Napa Valley Getaway
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A few weeks ago my husband and I enjoyed a quick getaway with another couple to wine country in northern California. Sunkissed vineyards, long afternoons sipping bubbles at the spa, artisanal meals with expertly paired wines… it was the perfect relaxing vacation away from the kids.
I love planning vacations and consider myself pretty adept at putting together the perfect itinerary, but once we had decided to visit wine country I was completely overwhelmed by our options. There are over 600 wineries in the Napa/Sonoma region! Fortunately, several of our friends and family members have visited the area so I did have a good starting place to solicit recommendations.
As for our accommodations, we decided to stay at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort and Spa, upon the recommendation of my sister-in-law. We also looked into Meritage Resort and Spa, which looked absolutely gorgeous online but was a little pricier than what we wanted. Ultimately, I’m happy we went with The Lodge. The rooms were nice (ours had a fireplace!) and there were lots of great amenities on property. We enjoyed yoga each morning, and they offered a hike afterwards which I would have liked to participate in if we’d had more time. On Friday morning, they planned a special “Birdwatching and Bubbly” experience but it got rained out the week we were there :(. In the afternoons a different winery came to the hotel for a tasting experience - free for guests!
Perhaps the best thing about our hotel, however, was the on-site restaurant, Carneros Bistro. We ate breakfast here each morning and it was my favorite meal of the trip! The eggs benedict and chilaquiles were incredible, and the perfect hearty fuel for a long day of sampling wine.
We started our tour in Sonoma at Corner 103, which was right down the street from our hotel. Side note: Sonoma has an ADORABLE little town square with a beautiful grassy park area, lots of cute shops, and, of course, tasting rooms. I chose to begin our trip at Corner 103 because they offered a fun tasting experience with local cheeses, compotes, nuts, etc. Although my trip mates and I enjoy wine, none of us are connoisseurs, so I thought this would be a good learning experience, and it absolutely was! In addition to recognizing how different foods affect the flavor of wine and understanding the whole process of swirling and sniffing, we also learned that we have a dominant nostril! Go ahead, try it out! Crazy, right? The wines at Corner 103 were delicious and, best of all, the experience was totally fun and unpretentious.
We got lots of great recommendations from our guide at Corner 103, so we spent a bit of time walking around Sonoma and checking out the tasting rooms there. My girlfriend and I both wanted to enjoy some bubbly so we drove a few minutes out of town to Gloria Ferrer, known for their sparkling wines. The experience here wasn’t as personalized as Corner 103, but the view was stunning! Later in the week we went to another sparkling wine house, Mumm, which was tastier, but that Gloria Ferrer view is to die for.
We went back to the hotel and cleaned up for dinner at Cole’s Chophouse, which got great reviews but was not any better than a nice steakhouse back home, in my opinion. It was also about 40 minutes away, which was not ideal. Honestly, none of our restaurant choices were overly impressive (minus the hotel breakfast), so I’d love to hear some recommendations for the next time we visit!
Everyone I polled about where to go in Napa mentioned Robert Sinksey Vineyards. The vineyards are completely organic and sustainable, which has numerous benefits, not least of which are delicious food and wine! We opted for the Perfect Circle tour, which included a tour of the gardens, cellar, and caves. When we got back inside, we were treated to locally produced small dishes paired with six different wines. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted more flavorful food anywhere. Ever. The owner’s wife is a professional chef, so in addition to wine, Robert Sinksey prides themselves on expertly prepared recipes. The use of fresh, organic ingredients is apparent, and I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy some dishes that I would not have otherwise chosen. If you get the opportunity to visit Napa, I would definitely recommend treating yourself to this experience. If you happen to visit on a Saturday or Sunday, they offer an even more immersive food and wine experience, which includes some of their retired vintage selections.
I am more of a white wine/rosé type of girl but my absolute favorite red wine is from Napa Valley, so I knew we couldn’t miss an opportunity to stop by Caymus Vineyards. If velvet had a flavor, it would taste like their Cabernet Sauvignon. Unlike most other cabs I’ve tried, Caymus doesn’t have that super dry, sharp aftertaste. It is silky smooth all the way down. It’s also $80 a bottle, but what can I say, I have good taste. Another fun discovery at Caymus was their unoaked Chardonnay. I mentioned that I prefer white wines, but Chardonnay has always been an exception - until now. I don’t care for that buttery, almost thick taste that most chardonnays have (looking at you, Yellow Tail). We learned on this trip that that flavor is due to the wine aging in oak barrels. The unoaked variety, which I’d never seen until our visit to Napa, has a much crisper finish.
Fun fact: I assumed that all wine was aged in barrels, but many are placed in stainless steel or even concrete tanks.
Unlike me, the group of people I was with have an affinity for red wines, so we also stopped by Peju, Silver Oak, and the *elite* Opus One winery. Opus wines come in around $300 a bottle, and they can’t hold a candle to Caymus, in my very uneducated opinion. :) Another fun fact is that Silver Oak vineyards are the only ones in Napa Valley to age their wines in barrels made from American oak, which actually come from a factory in Missouri. The rest of the vineyards use French oak.
Some interesting points about our trip: we began our vacation midweek, flying in on a Tuesday and leaving Saturday. We never had to fight crowds, and I think we got a better experience than we might have if we’d visited the vineyards on a weekend. We also went during spring, which is their off season. Harvest is in the fall, and I definitely want to go back to see the grapes, but again, the lack of crowds during spring was a huge perk. We only had three full days to explore and there is so much more I would like to have done. Napa is only a short drive from San Francisco, so next time I'd like to take a couple of days to explore the Bay area as well. If you choose to do the same, make sure you get a CityPASS to take advantage of all the tourist destinations on the cheap.