There is probably a safer way to see and enjoy the wineries of Napa Valley, but the most affordable and convenient one is to drive. We were staying in San Francisco, where we rented a car. Looking back on it, it probably wasn’t the safest idea to have my friend drunk drive a rental up and down Napa Valley. But we were in our early 20s and we’re from Miami, where at least a third of all driving is done after four drinks, and I’m willing to bet Napa boasts similar stats. This is how we enjoyed a driving tour of Napa Valley.
Where to go in Napa Valley
Napa Valley is thirty miles’ worth of vineyards and unique wineries, of which there are hundreds. So you can imagine that on a one-day driving trip from San Francisco, you can probably do three or four wineries tops. I suppose you could do more, but it’s a marathon, not a race. A lot of the wineries and vineyards offer tours, tastings, and the ability to enjoy a good meal or a picnic. So you probably don’t want to rush through each visit. It’s a good idea to have a short list of places you definitely want to see, which include some of the top wineries in Napa.
Note that a lot of winery tours require reservations and can be as long as one or two hours, which will severely restrict your ability to make several stops in one day. If you’ve been on any winery tour, you’ve basically been on all of them. I recommend doing one tour in a day and simply doing tastings everywhere else. Having to hear the basics of winemaking four times in a row is not my idea of fun day drinking.
If you’re interested in seeing more than a handful of wineries or enjoying one of their special evening events or dinners, it’s best you plan to spend at least one night in Napa. That would significantly reduce your time on the road, which is not only convenient but safer than driving an hour out of San Francisco and back in one day.
Our drunk driving tour of Napa
Our tour started at Beaulieu Vineyard, which is just over an hour outside of San Francisco. Their tasting room offers various wine-tasting experiences that range from a $30 classic selection to a $125 personalized legacy experience that takes you on a private tour of the historic winery along with a tasting of their vintage wines. We just wanted to get a good buzz going, so we did the regular tasting and went on our way. As with all the wineries, you can also shop for to-go wines after you’ve identified your favorites. Napa is great for souvenirs.
Just five minutes away by car, we were at the V. Sattui Winery, one of the consistently best rated and most popular wineries in Napa. The beautiful Tuscan-style villa is surrounded by lush green vineyards, which you can wander around during your visit. The tours of V. Sattui, which have optional food pairings, must be reserved in advance. But even without a reservation for a tour, you can enjoy a charcuterie and cheese board along with their wine on the picnic grounds. If you love cheese as much as you love wine (doesn’t everyone?), you’ll want to check out their artisan deli for a good afternoon snack. This is also essential to prevent you from getting too drunk to function.
Our last stop in our tour of Napa was at Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, which is popular because it’s a massive medieval stone castle. The best part is that unlike the other wine tours, general admission gives you roaming access to the two levels of the winery. And I think there’s nothing better after you’re already drunk than wandering around a wine-filled castle. If you want to learn more about the wine with a guided tour, those are possible too, but reservations are recommended. Tours come with five tastings of their premium wines to keep you nice and toasty when you go stroll through the vineyards.
If you happen to be staying the night, the town of Calistoga where the Castello is located is known for its hot springs. I can’t think of a better way to spend a good wine drunk than to soak in a hot spring.
We took our good wine and drove our drunk asses back to San Francisco instead. Don’t recommend it. Our hotel room had no air conditioning and the non-stop buffet of wine tastings made me sick as hell. I didn’t have wine again for three years after visiting Napa Valley. And you know what, I would do it all again. Maybe with less drunk driving next time.