Saturday, October 11, 2014

{Vacation Recap} Napa

Well hello, strangers!  Sorry about the length of time between posts.  Who knew getting a single recap up was such work?!  This post was clearly written awhile ago.  I had another version of this ready to  for months and somehow it was eaten.  Finally got around to trying it again, and this time all of my photo streams stopped playing nice (iOS, Google+, Picasa...). I know, rough life, right?!  ;) I think I have them reconciled, so we'll see if this ever hits the Internets or if it's a blank mess.  I hope it works, because I cannot wait to update you about Italy!

This Summer is flying by and I am finally in one place until it's time to go to Italy!  I wanted to be sure to capture this wonderful trip and make note of what we did because we had such a good time!

Towards the end of June, my friends and I all met up in Napa for a 4 day weekend.  Tom and myself, as well as Nikki and Jon, and Calem and April all flew from Midway into Oakland.  We then rented a van (it was cheaper to rent a van than to pay for shuttles there and back) and headed to the Inn on First to meet up with Karly and Aaron who were driving in.

The Inn on First is where Tom and I first fell in love with wine country.  After we stayed there we couldn't wait to go back with friends.   We pretty much took over the entire Mansion and it was fun to walk back and forth between all of our rooms (especially with us ladies getting ready!)..almost like we were all in college again.

Pic courtesy of

Pic courtesy of

Pic courtesy of
Nikki's favorite part of the inn - their amazing tea/coffee buffet...not shown: platter of warm chocolate chip cookies that are always available...pretty sure magic keeps them that way no matter the time of night you might need them
Being a B&B, we enjoyed amazing breakfasts and I was blown away with how well they accommodated Karly and my dietary restrictions while also having "regular" food for the easy guests.   To be greeted with warm gluten free chocolate chip cookies upon arrival was such a nice surprise!  We all really loved our rooms. Everyone had a special something about their suite that made it unique.  Tom and I especially loved our little balcony in the "Angel's Share".  We all had fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs, and enjoyed complimentary Mumm's Champs upon check-in.

Our room, pic courtesy of

We couldn't ask for a better location.  Each evening we were able forgo the van and walk off the day's tasting by strolling to downtown Napa.  It was super convenient and fun as the weather was awesome.

I would say the one downside to the Inn comes from the historic charm:  thin walls.  It's an older house so the main living spaces are not sound proof.  What this means is that when the group of us strolled in (very "spiritedly" you might say) each evening and grabbed refreshments around the dining area, our voices  - no matter how quiet we thought we were - carried.  Unlike a hotel which has a lobby and a dedicated bar space, you are more or less staying in someone's "home" and therefore don't have as much lee-way which I hadn't taken into account when we decided to stay here.  Not helping things, one of the inn keepers was apparently a bit cranky when telling them to hush one night (I had gone to bed at that point). My recommendation would be to stay at the Inn on First by all means, but perhaps come as one or two couples or maybe rent out the entire house (we were one couple short of taking over the entire home...that couple was moved to another room located in the gardens...).  Otherwise you might find yourself without a group space to hang late in the evenings.  Besides that hiccup, we really enjoyed our time there.

We had a fabulous limo service that drove us everywhere for the two days of tastings and I highly recommend doing the same.  The rate was extremely reasonable between 4 couples and the driver was fantastic.  Between the Hosts at the Inn and the driver, we were kept on point and made aware of little details that we wouldn't have taken into account on our own (ie "you might want to call in your picnic now, bc there will be an hour wait if you don't...").  

We also enjoyed some amazing food!  Karly and Aaron took the heat off Tom and I (who planned the majority of the trip) and booked a reservation for us at a fabulous restaurant, called Celadon (don't let that website fool ya!) that the Inn had recommended.  We scored outdoor seats and were blown away by the cocktails and delish food.  The architecture of the place was amazing and it was such a fun way to kick off the weekend!  Napa is about great wine AND food and it was so nice that we got to treat ourselves to such a lovely dinner.   I will definitely go back! Great decision by Karly & Aaron!!!

Another restaurant the Inn recommended was Carpe Diem.  It's usually booked, but the Innkeeper called the chef and got us in. It was another great meal and I'm pleased we got to try it.  But, I'll be honest, I was pretty "tired" at that point and can't recall much of the actual dinner.  Based on the yelp reviews I'm sure I'll want to go back.  That will also remain known as the night, no one understood why Meg was sooo "tired" at dinner, as I only had one drink...apparently Tom expessed confusion as well but forgot to mention that we also enjoyed an entire bottle of wine in our room during Nap time.

Planning this trip was a bit trickier than you might expect.  Tom and I are used to just randomly picking wineries and not really setting appointments.  Apparently, when you travel in a big group, most wineries require that you do private tastings which caught us by surprise. In addition, we all had different 'experience" levels.  From those of us who weren't even sure they liked wine, to those of us who go to tastings fairly frequently even LIVE next to Oregon wine country.  Tom and I had already been to Napa, so when we realized this, we were tempted to just replicate all the places we had already been to prior and loved, but realized we wanted to have a couple of "new to us" places as well. Some were home-runs...others not so much.  

Here's an outline of our activities for anyone who may be planning a similar trip.  Tom and I are nerds and keep spreadsheets with detailed itineraries (due to the amount of money involved including car rentals, private tasting times, etc  - no one wants to lose a huge chunk of cash due to disorganization).   We are happy to share if you'd like to leverage it,  just ask in the comments!  We flew the day before tastings and flew out the Monday after, so all told, enjoyed Napa for 4 beautiful days.  However, you could easily have a similar experience by going only 2-3 days.

