Taking a trip to Napa Valley? We have some suggestions for you!
If you have watched the news over the last few weeks, you probably saw some footage of the horrific wildfires that swept through Santa Rosa, California and the nearby Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Don’t worry if you have a trip planned in the next few months, you might be tempted to cancel your trip and stay at home, but as someone who just recently returned from a trip thru northern California’s wine country, we are definitively telling you to keep your plans and take that trip to Napa (in fact, check out various social media platforms for the hashtag #napaisopen)
Want to help Wine Country recover? Go visit!
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Napa and Sonoma Valleys
While lots of people plan their trips to places like Disneyland, we plan our trips by where we can have an amazing meal or drink! With delicious goals like this in mind, our version of Disneyland tends to be culinary hot spots like Las Vegas, Chicago, or San Francisco. One of our absolute favorite such spots might be Wine Country in California, where amazing vineyards and restaurants are scattered all over the lush valleys of Napa and Sonoma Counties!
Traveling with Napa as a couple can be a great trip, with lots of opportunities for romantic getaways, be it sipping wine at beautifully scenic vineyards, enjoying meals in some of the best restaurants, or exploring some wonderfully cute towns and cities. However, traveling to Wine Country with a group of friends is an awesome experience as well, and one that should not be missed!
We have a group of really close friends we regularly get together with to enjoy lots of laughter, a dinner and maybe a few cocktails (these folks are regularly our test dummies for our cocktail development!) as well as working with us at the wine tent at a local wine tasting event here in Omaha. We are always talking about how much fun we would have taking a trip to enjoy some wine and before we knew it, we were planning a group vacation to Wine Country for 6 months later!
Napa and Sonoma Valley Fires
As we were getting the final steps ready for our trip, we heard the news that there had been a number of huge wildfires overnight that swept through the hills above the Napa Valley and down into Sonoma and Santa Rosa. We watched with rapt attention as the firefighters battled to contain the fires and were all on the phones with each other and our contacts about what we should do.
As the week progressed and the firefighters had more success containing the fires, we heard from our contacts out in California that we should be good to come visit. With some consultation between all of our friends, we decided that our visit was still a go and we headed out to Wine Country (and are we ever glad we did!).
We got to northern California about a week after the fires had broken out and headed up towards our vacation rental near Guerneville, which is a small town to the west of Santa Rosa along the Russian River. Guerneville was west of the areas of Sonoma County that had burned, tucked away in the Russian River valley among huge California Redwoods and vineyards.
How did we Visit Napa Valley?
With a big group like we had, getting a limo for the day is a great (and safe!) way to go try lots of great wineries, especially when you have a driver that knows lots of small boutique wineries and can help customize a tour to fit your tastes. We were lucky and had a great driver named Hector from Mr. Napa Limo for both of our wine tasting days who has been driving in Wine Country for over 10 years. Hector was super attentive and flexible, and knows his way around the whole region, which was handy with all the fire related road closures!
As of 11/1 all major roads have been opened and you can get around to most areas with no problems (especially if you have a great guy like Hector to drive you around!) Getting a limo or a van is a great way to be able to responsibly enjoy a day of wine tasting, and one that we highly recommend!
Whenever we talked to folks about heading to Napa, a universal comment we heard was “Didn’t it all burn up?” We can categorically say no! While the fires that swept through Santa Rosa was genuinely horrific, most of the fires burned areas high above the vineyards where tourists are likely to roam, and in many cases the vines actually acted as firebreaks and kept the fires from spreading further! These same vineyards are now revealing their fall colors of gold and red, creating a beautiful tapestry spread across the valley floor!
Frog’s Leap Winery
We rolled over the mountain between Santa Rosa and Napa, and headed into our first winery stop in the Napa Valley, Frog’s Leap Winery. Frog’s Leap is located in Rutherford, near the heart of heart of the Napa Valley. Founded in 1981 by John Williams on the site of a former frog farm, John and his partner Larry Turley used their experience gained from working at the famous Stag’s Leap Vineyard to launch their own venture.
Fast forward to 2017, and Frog’s Leap has become one of the best known vineyards in the Napa Valley, with beautiful vines, a spectacular tasting room and grounds and a beautiful garden.
Guests at Frog’s Leap can expect a great tasting experience, with 3 different levels of tasting, from their garden tasting all the way up to a guided tasting and tour. Our tasting featured a flight of 4 of their wines which was accompanied by a little sampler of crackers, cheese and fruit jams made with fruit from their gardens.
We also had an opportunity to enjoy a stroll through the gardens and look at the beautiful vistas that surround Frog’s Leap! If we hadn’t known about the fires, you never would have known there had been fires raging just mere miles from this vineyard!
After a successful first vineyard visit, we headed for a quick lunch at the adorable and delicious Oakville Grocery and then turned north to head up to our second vineyard of the day, Benessere Vineyards, an Italian inspired vineyard on the gravely, volcanic soil near St. Helena. This gravelly soil proved to be perfect for growing the classic Italian varietals like Sangiovese and Moscato di Canelli as well as Napa the stars Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Owned by the Benish family since 1994 and named by the Italian word meaning “living the good life,” Benessere was the first vineyard that we fell in love with on our very first trip to Napa!
We were super excited to share this experience with our friends who are lovers of great red wines, and with us having fallen in love with their reds on our first trip, we absolutely knew they would love Benessere! Our guide for the day Micheal took us on a spectacular private tour of the property while tasting their wines.
Benessere Vineyard Tour
We got to head out into the vineyard and taste grapes right off the vines, see the tennis court where Luciano Pavarotti shot his “spectacular” movie Yes, Giorgio, and more importantly the crush pad and fermentation tanks where the wines are born before ending up back in the tasting room (where the the old stables used to be!)
Getting a chance to taste wines while touring the property was a great experience (especially with wonderful wines to sip on) was a top notch experience and one that we would highly recommend getting a hold of the folks at Benessere to reserve your chance to visit!
Visit Wine Country
We can’t stress enough that one of the best ways to help Napa and northern California’s wine country is to visit! You will find wineries happy to welcome you, with many donating tasting fees to fire recovery funds (both Frog’s Leap and Bennesere are donating!) and with vineyards and the supporting businesses employing a large number of residents, this helps keep this area rolling!
Also, check out our tour of Sonoma County Wineries!
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