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My travel buddy (fiance) and I have been wanting to take a Napa Valley trip for a while. Although the media made it seem that the entire area burned to the ground, we experienced much different! After the fires were out, the LA Times reported that “the fires had a minimal effect on the area’s wineries…Of the 1,200 wineries in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino, about 10 were destroyed or heavily damaged.” From time to time, you could see burnt mountains, but it wasn’t as ravaged as one may think.
However, the local tourism tanked for a few weeks after the fires. I reached out to the team at Visit Napa Valley to see if they were wanting to partner for a Napa Valley trip. They welcomed the Bald Thoughts team with open arms!
Napa Valley Trip – Silverado Resort and Spa
Located just a quick drive from Downtown Napa, the Silverado Resort was an excellent place to stay, hang out, and relax. With a full 18 hole golf course, tennis courts, and more – this is a country club intertwined with a hotel.
Even better, we were there in early December, and the beautiful hotel was covered in Christmas spirit!
Check out my review I wrote on my stay here.
Napa Valley Trip Tips
Fun fact – only 4% of the world’s supply of wine comes from Napa Valley! With over 1,000 wineries in Napa Valley, each winery is unique. The history, the grapes, the atmosphere – there is no “best” winery in Napa. Here are a few pointers before your Napa Valley trip.
- #1 TIP – Do your research beforehand! A Napa Valley trip is not something you can just “wing it”.
- Have a designated driver like Designated Dennis. See below!
- Figure out what you want to experience. Do you want to go to a world-renowned winery? Or are you looking for the more “mom and pop shop”? Each winery has licenses to only host a certain amount of people per day. Feel free to ask when calling what their hosting limit is per day. This will give you a sense of your experience beforehand.
- Walk in vs appointment – Each winery is different. Make phone calls beforehand.
- The rule of 3 applies. I would not recommend tasting at more than 3 wineries in one day. It can be tiring, mind-boggling with all of the stories and facts, and your pallet is skewed as the day goes on. By wine tasting #3 on Friday, I was exhausted.
- Commute – Ironically, there aren’t many wineries in the town of Napa. They are all to the north.
- Commute – Go to the bathroom before and after you leave each winery! My travel buddy had an emergency, and we had to stop on the side of the highway. HAHA!
- Food – Many wineries do not have food on site. And, there aren’t many food options outside of the city of Napa. Set an itinerary beforehand. You don’t want to be wine tasting and starving at the same time!
Napa Valley Trip – Designated Dennis
Drinking and driving in Napa County is prominent. Many of us are conditioned to simply getting an Uber or Lyft, which does get the job done. However, if you are looking for a professional, friendly, knowledgeable driver, Dennis is the man!
Dennis was kind enough to give the Bald Thoughts team a complimentary ride for the day.
A 50 year resident of Napa County and a wine enthusiast himself, Dennis knows the in’s and out’s of the winery business and the area.
There are driving services in Napa that are super fancy and buttoned up with a limo car and driver in a suit. Those can cost up to $75/hour! I’m not a fan of that experience or price.
Kiersten and I rented a car and it was only $40 for 4 days with Fox Rent-A-Car. Dennis operates his business by driving his guest’s rental cars. The best part is that he is your personal assistant for the day! He will go get you anything you need from in town.
He told us about incredible restaurants, details about each winery we drove by, history of the area, and was fun to have with us for the day. Also, he brought his wife’s homemade chips and salsa that are delicious!
10/10 would recommend Napa Driving Services with Designated Dennis.
A small insider tip from Dennis – “Many wineries charge for tastings. However, if you do buy bottles directly while you are there, you can usually get the tasting complimentary!”
Brasswood Cellars in St. Helena
Our first winery that we visited during our Napa Valley trip was the Brasswood Cellars in St.Helena. We experienced the Den Tasting and Cave Tour on the property, by the wonderful General Manager, Marcus Marquez.
During the tasting, Marcus chatted with us about the history of Brasswood, and sampled us to 4 different wines. We loved the Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.
Marcus wrote a book that just recently published titled 100 Things To Do in Napa Valley Before you Die. He was kind enough to send us home with a signed copy!
This winery is unique as they do full laboratory testing on site! The staff test various levels in their wine to ensure it is as perfect as possible.
They even have their own wine caves on site! The barrels stay at a cool temperature while the wine ferments inside the barrels. There are several millions of dollars of wine in these caves!
