As a day trip on my stay in San Francisco, I decided that I had to visit Napa Valley. So, I signed up via Viator for a Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Tour that picked you up at your designated hotel before 9am and ended the journey at 5pm (well it ended up being around 6:30pm since we also stopped by Golden Gate Bridge to take pictures). You will be joining the tour operator Gray Line actually.
The drivers / guides were funny, informative and professional and in general I had a good time. During lunch time, I even missed the bus (more on that later) but another driver from the same tour operator was able to drive me back to catch up with my old tour group.
Anyway here are the three wine estates I visited along with Yountville, where I had lunch. Note that there are currently about 600 wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma County, whereas during the prohibition it was about only 5-6. It was because of prohibition that actually started the wine rage and got Napa Valley to what it’s known as today.
Nicholson Ranch (website)
Our first stop wasn’t actually in Napa Valley, but in Sonoma. The microclimates in Sonoma vary differently from Napa Valley, meaning that even the grapes that are grown tend to differ because of climate preferences. Therefore, Sonoma winery estates tend to favor making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; in fact Sonoma’s climate is perfect for these types of wines.
Now in Nicholson, they are considered a boutique winery estate… in fact the number of batches they produce are small in relative to other winery estates. This is because most places, the farmers are the ones that own their own vineyards, and their focus is to concentrate on volume – to sell as much as possible to the wineries. Therefore, the wineries do not have control on the grapes.
Nicholson’s on the other hand do everything, from the start of making the grapes to making the wine. They also use a super cold stabilization so that it crystallizes and creates very clear wine. While every winery has to sulfide their wine to help age and avoid oxidation, Nicholson’s implements this too but they reduce this by not filtering. They also use dry farming to deep stress the grapes to get more of the aroma. Boutique wineries are the only ones that use this technique because volume is smaller, but since they are boutique it’s OK.
Another thing I learned from this wine estate was that pretty much every wine estate should be making Cabernet Sauvignon as it’s the most profitable of wines. You can easily earn USD 9k – 18k profits per ton, and you can usually have 6 tons of grapes per acre so most grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon.
They also have a wine club which you can join if you’re interested in getting their wines on a quarterly basis at a better rate, only available if you live in the US. They only don’t do Utah and another state… they even do Alaska.
Madonna Estate (website)
The Madonna Estate was one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley with a family history of four generations.
Richard, the man who introduced us to Madonna’s wines, also told us to ‘swish’ the wine in our mouths as we should be giving access to all 9,000 of our taste buds. This way, we also get to savour the finish of the wine.
Yountville is niiice. Beautiful restaurants, comforting location, small. I believe our tour guide also said that George Clooney owns a place nearby Yountville as well.
Anyway this was where we got dropped off for lunch.
My first dish, Tomato Soup in puff pastry. I was going to go for onion soup, but the server convinced me that the tomato soup is a must get in Yountville, and, its their specialty. I had no regrets; it was their best dish and delicious would be an underwhelming word to describe it.
Filet au Poivre, or Black Angus tournedos with a black pepper crust, haricots verts and a creamy mushroom sauce. The worst dish I had. This black angus was below average from usual, was the most expensive, and was tough to eat. Quantity’s a lot, but I only care about the taste.
So! Here’s the story of how I missed the bus.
We got dropped off, and I thought our tour guide said to be back on the bus by 2:45pm. During our tour of Madonna estate, one of our persons was already late to the bus, and the tour guide was going on for 10 minutes about how not to be late. He made it humorous, but he did mention that because otherwise it would delay everything. Then with some unlucky circumstances, I became late!
What happened was, first the tour guide actually said 2:35pm, not 2:45pm. Also, there was another Gray Line bus at the farther end of the parking lot where we were supposed to meet, and of course seeing that, I assumed that it was our bus and that I wasn’t late. Therefore after lunch, I decided to walk around even more since we were supposed to meet up at 2:45pm and it was only 2:25pm when I finished lunch, and I still saw the Gray Line bus.
It wasn’t until I walked up to the other Gray Line bus that the other driver told me that they were finding me, and that the other bus, my original bus, which was carrying 55 people excluding me, circled around two times to try to find me.
In the end, this other driver took me and dropped me off at the third winery where my original group was. Blessed and thank you!
When I got to the Andretti Winery, everyone from my original group was looking at me, as if Jesus was resurrected or Kanye West just stepped into the building. I had not expected that reaction, but everyone kept asking how I managed to get here.
Andretti Winery (website)
Now of course being late, I wasn’t able to receive any information from the guy. All I got was more specific details about the prevalence of Cabernet Sauvignon in US, where 40% of all wines produced are Cabernet Sauvignon, but it represents 60% of all revenue (or profits?).
This, and to everyone in my group they said, was our least favorite. We liked the first one most.
One thing I also need to mention is that these grapes tend to be harvested in September.
So, after Napa Valley we stopped by Golden Gate Bridge to take some awesome pictures, which I shall show you in my San Francisco post. He also posted out OJ Simpson’s high school, Larry Ellison’s, founder of Oracle, neighborhood and more.
Great place, but after coming to Napa Valley and actually trying the wines here, my conclusion is the same as before… my personal preference is still sticking to French and Italian wines.