This winery is worth a visit not only for its wine, but also for the unique way of getting from the vineyard to the winery.
The winery is perched upon a small hill overlooking the vineyards and the only way for visitors to reach it is by cable-car.
This short ascent provides marvellous photo opportunities on the way.
1111 Dunaweal Ln
Calistoga, CA 94515
Nicholson Ranch is a recently established small family owned artisan winery located midway between Napa and Sonoma. We came across it last year after arriving to the wine region late in the afternoon. Most of the tasting rooms in the other wineries close to the public at 4.30 or 5.00pm. This one remains open until 6pm and despite arriving just half an hour before closing we were well looked after by the staff and enjoyed the great views from their Redwood Terrace.
4200 Napa Road
A fantastic vineyard, winery and tasting room in the Carneros region at the southern end of the Napa Valley. Hidden away in the middle of 400 acres of their own Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards. You have to book an appointment but you can do this from the car when you drive up to the entrance! They also have a more commercial tasting room in Calistoga at the other end of the Valley where you can just walk in (if you do, ask to see the barrel caves), but the brand new winery in Carneros is completely powered by solar and is definitely worth a look. The people are really friendly and it is a little more down to earth than some of the more snooty wineries further up the Valley!
1221 Duhig Road
Napa, CA 707.942.2455
Walk up and down the many hills of San Francisco and you're likely to see one thing in common, everyone seems laid back, relaxed and simply happy. While this may surprise a first time visitor to the golden state, it doesn't take long to discover the secret of their happiness. San Francisco is just an hour away from the beautiful, serene and fruitful Napa Valley - home to some of the greatest vineyards in the world.
Napa Valley is located just 45 miles north of San Francisco and is famed for giving the world great chardonnay, merlot and zinfandel amongst others. Given it's proximity to the city, it can be easily reached in a day trip through one of the many tour operators out of San Francisco (see list below) or for the more relaxed and mobile (car hire is cheap and easy in the US) you can travel at your own pace, taking in delights such as spas and wine tasting on the way. After all, there are some things in life you shouldn't rush!
I took advantage of a two day, one night tour of the region, getting picked up at my hotel by the tour company around 9am. If you have the time and flexibility I would recommend that that you go for a weekday rather than weekend trip as you avoid any of the crowds that may build up and you benefit from a more private experience. Sunshine is virtually guaranteed so don't sorry yourself about booking ahead although it's always worthwhile checking online and with your hotel before you travel to see if there are any special offers for tours available.
A great add-on to a tour of the valley which I didn't get a chance to do but will definitely be on my list if I go again is a hot air balloon ride over Napa. The beauty of the area was unsurpassed at ground level so I can only imagine what it must be like watching the sunrise thousands of feet up in the air. As I had not rented a car for my recent trip, getting to the pick up point at 4.30am for the balloon flight sounded like a little bit like hard work for a holiday! Next time I'll be more prepared though with a car and a hotel nearer the pick up point. I've always wondered why hot air balloon rides are so early in the morning and I discovered that this was because they don't want the balloon to get too hot in the mid-day sun which makes landing somewhat challenging or bumpy!
Given the variety of grapes across the Valley there is probably a wine to suit all tastes. I particularly liked the chardonnay and you can really taste the fruitiness of the wine. I’m no connoisseur on wines but sure felt like one by the end of my trip! One thing’s for sure, after this tour, you'll never look at a grape the same again!
Now for few tips that I learnt along the way:
Don't forget that this is the US so the legal drinking age is 21, so unless you are looking completely worse for wear (in which case you might want to lay off the booze) you're going to be asked for photo ID so remember to take it with you.
Try and step away from the tour group for a moment to capture the moment. Take a minute to breathe in the fresh air, absorb the sunlight and appreciate of vastness of the vineyard and the valley.
On the tour I went on there was also opportunity to explore some of the towns on your own during lunch, such as the small town of Healdsburg (www.healdsburg.com). This a beautiful town with plenty of activities such as bike riding and kayaking. It would definitely be on my lists of things to do if I got a chance to go back. It's one of those places which makes life seem so simple. You'll know what I mean when you get there! Try taking a picnic under one of the famous California tall trees that line the streets.
Transport is air conditioned and can get quite cool especially after sunset but it can get quite warm outside in the summer heat so wear layers so you can make yourself comfortable during your journey.
My final tip would be to savour the flavour and savour the moment. There are countless varieties of grape that produce some of the world's finest wines. Make sure you leave some space in your suitcase to take back home a bottle of your favourite drink. The hardest bit of the trip is deciding on your favourite!
Oh and finally… don’t drink and drive! Enjoy your trip.
My tour was provided by www.napawinetours.net and cost around GBP200 per person based on two sharing
There are plenty of other tours operating out of San Francisco and other providers include www.WineCountryTourShuttle.com and www.tournapavalley.com.
Flights to San Francisco can be quite reasonable particularly given the distance from the UK. Direct flights are offered by BA (www.ba.com), Virgin Atlantic (www.virginatlantic.com), United (www.united.com) and take around 11 hours. Off-peak expect to pay around GBP300 for a flight rising to around GBP600 during the peak summer period.
When we visited Napa Valley, Beringer was one of the few vineyards where tasting was free.
The tour of the vineyards was very interesting, especially when comparing the US and French wine drinking habits which were brought out in a light hearted way.
Most Americans don't seem to taste the wine, and the every day range is very palitable. When we got talking to the girl who did the tour, we were taken to the private tasting room to taste the superior wines.
2000 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
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