5 Helpful Tips when Visiting Napa Valley

By Dathan Kazsuk and Jennifer Primrose

Napa Valley, a wine lovers and bloggers paradise with vineyards as far as the eye can see. With over 400-plus wineries, what's not to love? Varietals for all palates and experiences from private cave tastings to Sterling Vineyards' gondola ride to the tasting room to the more traditional tastings around a tasting bar.

In one day, we enjoyed a tasting at Chateau Montelena. Best known for winning in a blind taste test during the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, or better known as the Judgment of Paris. That event put Napa Valley on the map. We followed that up with our next stop that took us to the modern and high-tech Vineyard 29 for a private barrel-tasting of wines by Vineyard 36 co-owned by Carolina Hurricane's goalie, Cam Ward.

Napa Valley has so much to offer that it can be an overwhelming task to plan for that perfect wine tasting experience. With our first visit now out of the way, we thought we would share a couple of our tips and tricks for planning your first trip to Napa Valley. What we learned, things we would do differently and things we wish we had the time to do – which only means we need to start planning the next adventure to wine country.

1. NAPA VALLEY IS NOT CHEAP! 

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Wine tastings in Napa Valley could range anywhere from $25 up to $100-plus depending on the experience. Some wineries do offer free tastings. This is where intensive research is required. And remember, Google is your friend. 

Decide on how many wineries you wish to visit each day and find out ahead of time what the cost will be and plan accordingly. The last thing you want to do is find yourself paying off your Napa Valley vacation 2-3 years down the road. If you're looking to have an afternoon experience at 2 to 4 wineries, expect to easily drop $300 or more a day.

2. RESERVATIONS MY BE REQUIRED

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That’s right. Who knew? But many of the wineries do require a reservation ahead of time. That does not mean you cannot call the day of to see if there are any openings. When we first learned about this we weren’t sure what to think. Having now experienced it, Napa knows what they are doing. With a reservation, you will not feel rushed, the tastings are spaced accordingly and for what you are paying, you certainly want the best experience there is!

Calling ahead you are guaranteed a small setting with your Napa host and sometimes personalized tastings notes – which adds to the charm of your visit to Napa Valley.

3. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO 

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We already mentioned our friend Google, but also ask your local bottle shops for recommendations and advice. Many shop owners or wine managers have been to the Valley before and can offer up suggestions, especially if they know your taste in wine. We were fortunate to have a friend at a local bottle shop connect us with someone at Plumpjack Winery (thanks Ben). 

4. FIRST STOP ... WELCOME CENTER 

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May be somewhat obvious, but even with our planning ahead, we still opted to make our first stop at the Welcome Center in downtown Napa. This turned out to be an excellent idea. They are very knowledgeable, showed us on a map the wineries we were going to be visiting, gave other recommendations and handed us a map of the valley that shows all the wineries and which ones are walk-ins and reservations only. A very helpful map when in between appointments and want to do more tasting.

5. DOWNTOWN NAPA WINE TASTING CARD 

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When you go to the Welcome Center, you can also purchase a Tasting Card for $15. This card will allow you to go to the tasting rooms in downtown Napa, all within walking distance, to try some wines you may never have had the chance to. The card gave us half off the tastings. We went to three different tasting rooms and more than made up the money we spent on the card. The tasting card features a total of 10 different "urban-style" wineries located downtown. And the best part, these cards are good for an entire year!

So, there you have it! A few lessons learned for us. As we are sure there are so many more, please feel free to leave us comments if you also have some friendly tips to share.