Napa Winery Guide For The Clueless Wine Lover
I actually don’t know anything about wine.
Ok, no. I know a little something about wine. Like, I finally know enough about tannins and astringency to understand why I don’t normally favor red wines. I am less confused about the whole decanting thing. I’ve learned that thin legs (which have nothing to do with legs you walk with) mean high alcohol count (which can totally affect the legs you walk with). I also get why people sniff and swirl the wine glasses, which has nothing to do with being cool, and how it is that professional wine tasters don’t get wasted after day long tastings. I know these very basic things about wine from having been to countless wine tastings and pairings and having met enough professionals in the field who have been generous with their time to teach me a thing or two. But, still, I would say that my most educated critique on wine is that it is either good or bad.
And, for most people that is the case. It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good bottle of wine, nor that I am not curious about its history, its source, and the overall artistry of wine making. Most people want that understanding, not only as consumers but as wine lovers. We want to know why certain wines work best with certain meals, and why we have an affinity to certain types of wines and not others. We are social beings and want to enhance our social experiences whenever possible. So regardless of your savviness with regards to the wine world, I encourage you to venture into Napa and visit some wineries. Here is my guide on where to start.
I recommend you kick-off your vineyard tours here. Why? Well, if you ever met Alexis Swanson Traina, Creative Director at Swanson Vineyards you would understand and maybe fall in love with her passion a little bit too. The history of Swanson Vineyards is that of a family charting new territories and solidifying the image of wine as a compliment to life’s simple pleasures.
For all its success and fame, the language of Swanson Wines is non-intimidating, approachable and tangible to those who visit for a tasting or a pairing session. It is welcoming on many levels of the wine experience spectrum, satisfying the appetite and curiosity of even the most enthusiastic wine lover. Through Alexis’ Napa Blog, readers are brought into this world, given information, connected with and encouraged to be adventurous, give wine a try, either on its own or through pairings. Recommendations are made, tips are given, information is shared all while speaking at the level of those who just really want to be exposed and informed about great wines, practices, and ways to connect with others of similar interests. I felt completely relaxed here. I know Alexis’ lovely demeanor had a lot to do with it, but I think the few sips of their Angelica also help.
In the Rutherford region of Napa Valley, this family-owned site is just breathtaking. Made up of 350 acres of planted vineyards, as well as gardens and orchards, this location, despite not being in full bloom when I visited, represented what I always envisioned Napa Valley to look like. They go beyond just the wine tasting experience, offering guests Olive Mill experiences as well as Garden experiences.
I had a chance to taste their wines and olive oils, some of which I had to take home with me, but I most loved the scene and what it felt like to be in such a beautiful place. The commitment to the overall experience is definitely felt here, making this a great stop, especially in the right season.
This former equestrian trail now serves as a family-owned winery estate with a hospitality center for private events as well as events opened to the public. Through tours and tastings, you get a good history of the winery, the family, and even see signs of its former self in the stables-turned-barrel rooms. The most impressive event spot here is the Barrel Room, where I and other guests of the Wine Sisterhood had the opportunity to feast on Chef John Sorenson’s Lobster Feed (check out my Eating Your Way Through Napa post).
Even if hosting a private event is not what you have in mind, or within budget, it’s still a nice experience to have and a great tour to take. Plus I really enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc.
Each of these three vineyards felt very different from one another and yes, I walked away with a favorite, as I suspect most would depending on their personal preferences and tastes. But the secret to enjoying your experience in Napa, regardless of your knowledge (or lack thereof) of wine, is in opening yourself up to it all, ask the questions, and taste, taste, taste!
A perfect place to end your winery tours in Napa is at Conn Creek, where I had my first ever wine blending experience.
In the beautiful Ava Room a Conn Creek appointed wine educator will walk you through the regions and the differentiating factors that make their wines so distinct from one another. You are allowed to taste wines from each region, and then after very simple and guided instructions you are invited to blend wines of your choice to create what would be the perfect blend for you.
My palate is not all that receptive when it comes to red wines, but I was still able to identify the things that made me dislike them the most (those darn tannins!) and what I preferred, even within this category of wines. I definitely walked away with a better understanding and insight of what it is I should look for when choosing a wine for my tastes in stores closer to home.
Plus, blending my own wine was really cool, an activity open to anyone who would want it. Of all the experiences I had around wines, this was by far my favorite one.
I tend to venture into the world of wine enthusiasts without shame or remorse of my ignorance because among the best of them are people who understand and remember that wine, like food, has the capacity to bring people together, regardless of what they know or not. Wine, like food, can serve as a compliment to social festivities where friendships are often fostered and memories are made. In the world of wine aficionados, it is those who are true to this ideology that I tend to gravitate to the most and where my loyalty as a consumer is established because in seeing their wine anywhere else I am drawn to the memory of a wonderful time, an interesting conversation, or a beautiful moment and in the end, isn’t that what it is really all about?
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Wine Sisterhood Gathering 2012 and their sponsors during my visit to Napa, CA. All the opinions expressed here are my own.