My fiance absolutely loved the fact that there are a restaurant and bakery on site. Many wineries do not have food options on site.
A Napa Valley staple, however, is their bread and cheese at the Brasswood Restaurant on the property – TO DIE FOR!
This is an incredible winery with tons of features, and the staff is incredibly friendly & knowledgeable! This is a larger winery so there will be other people around.
10/10 would recommend!
AXR Winery in St. Helena
AXR is a very new winery in the Napa Valley, but is extremely rich in history. This is actually 1 of the 9 standing “ghost wineries”. A ghost winery is one that is still lasting from the Prohibition era! A building rich in history is also rich in wonderful staff and ambiance. This is much more of a “mom and pop” shop, but incredibly deep with history!
If you love great storytellers and a bit of history, you will love what the staff at AXR have to offer. The staff toured us around the property, showing us their barn, and the beautiful Redwood Trees around the property.
Once the tour was over, we sampled the various wines with the staff and chatted more about the history of the winery and the wine business. The AXR group are an incredibly engaging group!
The wine was incredible, the history was fascinating, and the building was beautiful inside and out.
This winery was absolutely my fiance and me’s favorite for one reason, the people. Traveling is 100% about the people around you, and the staff made us feel at home.
For more info, check out their site here!
Burgess Cellars in St. Helena
The Burgess Cellars were absolutely beautiful! While the winery itself wasn’t a lengthy tour, the views were incredible!
Inside the winery, you were among the aging wine and your party. For us, it was me, my fiance, and our host! There wasn’t a ton to see outside of the views above, but the wine was phenomenal.
I give this winery an 8.5/10. While the wine was incredible and so was the views, there just wasn’t a ton to see.
For more info, check out their site here!
Benessere Vineyards in St. Helena
Last, we toured Benessere Vineyards. When we pulled up, we were met by a really vintage Ford F100 with the Benessere Logo.
We actually learned here that within Napa Valley, there are many micro-climates! From Napa to Calistoga, the temperature can actually range 25 degrees. Also, the best soil for growing grapes is volcanic soil. There were several pieces of obsidian scattered along the ground!
However, I wasn’t super impressed with the tour itself. There wasn’t much to see along the property.
I’ll give this one an 8/10.
NVA Loft – Hot Air Ballooning
When I received an email from the staff at NVA Loft offering Kiersten and I a complimentary ride, I FREAKED OUT! I was so excited.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of breeze while we were in Napa and it was canceled 2 days in a row…I was pretty heartbroken.
However, I did have to at least give them a shoutout! This is actually in Marcus’s 100 things to do in Napa Valley before you die book.
Check them out here!
Heritage Eats in Napa
The team at Heritage Eats reached out to Bald Thoughts and invited us in for a meal. At first, the menu did intimidate me a bit as it is not food I imagined I would eat. I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the food and service!
With an incredible menu ranging from Braised Pork Tacos, to a Cowboy Steak Wrap, to a Crispy Falafel Pita, the food introduces you to all different parts of the world. The owners, Ali and Ben Koenig, are well traveled and are bringing the world taste to Napa. With a very similar setup to Chipotle, the flavors are endless!
Whatever you may choose as your entree, you have to get the Waffle Fries with the 9 different sauces! YUM!
I let the staff know that my travel buddy and I were engaged and would love if they did something special for her. A glass of Napa Champagne and 2 glasses!
I love tasting new foods, and it is rare to do that in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I can’t recommend this place enough for a quick, yet delicious bite to eat!
Jax’s White Mule Diner
Another delicious stop was Jax’s White Mule Diner for breakfast. In Downtown Napa nestled away in a shopping center, this breakfast place is outstanding! Our driver Dennis’s son is actually a part owner and recommended it to us.
Kiersten ordered a Breakfast Burger, which she loved! I had a breakfast burrito and it was pretty solid as well.
Kindly enough, they treated us to some beignets and they were outstanding!
Make sure to give a stop here for a hearty breakfast before a day of wine tasting and adventures. Check out their menu here!
The Bald Thoughts
Our Napa Valley trip was a success! While California has experienced some devasting wildfires, do not let anyone fool you. The beauty of Northern California is still alive and well! A Napa Valley trip with your significant other is a great way to have a romantic weekend away, without breaking the bank.
Have you been to Napa Valley before? What are your favorites? Let’s hear them in the comments!