Talbotts and the Cowgirl Winery next door.
Quality Grape Seed Oil for sale at Talbotts Vineyards
What is the difference between the Napa Valley and Sonoma?
Should I travel to the Napa Valley or should I go to Sonoma? What is the difference between the two wine regions and which one is better?
St. Francis Winery in Sonoma. In the background are the Mayacamus Mountains.
Main differences between the Napa Valley and Sonoma
Janelle and I have been traveling to both the Napa Valley and Sonoma for many years. We are expert travelers to both wine regions. Let’s go over the significant differences between the two.
The Napa Valley runs north and south for 30 miles. To the south is the city of Napa, and at the northern end is the town of Calistoga. At its widest point, the Napa Valley is five miles. Sonoma wine region is much larger. Sonoma has three separate wine areas. First, there is Sonoma Valley near the town of Sonoma. Near Healdsburg, there are the Dry Creek Valley and the Alexander Valley. The Russian River Valley runs through the towns of Graton and Sebastopol. There are even wineries on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma.
The Napa Valley has four tourist destination towns. These are Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. Sonoma’s most popular destination towns are Sonoma and Healdsburg.
Looking down Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga
Vineyards, wine, and tasting rooms
Napa Valley wineries make many varieties of wine. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon have the greatest vineyard acreage and production. Sonoma has more varieties of wine. These wines include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, and others. The large geographic area of Sonoma lends itself to growing many types of grapes.
The Napa Valley wineries are close to one another and are easy to find and visit. Drive along Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail, and there are many wineries to visit. Most are open without an appointment. Sonoma wineries are more spread out. There are many beautiful backroads in Sonoma.
There is much more traffic and congestion in the Napa Valley. Sonoma is larger, so there are more roads to travel to wineries. Napa Valley tasting rooms can be very crowded with tourists. The same can be said for the popular Sonoma wineries.
Beautiful and quiet backroad in Sonoma County – West Dry Creek Road
Napa Valley wins the restaurant comparison. Napa Valley has many upscale restaurants. It has two top Michelin Star rated restaurants. They are the French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood. The towns of Healdsburg and Sonoma have excellent choices of restaurants. The cost of dining is higher in the Napa Valley.
Chef Thomas Keller tends to his French Laundry garden
Both the Napa Valley and Sonoma have many great choices for lodging. Budget to luxurious accommodations can be found in both regions.
Madrona Manor – excellent accommodations and upscale restaurant near Healdsburg
Napa Valley can be uppity at times. Sonoma is more laid back.
Sonoma has more small and family-owned wineries than the Napa Valley.
The Napa Valley is one of the great wine regions of the World.
A weekend stay in the Napa Valley will be more expensive than a weekend stay in Sonoma.
Do you like to picnic in the vineyards? Sonoma has many more winery picnic areas than does the Napa Valley. Napa County has restrictions on picnicking.
Both the Napa Valley and Sonoma are sensational wine countries and are both worth a visit. We highly recommend visiting both, but on separate getaways.
Cheeses of Europe – Cheese Twins tell how to serve cheese
One of the most informative sessions at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington, was the session on Cheeses of Europe. We tasted the four kinds of cheese in the photo along with white and red wines to match the various flavors of the cheese. The Cheese Twins presented a humorous and informative seminar on cheeses, and each attendee was generously given a cheeseboard.
Some things I learn for presenting and serving cheese
Serve cheese from light-to-strong. Serve dry white wines with the lighter cheese.
Serve a light red wine, as in Pinot Noir, with a stronger cheese.
Serve a a strong blue cheese with a Viognier.
Serve dried fruit and nuts for rebalancing the palate following each cheese bite.
When you serve cheese, use a flag (photo below) to name the cheese and label its characteristics.
Cheese always looks more appetizing when served on a cheese board or plate in a circular fashion.
In addition to cheese types of light-to-strong, there are soft-to-hard kinds of cheese, and cheese made from cow, goat, or sheep.
Head to a good cheese shop to start experimenting with different cheese types. Select a type of cheese you have not tried previously.
Cheese of Europe App
The Cheeses of Europe App is perfect for those learning about cheese and becoming a bonafide cheese lover. On the Home Page of the App, you can filter out the complete list of cheese by type, flavor, and milk. There are recipes and a locator for cheese shops near you. You can get the Cheeses of Europe App at this link. On the far right, use the pulldown menu to get the app for Apple or Android.
The Cheese Twins Website also has some excellent cheese recipe videos and other excellent cheese information.
Walla Walla Wineries and Tasting Rooms – Wine Country Bonanza
The town of Walla Walla is one of the great wine towns in the Western US. It rivals that of Calistoga, St. Helena, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Paso Robles, and Los Olivos. A stay in Walla Walla puts you within easy reach of a plethora of tasting rooms and boutique wineries. The pace is slow and easy in the land of Walla Walla.
Here is a novel idea. Main Street Drivers is a company that will drive you in your rental car or your own car for $35 an hour.
Revelry Cellars tasting room and wine cellars – lovely setting
Walla Walla Valley AVA
Walla Walla Valley AVA is in eastern Washington and extends to the top eastern corner of Oregon. Over 70 wineries and 2800 acres of vineyards are located in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. The wineries are mostly small and family owned. Many are recent and are taking a bold and innovative approach in producing spectacular wines. From the town of Walla Walla, many of the wineries are only a few minutes away by car. If you don’t have a car, walk the tasting rooms in town.
We visited several wineries in the Walla Walla Valley and our top five were:
Revelry Vintners – young winemaker Jared Burns crafts fine wines. Aerials label is a collection of site-specific wines. They are spectacular, as is the tasting room.
Solemn Cellars – another young winemaker, Justin Basil. The Syrah is one of the best in Washington.
Amavi Cellars – beautiful setting and reasonably-priced wines that are excellent.
Seven Hills Tasting Room – Historic Whitehouse-Crawford Building
Step out of your hotel room in downtown Walla Walla, Washington, into a world of fabulous wine tasting. Within just a few city blocks, one can find 32 wine-tasting rooms. The Main Street area of downtown Walla Walla is a paradise for wine discoveries and delights. We say 32 plus because when any business storefront closes, a wine-tasting room moves in.
We spent a few days in the town of Walla Walla. We walked out of the Marcus Whitman Hotel to roam the streets, amazed at tasting rooms one after another. All the tasting rooms visited had a reasonable tasting room fee of between $5 and $10. They also offer wines by the glass. The setting is comfortable and laid back.
Don’t miss these three tasting rooms in the town of Walla Walla
Otis Kenyon – the legend of Otis Kenyon, wines by the glass, comfortable and relaxing
Armstrong Winery – another new breed winemaker, Tim Armstrong – fantastic wines and cozy tasting room. Try this wine: David’s Folly
AirBnB’s are available and that might be the way to go for some
Dining in Walla Walla
There are a couple of decent places with pub food but for a classy meal try the Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant. We had an excellent dinner there. Whitehouse-Crawford has an extensive wine list which includes many Washington wines.
Walla Walla has a small airport with daily flights from Seattle and Portland. Fifty minutes west is the Tri-Cities Airport, a much larger airport with more choices. Alaska Airlines has the biggest presence.
There are drivers for hire, Uber, and renting a car. Many take the four-hour drive from Seattle and spend a few days in Walla Walla as well as the Tri-Cities area. We hired an Uber driver to get us back to the Tri-Cities Airport.