Tips:  A great rule of thumb is to have no more than 1 tour a day, and stick to perhaps 3-4 wineries total.    I can vouch for the fact that we were all looking forward to our afternoon naps after the last appointment of the day! I have no idea how people are able to do 1 hour tastings at 5 or more places...I'd be on the floor. Additionally, if you stay at place like the Inn on First, I can't say enough good things about their recommendation's list and subsequent help.  It made our lives so much easier so do take advantage of any similar resources!

Tastings Day 1
Peju - This was probably everyone's favorite.  All of us purchased multiple bottles, loved the grounds, and found the people super friendly.  It's very unpretentious and eclectic - what a great start!  If anything, I wish we would have had more time there.  Our tasting guide was fun and everyone appreciated the warmth and friendliness of the staff.  Highly recommend no matter the experience level.  We had a private tasting which was perfect for us, but I can also recommend the group room if you just want to pop in to give it a try.

I don't know why this pic is so big! 

Kuleto - The property was GORGEOUS.  This was a "new" place to us and once I saw the pictures, I couldn't wait to organize a picnic lunch on their property.  The wine was really nice and we lucked out with our guide.  He was very generous in his pours and didn't hesitate to keep it coming and best of all - wasn't a douche (you definitely have to watch out for those in Napa).  There's a small farm on the property so the tour consists of not only tastings but also a quick tour of that as well.  We bought a bottle from them (just FYI that this is customary when using any picnic grounds at wineries), then settled in to eat our lunches (from Oakville Grocery) and enjoy our view!   We were all put off a bit by some of the ostentatious aspects of the tour (we kept hearing how much something cost one cuuurres), but agreed it is one of the most gorgeous properties we'd ever seen.

We also ended up enjoying the tour with Dan and his beautiful wife (who were traveling through wine country after their daughter's beautiful wedding).  I bring this up, because a few months later, Calem and April were connecting through the Philly Airport and bumped into Disco Dan himself!   Stories like this are why I LOVE wine county.  The vino puts everyone in a great mood and it's actually fun talking to strangers. ha

Frog's Leap - By time we made reservations, we could only score the smaller garden tasting but this ended up being perfect.  We were all a bit tired by this point and it was nice to just walk among the property, sit down and catch up, instead of interacting with a guide.   They kept our wine glasses full and the wine was that it's organic.  No purchases made but I recommend the wines and would go back to try another tour for sure.  It actually ended up being an ideal way to end the day of tastings.

Day 2
Mumm - Karly and I love our champs so we had to make sure to hit a couple of "sparkling" wineries! Mumm's property is beautiful and inviting and I remember loving it when Tom and I hit it up a few years back.  Our guy was fabulous and we all lucked out b/c our significant others all ordered a different flight which meant we all had a lot of samples to try.  Everyone ended up buying at least a bottle and I know we would all go back for sure.  Definitely a must if you ever go to Napa.

Domain Carneros - This property is's modeled after their French property and a jaw dropper for sure.  Our guy here was super nice as well.  We all loved the tastings and enjoyed it under an umbrella outside overlooking the vineyards.  It got hot, but nothing refreshes like some bubbly! We weren't able to squeeze it in this round, but I highly recommend a winery just across the street that we stumbled upon last trip (while killing time before a tasting at Domain) and LOVED: Cuvaison.  

Del Dotto - (<--- not linking them for a reason).  Where do I begin?  Tom and I went here years ago and it was hands down our favorite at the time.  This was the place where we turned to each other and said, "We HAVE to come back here on a group trip!" It practically inspired this entire friend-cation and we could not wait to share this experience with everyone.  Though pricey, the cave tour gave super generous samples of really expensive blends (and it's where I credit our love of Cab Francs).  Our previous guide  was hysterical, and there was also plenty of food at the end.

Right away, I could tell this was not the same tour.  Our guide had no sense of humor, was apparently hungover from his party the night before, was stingy with the pours, brushed off anything we asked (taking a picture of the group inside the cave, showing us this little alcove we expressed interest in that he previously said was part of the tour...). To make matters worse, he spilled red wine all over Karly and didn't even attempt to get her a towel or even seem remorseful about it.  It was also clear that they overbooked the tours because we kept having to skip a taste due to a group right in front of us or coming up behind us.  Also, while checking out, we couldn't help but notice that groups were still doing the tour who started way ahead of us and didn't even seem close to finishing.  Basically we felt shafted.

Sadly it seems as though the people running it have perhaps become a bit greedy and are no longer keeping the customer experience in mind.   After complaining to the management, they finally gave us all our money back (it took a while and it was beyond frustrating that our complaints were only taken seriously a when a male from our group came over and backed us up...sexist much?)  To boot, management was incredibly condescending.  Ugh.  How disappointing that this "highlight" was how we closed our last day of tastings. womp womp.

Don't let the smiling faces fool ya!
We mentioned this experience to the Inn and they said they have since taken it off their recommendation list because we unfortunately are not the first people who have complained recently about it going downhill.  Needless to say we did not buy anything from them (a bummer because we saved funds for this tasting as their wine really is good) and we will NOT be going back.  It was also by far the most expensive tour around.  My recommendation is to save your money and take it elsewhere.  Jarvis for example is a wonderful cave tour featuring some great reds, amazing atmosphere, and good food, so please try it in lieu of this place!

Despite that hiccup, we all had an amazing time.  Wine country is beautiful and like nowhere else in the US.  To be able to share great drinks and experiences with some of my favorite people in the world was beyond incredible.  We feel so lucky to have such great friends and be able to do fun trips like this from time to time.  Cheers to more fun vacations with great peeps in the future! 


1 comment:

  1. oh man, I loved reading this and looking at all the pictures, remembering how much fun we had!! It was such an incredible trip and I wish we could do it all again!!! It sure makes me long for a nice frosty trio of champagne right about now though, so delicious!!!