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It never rains in Napa Valley in June. At least that’s what we heard all day as we bopped around California’s wine country in a steady rain. Since we are not strangers to rain while traveling, we didn’t let a little water from the sky slow us down.
Planning a California trip provides so many options. We originally didn’t intend to go to wine country – there’s more than enough to do and eat in San Francisco.
Plus, we’ve done the wine country (Napa and Sonoma) thing twice before, with lots of wine tastings, several good meals and even a couple’s mud bath. However, we changed our plans when we got a reservation at The French Laundry.
We didn’t want to drive over an hour after an epic meal with lots of wine, especially when we could stay at the a B&B just five minutes from the restaurant. It made sense to stay overnight in Yountville.
Although we’ve done wine tastings at some of the big time wineries during the past trips, we prefer smaller producers like Nalle, Preston, Unti and Vincent Arroyo. That’s why we decided to make reservations to check out a couple small, less-touristy wineries in the Napa Valley on this trip.
To prep for the tastings, we started the morning with breakfast at the B&B. Our hostess prepared a small feast for the two of us – oatmeal brûlée, local chicken sausage and fresh fruit – a perfect base for a day of wine tasting in Napa Valley.
Wine Tasting at Fontanella Family Winery
Our first winery appointment was at Fontanella Family Winery, an independent winery on Mt. Veeder.
The winding drive took about 30 minutes, a bit longer than expected due to the rain. Once we got there, it wasn’t long until we were tasting wine and learning about the winery’s short but interesting history.
We tasted generous pours of the 2011 Mt. Veeder Chardonnay ($34), the 2011 Napa Valley Zinfandel ($36) and the 2011 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($54). Of course, we liked the most expensive wine best. However, the highlight was tasting some of the wines right out of the barrels.
Tasting the wines this way was super educationals. We could taste the difference between the wines grown in different types of soil – gravel, shale and volcanic ash. Yes, there really was a difference. We also tasted the winery’s exclusive GIII Beckstoffer Cabernet Sauvignon released each October.
We re-tasted the wines back in the tasting room and applied our new knowledge about the Mt. Veeder appellation. We considered buying a blending kit that would enable us to experiment at home but the $150 price deterred us.
Plus, we already knew that we wanted to buy a bottle of the finished product instead. As a bonus, the $20 tasting fees were waived when we bought the bottle.
Back Room Wines and Oxbow Public Market
After the educational wine tasting, we drove into Napa since we wanted to buy some wine at Back Room Wines.
Why a wine shop in Napa instead of a winery? It turns out that the wine that we loved so much at The French Laundry could only be purchased at a couple shops.
Mike and Kara Dunn of Retro Cellars make a phenomenal Petite Sirah, but their winery isn’t open to the public. Luckily, we were able to buy some bottles at this cute wine shop right near the Oxbow Public Market.
We took a quick walk through the market. Though tempted by the great options inside, we decided to create our own picnic lunch with purchases from Fatted Calf Charcuterie and Model Bakery, both located right outside the market. We purchased the most succulent porchetta seasoned with garlic, fennel, lemon and rosemary plus some Moroccan bean salad and a baguette.
We ate our delicious picnic lunch inside due to the unseasonal rain. Totally satisfied, we bought a piece of jerky for later and hit the road for our next tasting appointment at Failla Winery.
Wine Tasting at Failla Winery
We drove to St. Helena and easily found the winery, which looks more like a mountain house than a typical winery.
We joined about eight other people for a tasting in the cosy living room.
We tasted several wines, all Chardonnays and Pinots.
We enjoyed the wines, especially the Keefer Ranch and Hirsch Pinots. The price point seemed high to us, so we skipped buying any bottles and just paid the tasting fee.
As we left Napa and headed to Oakland, the rain finally stopped. Timing is indeed everything.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.