Wine Tasting in the Napa Valley
The Napa Valley is filled with wineries which are mostly open to the public for wine tasting and sales. For some of the wineries you do need to book ahead, but there are plenty that you can just arrive at and taste (and purchase) their latest vintages.
Most of the wine tasting I had done prior to my visit to California was in Australia, and over there you pretty much just turn up and taste for free. But in the Napa Valley it seems most wineries charge for a tasting - you pay a set price for a set number of small tastes.
I actually didn't mind the fee for tasting as I felt this helped to alleviate the feeling that you should buy something after tasting for free. And better still, some of the wineries will waive the tasting fee if you buy a bottle or two.
For the wine novice, some of the wineries offer tours. These will get you out in the vineyards and also teach you about the wine making process, finishing in the cellar for a peek at the final product. Some of the wineries have picnic areas, so after your tasting you can sample one of your purchases, enjoyed with perhaps some cheese and biscuits, also purchased from the winery, or other food you have brought with you.
Before You Go...
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Shipping wines back home
Know the laws of your state when purchasing wines and shipping them back home. Some states do not allow wineries to direct ship or have made rules that keep some smaller wineries from shipping to them.
Here's a handy website to help you with the rules: http://freethegrapes.com/
EARLY MORNING PASTRY, BOUCHON BAKERY
Thomas Keller has the French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro, and the Bouchon Bakery. Top three all, but to the locals the bakery is what is the draw.
Morning wake up and you spent the night sleeping in the middle of the Napa Valley, wine country. Many tourists hit the winery maps first thing in the morning to find which winery to go to first to taste the variety of wines that helped make Napa Valley famous. The locals think of Bouchon Bakery, as well as wise tourists who spot all the people going inside this bakery first thing in the morning. Those entering are rewarded with the aroma of fresh bread and coffee with my favorite, cappucino ready to enjoy. The breads and pastries are a treat and also part of the Bouchon Bistro's menu offerings.
Try the rustique loaf of bread with the wine you may buy at one of the wineries in the area. The macaroons are butter melt dreams. Located next door to the Bouchon Bistro is the Bouchon Bakery at 6528 Washington Street, Yountville, California. Opens at 7 am.
The family's legacy began when Jacob Gundlach arrived in San Francisco from Bavaria in 1851, established a brewery, and then bought a vineyard he called Rhinefarm in southern Sonoma County in 1858. His daughter married Charles Bundschu, who became owner of the business. Their home was in San Francisco, as was their 250,000-case winery, though they maintained a summer home at the vineyard in Sonoma.
When their San Francisco home and winery burned in the earthquake of 1906, the family moved to Sonoma, and continued to grow grapes and make wine. The winemaking ended during Prohibition, and the family diversified into growing other crops and raising cattle. They continued to grow and sell grapes, however, and in 1969 they resurrected the winery. They planted new vines, and bought neighboring property. It now owns 360 acres.
In the early days the winery stuck to agriculture and winemaking, leaving marketing to others. Many family wineries wanted to grow and grow, When their vineyards ran out, they bought grapes to produce more wine. Kenwood, Buena Vista and Ravenswood are three that followed that path; all were eventually sold to other companies.
Gundlach-Bundschu, however, stuck to its own grapes, growing slowly but not really finding a niche. The company made a variety of wines, some neither ideal for the site nor popular in the market.
In 1997, the family acquired an adjacent 120-acre vineyard, and the high price of the land forced the family to reassess their strategy. They became a top estate wine producer, not just another family winery.
The winery now produces almost 40,000 cases per year and also manages the nearby historic Bartholomew Park Winery.