Cheers to Napa Valley
Napa Valley’s welcome sign for this legendary destination is located less than an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. Home to an outstanding collection of hundreds of the nation’s finest wineries, you’ll find Napa’s lush countryside makes a great getaway for a day away from the city. Wear your walking shoes, dress in layers, grab your sunglasses and a hat.
Top-rated dining experiences accompany the premier wine-growing region in America. Stylish tasting rooms, friendly winemakers and picnics spread beside hillside vineyards are on the menu with dishes created with the bounty of fresh local produce.
What to Know Before You Go
Napa Valley enjoys near-perfect weather year-round with warm days and chilly nights that suits grapevines extremely well. Upon driving across San Francisco Bay and leaving the city behind, there’s a noticeable shift from urban to rural. The closer to the valley you go, the more likely it is that temperatures will rise and the sun will shine.
An escorted tour is the best way to get to Napa, so you can enjoy some wine tasting experiences and leave the driving to someone else. Book ahead to spend one or more nights in a fine countryside resort or a charming B&B getaway.
Napa County’s Wine Story
Along with much of California, Napa Valley was part of Mexico until shortly before California became a state in 1850. By the 1880s, the popularity of natural hot springs in such lovely climate was a magnet for city dwellers escaping foggy spells and more than 100 vineyards had been planted.
A Bump in the Road
However, following the turn of the century, two serious threats nearly ended the newly flourishing wine operations. First, the arrival of phylloxera, a destructive root disease caused by microscopic pests, wiped out 80 percent of the vines. Second, the passage of the Prohibition Act halted production for 14 years until 1933.
Despite acres of abandoned vineyards, because a handful of wineries continued producing sacramental wines, all was not lost. In the 1940s, seven growers from the world of wine created an association to support the region’s wine industry, now boasting more than 500 members. Their well-known names appear on the “Welcome to This World Famous Wine Growing Region: Napa Valley” highway sign as you enter Napa County.
Blind Tasting Triumph
In Paris, the results of a 1976 blind tasting put California -- in particular, Napa Valley -- on the map. A distinguished panel of French judges held a comparative tasting, pitting Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from the USA against the best French Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. Although not widely reported at first, the surprise California upset indicated to American winemakers that they were making wines of equal, or of even better, quality than the French. The “Judgment of Paris” was famously repeated on its 30th anniversary in 2006, designed to test robust aging of the red wines. California wines won handily.
Napa Valley Wine Tastings
Your visit to Napa Valley will include wine tastings in the attractive rooms at several famous vintners, some with guided tours of the underground limestone caves, storage casks or barrel rooms. Known as ‘flights,’ some tasting rooms may be pouring samples of selected vintages accompanied by tasting notes from wine experts.
Napa Valley Culinary Tradition
Quaint towns dot the route along the Silverado Trail and Highway 29 running north and south along Napa Valley’s 30 miles. Dining at both The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena and The French Laundry in Yountville have earned a Michelin three-star ranking, the highest award given to only a dozen American restaurants designated as “worth a special journey.”
Napa Valley Scenery
In addition to sip and savor experiences, Napa Valley offers views of mountains beyond rolling hills planted to vine with different color palettes on display each season. In the morning light, expansive skies above the valleys are often dotted with decorative hot air balloons. Here in rural Napa Valley, the pace of life is slower; locals take time for a cappuccino at a sidewalk bakery, to shop for fresh farm stand produce and to linger over rosy sunsets from a veranda when the evening air cools.
Did You Know?
- While 1849 marked the beginning of the Gold Rush days in San Francisco, Napa Valley marked the start of the great Silver Rush in 1858.
- The northern Napa County town of Calistoga has thermal hot springs and its own erupting “Little Old Faithful” geyser.
- Cabernet Sauvignon is the most famous varietal from Napa Valley, followed by Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Pinot Gris and two dozen more from Albarino to Zinfandel.
- About 95 percent of all wineries in Napa Valley are family-owned businesses, some now being represented by fifth-generation managers.