Gone are the days when it was possible to drive up and down Route 29 or the Silverado Trail and pop in to wineries for complimentary tastings. Though there are plenty of wineries that are open to all during posted hours, many are open for tours and tastings by appointment only. It is also rare to find a winery that offers complimentary tastings, though we did visit one in Sonoma on this trip—more on that in an upcoming post. Buses, and even limos, are discouraged at most wineries these days, too. We think these are all positive changes and if you’ve ever seen large, loud groups who’ve clearly been doing more drinking than “tasting” you’ll probably agree.
The Napa Valley has more than 400 wineries with tasting rooms so to make the most of your trip, it’s important to do some homework. Get a map of the Napa Valley and find where your favorite wineries’ tasting rooms are (sometimes tasting rooms are not where the wine is actually made) —you won’t want to waste time driving up and down the Valley backtracking, so plan your itinerary with location in mind. Our rule of thumb is no more than three winery visits a day and only two if the tours are very extensive. Do some research and contact your favorite wineries to see what they offer and reserve accordingly. Many offer a range of “experiences.” You’ll frequently get to taste special bottles and vintages when you book a visit and you’ll certainly have the chance to learn more about that particular winery and their wine maker. You’ll avoid the crowded tasting room experience too!
On our most recent visit to Napa Valley we began with a trip to B Cellars www.bcellars.com in Oakville. We had visited them once before in May 2014, when the winery was being built. Our tasting took place in a construction trailer on that visit. The wines were spectacular then too, but the setting left something to be desired. What a difference a year makes! The beautiful new facility is situated on gorgeous, expansive grounds and includes the Hospitality House with several tasting areas inside and out, a demonstration kitchen, a culinary garden, chicken coop, wine production facilities, wine cave and event space.
The winery, which was founded in 2003 by Duffy Keys and Jim Borsack, with the highly respected Kirk Venge as winemaker, offers several tasting experiences. The wine tasting options range in price from $35 to $125, depending upon the wines to be tasted and food offerings. Most take about 90 minutes. Since we would be coming right after lunch, we chose the Sojourn, which included B Cellars Flagship wines and several delicious local cheeses.
We were greeted with a 2013 Juliana Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, which we enjoyed on the expansive terrace. We moved over to an umbrella- shaded table and began our tasting in earnest with a 2012 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay.
Red wines we tasted included the 2013 Manzana Vineyard Pinot Noir, a 2009 Blend 24, and 2012 Ehrlich Cabernet Sauvignon. Our delightful and knowledgeable wine host Alex also poured us several wines not typically included on the Sojourn tasting including a 2012 Blend 26.
After our tasting we elected to tour the grounds and wine cave with Alex—a lovely and memorable afternoon at B Cellars and a great place to begin our Napa Valley wine adventure.