Outside of France’s Champagne region, Napa Valley and Napa, CA, come immediately to mind when you think about winemaking. Some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons you’ll find on the continent come from California. But to truly appreciate the labor of love that goes into each bottle, you’ll want to visit some of the region’s small-label wineries. Book a room at a fabulous hotel in Sonoma and get ready to follow the grape from vine to wine.
Winery Tours = Big Business for Big-Name Wineries
Years ago, some of California’s large-scale winery operations figured out how to harvest an extra reward for their businesses: Create winery tours. These tours are extraordinarily popular and big business for the state’s big-name wineries, especially in Napa Valley. There’s even a Napa Valley Wine Train for those who want to sip wines on the rails that wind through breathtaking California scenery.
Bypass the Crowds for More Intimate Napa Winery Tours
Along with those big names come busloads of visitors and the inevitable waiting for tours. Some of the best winery tours you can experience are the ones at smaller vineyard operations. (Check out Hipmunk for affordable deals on Napa hotels and accommodations in surrounding neighborhoods.)
From your hotel in the town of Calistoga in Napa Valley’s northern end, make an appointment to visit with Rudy von Strasser of von Strasser Winery. Nestled high on Diamond Mountain Road, Rudy gives his guests a personalized tour and samplings of his rare single-vineyard specialties.
If you stay in a Northwest Marin hotel, you’ll be close to some lesser-known (but no lesser important) wineries, like Easkoot Cellars and its stunning cool-climate Pinot Noirs you’d swear couldn’t possibly come from California.
There’s one point of interest you might notice at some of the hillside winery locations: caves. They not only serve a functional purpose (keeping the wines cool), but they also provide some unique photo ops you wouldn’t find at the wineries hugging the Napa Valley floor.
Common Courtesies for Exploring Napa’s Family Wineries
When planning a visit to any of these small-label wineries, it’s a good idea to keep two basic courtesy points in mind.
First, don’t show up unannounced. Call ahead and make an appointment. Since owners or winemakers typically host the tours, they generally can’t accommodate tour requests on the fly. Reserving a tour ensures a quality, pleasant experience for both you and your host.
While some wineries may charge for a tour and tasting, it’s always courteous to thank your hosts for the tour by buying a bottle or two before you leave. Now that’s worthy of a toast!
Michael Vyskocil is a travel writer who enjoys writing about unique people, places, and things to do in locales across the country. His tourism and travel industry experience includes writing for Hipmunk. Michael’s tourism career spans more than seven years in Gettysburg, PA, at visitor destinations such as the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, and the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum.
Image via Flickr by John Morgan