The Napa Valley is conveniently located just an hour from the San Francisco Bay Area and consists of six distinctive towns and the outdoor recreation area of Lake Berryessa. There is a lot to sip in when visiting Napa Valley!
The following Napa Valley Wine Travel Guide shares a brief history of wine country, along with where to sip, where to stay and things to do beyond the vines. This guide will help you plan the perfect Napa Valley vacation. Cheers!
The first vineyards in the Napa Valley were planted in 1838 by George Calvert Yount, who was the first permanent settler in Napa Valley. The Mexican government granted him 11,000 acres in an area that stretches from what we now call Yountville, through Oakville and north through Rutherford. He planted the first vines and named his new community Sebastopol. There were four other towns with the same name in California, so when Yount died in 1867, the town chose to renamed itself to Yountville, in his honor.
The Gold Rush began bringing immigrants who knew about wine making into the Valley in the 1850’s but it wasn’t until 1858 that the Valley’s first commercial winery was established by John Patchett on the outskirts of the town of Napa in 1858. His winemaker, Charles Krug, left in 1861 to establish his own winery in the town of St. Helena. The winery that is still in operation today.
St. Helena was growing in popularity as a wine destination. In 1976, the little town in Napa Valley brought German immigrants Jacob and Frederick Beringer who founded Beringer Brothers Winery (now Beringer Vineyards). By 1889 Napa Valley boasted more than 140 wineries, the area was thriving! This is until the pesky little aphid arrived. The “small yellow root-feeding aphid” known as Phylloxera wreaked havoc in vineyards for the next few years. The Valley’s plantings declined from 15,800 acres in 1888 to just 2,000 acres by 1900.
Just when winemakers in the Valley thought they could recover from Phylloxera, National Prohibition hit. From 1919 to 1933 wine sales were illegal, forcing most wineries to close. Only a few were able to survive by exploiting the loopholes—either by making wine for religious or medical use or by supplying unfermented grape juice to home winemakers. By the time Prohibition ended, there were just a few dozen wineries in the Napa Valley.
The wine industry in Napa Valley reopened for business in 1933, but the region wasn’t on the world wine map until 1976 when a few wines were submitted to what has been named the “Judgment of Paris” and WON!
The “Judgment of Paris” was a blind tasting among French judges who unknowingly selected California wines as the top Chardonnay and top red blend. This shook up the world of wine since it was the first time American wines had beat French wines. This alone, peaked interest in the region, resulting in wine production doubling in California over the next decade. (There’s a great movie on this – Bottle Shock – if you want to go all cork dork with me.)
While the Judgment of Paris spurred tremendous growth and notoriety in the Napa Valley, it also resulted in kick-starting wine growth throughout the country with Napa Valley still leading the way for the American wine industry. There is a lot more wine history in to uncork in the Napa Valley, if you want to get into more cork dorking, take a look at the resources at the end of this guide.
Napa Valley is one of the most renowned wine regions in the world, but it is also one of the smallest. The valley floor is roughly 30 miles long and five miles wide. While Napa Valley may be small it’s rich in minerals. The Napa Valley contains half of the soil orders that exist within the world. To be more precise, Napa Valley contains 33 soil series with more than 100 soil variations.
Napa Valley contains 16 sub-AVAs that delineate different terroirs within the region. The primary AVAs within the Napa Valley are the are nine that follow the course of the Napa River down the valley. From north to south, these are noted below.
Read on to find Carpe Travel’s first-hand travel tips and recommendations to help make your Napa Valley vacation in wine country a memorable one.
The Napa Valley is blessed with a classic Mediterranean climate, characterized by sunny, dry summers and cool, somewhat rainy winters. In other words, there really is not a bad time to visit. With that said, the peak season for visitors is August – October given it’s harvest for wine country. This will be the most expensive and crowded time of year for a Napa Valley vacation.
In the spring you will be greeted with an abundance of wildflowers, including the famed mustard flowers. Better yet, you’ll see buds beginning to wake up for the next vintage.
The warmer months equates to nearly perfect weather to enjoy all the outdoor activities in the Napa Valley. From hiking, camping, biking to a slew of water sports and of course sipping wine on the patio.
HARVEST! This might be the best time to visit, but not the most cost effective. Wine tasting and dinner reservations are a MUST.
The mild winters are a chance to enjoy the cozy atmosphere wineries and restaurants alike.
With at six Michelin Star restaurants and countless more that are just as mouthwatering, you really can’t go wrong. Here are a few of our favorites for you to sip in on your Napa Valley vacation.
Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford
The French Laundry, Yountville
Morimoto Napa, Napa
Brix Napa Valley, Napa
Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa
Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery, Calistoga
Gott’s Roadside, St. Helena
Brasswood Bar + Kitchen, St. Helena
Oakville Grocery Company, Oakville (second location in Healdsburg)
With more than 475 wineries in the Napa Valley, you’re sure to find one a great sipping spot. Here are a few of our favorites to uncork.
The Napa Valley is located in northern California with the closest major airports being, Oakland International Airport (50 miles south); San Francisco International Airport (55 miles south of Napa Valley) and Sacramento International Airport (60 miles west of Napa Valley).
Plan to rent a car, hire a private driver or grab an Uber into wine country. Prices will vary for each depending on the time of day and the season you’re visiting.
The Napa Valley is roughly 30 miles long and five miles wide so while it’s small, if you want to really get into each of the cute towns during your Napa Valley vacation, you will need four wheels to get around, two if you opt to bike. Private drivers may seem like a dime a dozen in Napa Valley, but not all those dimes are equal. Look for those who are well rated and/or ask your hotel for recommendations. In the meantime, here are a few we have used and recommend.
While using Uber is for sure a budget friendly way to get around wine country, keep in mind, if you buy wine you can’t leave it in your car since they will be leaving to grab their next ride. Cell service is also spotty so while you might be able to easily get an Uber in town, doing so on the hillside may not be as efficient (or even do-able). Read how Uber Wine worked for me in the Santa Barbara area.
May 22-25, 2020
BottleRock Napa Valley features an all-world lineup of artists, bands and comedic performers from a variety of genres, including rock, soul/ R&B, country, hip hop, comedy and more. Iconic restaurateurs share the culinary stage with superstar vintners. A portion of proceeds benefit charities ranging from autism to cancer, and many great causes.
Bottle Shock, movie regarding the Judgement of Paris