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The Best Napa Day Trip for Wowing Out-of-Towners

How to navigate the valley like a wine country expert.

SLIDESHOW

Boon Fly Café.

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Domaine Carneros.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Truchard Vineyards.

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Silverado Vineyards.

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Everyone knows there’s wine country for locals and wine country for tourists. When you’ve got visitors in town for the holidays, that creates a conundrum: When they want to go to wine country, well, which wine country? Here, a blend that combines the best of both: the can’t-miss tourist stops that are actually worth going to, mixed with a few hidden gems that will knock your guests’ socks off. 

Morning

Start things off at Domaine Carneros, a grand chateau set among the rolling hills between Sonoma and Napa. The grounds are meticulously kept, like an English garden, and the atmosphere relaxed. But any information sponges in your group will find plenty of opportunities to learn about wine making. You’ll taste the winery’s roster of respectable bubblies, which range from sweet to dry as can be, and its list of simple but tasty reds and whites. Reservations are required but easy to come by, and are best booked online.

For lunch, stop in at the Boon Fly Café, a quintessential Napa Valley spot resembling a modern farmhouse. The menu is stocked with hearty but simple dishes that range from fish tacos and salads to flatbreads and burgers. They also serve breakfast all day (along with a bacon Bloody Mary that will keep your buzz alive). The café doesn’t take reservations, but if there’s a long wait, just wander around the corner to the General Store or the Carneros Inn, where they have all kinds of deli options, picnic tables, and even bocce courts to play on if it’s a nice day. 

After Lunch

Just five minutes up the road from Boon Fly you’ll find Truchard Vineyards, which is pretty much the definition of a homespum Napa family winery. (Plus, the brand has enough name recognition that someone in your family will likely have tried their wines or at least heard of them.) Truchard’s caves are not the largest in the valley, but they are grand, and they’ll certainly check “cave tour” off your list. The winery makes nine reasonably priced ($30–$65) wines that are all easy drinking, well made, and from some of the best fruit in the valley. They also make a very tasty olive oil. Try the merlot ($35), which has a gentle spice to it but features flavors of cedar and blueberry along with a hint of sweet vanilla. And be sure to make a reservation

Next, stop in at Robert Mondavi Winery, the most famous winery in Napa Valley (where you won’t need reservations). There’s no doubt that Robert Mondavi has had more influence on the valley—maybe all American wine—than any other person or winery. The massive barrel room and enormous vintage wine tanks are worth an ogle, and the grassy grounds are great for photo ops. The wine list is also really accessible: they’ve got a tasting profile and price for everyone. Look out for the red and white Oakville and Reserve tier wines, which are meticulously crafted and not often found in supermarkets. 

Alternate plan: If your crew wants a more off-the-beaten path option than Mondavi, make a reservation at one of these nearby spots in Oakville or Rutherford. Or head over to Silverado Vineyards for one of the best views in the Valley. 

For a breather from winery-hopping, head into Yountville for some coffee and pastries at Thomas Keller’s world-famous Bouchon Bakery and browse the shops at V Marketplace. If your posse has livers of steel, belly up to the bar at Bouchon, Bottega, or Panchas (the biggest dive in all of Napa Valley). Or, if you want to pack in more wine stops, hit one of the numerous tasting rooms in Yountville. We recommend Jessup, Hestan, or JCB. If the sun is going down, you’ll be especially charmed—just about every tree and storefront in Yountville is strung with lights. 

Stop here if you want to be home for dinner.

Not ready to go home? Head over to St. Helena, where you can browse the boutiques along Main Street or squeeze in one more winery. Hall Wines (no reservations required) makes huge red wines that will excite even a tired palate. If you want to make a reservation, make it at nearby Spottswoode or Trespass. Both make exceptional wines and run vineyard tours that offer views of mountains and valleys that can be exquisite in the afternoon and evening light.

Dinner

For dinner, head to Cook St. Helena, a small but charming local favorite. You really can’t go wrong with any of the Italian-style pastas or hearty American staples on the menu. If upscale bar food and a TV with the game on is what you crave, head to Cook Tavern. Or hit Goose and Gander for a big hearty meal in a cozy atmosphere and the best bar in Napa Valley. 

Had too much to drink? It’s usually easy to find a room in Napa Valley before Christmas and after New Year’s at the Harvest Inn, Wydown, and Southbridge, which  are all walking distance from town. 

 

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