Heres what I recommend for most 1st timers, or "i wanna see Napa" folks.
Start in Rutherford and go South.
I'd hit Mondavi first for education, and tour. (Huge winery, great tour, nice guides)
Then go across the street to Opus One. (it's opus one)
Up the street from Mondavi/Opus is Cakebread. (popular winery)
Far Niente isn't far either. (they make some cool stuff)
Then after your done head south into Yountville. Score a French Laundry res if you can. Else hit up Kellers Bouchon. Walk around in Yountville. If you still have time in Yountville check out Domaine Chandon (sparkling, and other stuff)
make sure you look up everyones tour/tasting schedule and make a plan accordingly.
My first time in Napa was for last year's ALS charity bike ride. We did (scheduled for 60 miles) 25 miles on account of my starting to drink at 9am and continuing through out the day before the ride(what? the steward in biz class kept refilling my drink even on the way out the plane).
We stopped at Del Dotto (uber uber gaudy italian flasy crazy sh**)...but fun because we sorta snuck in and got a proper tasting there as some fool proposed.
We skipped the more popular vineyards with the limos of bachelorettes...
Zahtilla Vineyards makes, hands down, some of my favorite zinfandel on earth. I'm a big wine guy and so are Laura and her husband. Plus their dogs are really awesome.
Sullivan vineyards we had a private tasting/brunch at which was nice but not really my style.
we hit a bunch of other vineyards but the one place i aboslutely recommend you stop by at is maisonry Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley Home. They have some of the most boutique wines you'll never find anywhere else. They also srsly know how to 'walk' you around their collection of wine during a tasting. Dont miss the upstairs boutique that sells some really cool stuff.
Vineyards I wish I hit:
- Bown Estate
* we also stopped at Miner which was a bit touristy (i think some girl was there for her sweet 16, wtf?) but had a nice patio to hang out on.
Dang. If you were out by Zahtila Vineyards, then you were just a hop & skip away from Chateau Montelena. Besides making one of the better cabs in all of Napa, they have an awesome pond with a gazebo on an island in the middle of the pond. One of the prettiest settings of any winery around.
I'm not an expert, but took my first trip out there over memorial day weekend.
Cakebread had a nice personal tour - you need to make reservations ahead of time, but they take you into small groups and have the tasting out in the vineyards and vines which I thought was pretty cool. They have 2-for-1 coupons on the net for tastings (if you care)
Del Dotto was my favorite tour, mostly just because you get a ton of wine during the tastings. They take you on a cave tour through all the wine barrels, and will stop at various barrels to let you taste the wine at different stages of development. It was roughly a 2-hour tour and our guide was extremely entertaining and funny. Obviously with some of the wines still aging till they hit maturity, there will be several that don't taste great yet; they just have you throw the wine at the cave walls if you don't like it which made it pretty fun, although I drank most of mine.
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