First Trip to Napa - need some help please

Finally have my first trip to Napa booked for this late winter / early spring. Actually going with a rather large group for work (some customers and some coworkers). All fun, no business. I believe it is everyone's first time out there. There will be 13 of us. 

So, I have several questions that I would very much appreciate any input you all want to offer. I will say that while it has been some time since my last post, I have off and on done research on this trip as I've almost taken it several times in years past. So, I hope I am not asking silly repetitive stuff here that has been asked 50 times before (or maybe I am, if so, sorry), like where do I have to go and where should I eat. I think I have all that down. I may end with one rookie question though. 

Here is what I am looking for though:

1) My single biggest question is with a group this large and logistics. What is the best way get from SFO to our hotel? And then how about hopping from winery to winery? Again, 13 with my group so if we rent cars, we need like 3+ cars and an equal amount of designated drivers (sad face). 

2) I currently have reservations at the Napa Andaz, which I could cancel if needed. Is that in a good spot, or it is better to opt for a place like Rancho Caymus or something a little further north and closer to many of the wineries. Kind of ties into the logistics above, as there are many walkable places from Rancho and we wont get killed by Uber if we choose to go that route. 

3) While I am trying to treat everyone to a great time, I do need to be operating within a budget, which I feel I am going to totally destroy. That said, do many of the restaurants offer corkage if we want to bring in bottles from the days haul? Is there any type of rule of thumb I should use with corkage (i.e. the quality of the bottle I take in there). Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to take a $15 bottle into a nice restaurant and do a corkage, but I also dont need to buy 6 $300 bottles at dinner each night, if avoidable.  

4) Along the budget lines of #3. I feel I know the obvious "gotta eat here" restaurants, but what are your favorite holes in the wall where maybe I can save a buck or two? We have probably 9 meals to eat (including breakfast) and I know my boss would appreciate it if every one of them didn't include a jaw dropper of a receipt with it. 

5) As for the wineries, I have reached out to several of the places I want to hit. I am a little concerned that our group size seems beyond capacity for some of the online published tours and tastings at some of my target places. Where are some of your favorite places that we can just stop in and have a glass of wine and maybe do some self guided walks around the grounds without a reservation? While some places seem all about the quaintness and small group reservations, I gotta figure some of these places can just pack in the people and that may be a little more our speed with our group size.  

6) Last (here is my rookie question), I know Napa is all about the Cabernet, but we have a few Pinot Noir fans in the group. What is your single favorite Napa stop for Pinot Noir, or should we invest one of our days and cross over to Sonoma?

If you are still reading at this point, thank you. If you click the reply link and type up some stuff, REALLY, thank you! If you offer some really standout things for me to take into account, I'll probably send you a PM inviting you to join us at one of the wineries for a glass or two on me (considering you're local). Otherwise, I'll just try to think really hard to put some good vibes out there in the stratosphere for you. 

Regards,

 

Kevin

 

Original Post

1.  Two large Suburbans or a large van (we have used a van for family outings on vacation).  Cuts down on the amount of DD's you need.

2.  We have stayed at the Andaz, really enjoy the property.  It is walking distance to a number of really good places to eat.  Right across the street is Oenotri, they have really good pizza and pastas (might be cheap to grab some pizzas and sit around the firepit at the Andaz).  Also it's about a 10 minute walk to the Oxbow Market (a lot of eateries and great coffee at Ritual Roasters).  Also Gott's which is a great lunch place for burgers and fries. 

The Andaz and downtown Napa is a bit south but only 10-15 minute drive to the heart of Highway 29 and all of the wineries.

3.  Most places allow corkage, just don't bring something that they already have on the list.  And call ahead to make sure they allow corkage.

4. Napa in general is expensive, but see above for some great pizza / Burger places to eat.  I would add that we like to go to Dean and Deluca and get sandwiches, meats, cheeses, etc for picnic lunches.  D&D is not cheap but probably better than a sit down place.

5. Not much help on the bigger more commercial wineries, I try to avoid large crowds.

6.  Sonoma is cool, but it's not just 'over there' it's a bit of a hike .  That being said, if you do go, I would hit Landmark for Pinot and Chard, and go to Ridge Geyserville for their lineup (thought no Pinot). 

Good luck, drink A TON of water, and don't try and do everything in one trip.  People will get burned out and start dropping after a few days of heavy drinking and eating.

 

 

I hope your boss has a budget projection on the high end of the scale, considering customers are involved.  For a group this large, it's not always easy to keep certain costs from going "off the rails", especially when everyone is a few drinks in and having a good time.  And we all know that Napa is hardly an inexpensive destination.  Better to expect a high total cost and come in below projections, then think "reasonable" and end up blowing past it.  

For transportation, you may want to consider renting a large limo or bus, unless you're absolutely confident that a few folks are teetotalers, and wouldn't mind being the DDs to an increasingly sloppy group of passengers.  Oftentimes, the drivers have relationships with wineries, and can help you arrange a reservation and/or get a package deal for a large group to visit.  

Tying into some of the comments and questions above, the longer this trip is, the less likely that folks will want to do the "bop around to different wineries" during the latter days of the trip.  So if you're there for 5 days, there's a good likelihood that not the entire group is down to travel to different wineries for every one of those days.  The other days, folks who still want to explore wine can visit the many tasting rooms that are walking distance or a short ride away.  

As for corkage, be sure to confirm the resto's corkage policy.  A lot of the better known places either have a limit to the number of bottles you can bring, or have an escalating pricing structure where the 3rd bottle and beyond have a noticeably higher corkage charge than the first two.  Since you will be calling the restos anyway to make a reservation for a group this size, it's certainly worthwhile to verify the corkage policies and especially find out if they offer a "buy a bottle off the list, get a corkage fee waived" incentive.  

As for an inexpensive meal option, if Addendum in Yountville is open during your stay, I'd highly recommend having lunch there.  Thomas Keller's famous buttermilk fried chicken is the lure here, and a large bucket (13 to 15 pieces) at $48 is one of the true bargains for gourmet food in the Valley.  It's been over a year since I've been, but if things haven't changed, then they don't charge corkage for sitting and eating at the picnic tables set up there (first come, first served for the tables, and you'll have to bring your own glassware) and you should only order the fried chicken and bring your sides/fixings from somewhere else (sides were horribly underseasoned).

"Where are some of your favorite places that we can just stop in and have a glass of wine ....without a reservation? While some places ....can just pack in the people and that may be a little more our speed with our group size. "

As you're finding you're group size is a big limit.  Groups that size, wineries just hate, and I mean hate.  I could tell you why, but I'd probably boor you.  My suggestion that would make things a whole lot easier on you is to break your group in half and set up two different itineraries each day, maybe even exact same winery stops but do them on different days for the different groups.  You'll have a lot easier time getting reservations with a group of 6-7 than 13.

I wouldn't worry about corkage so much, figuring you do 3-4 stops a day you're going to rack up $150-$450 a day per person in tasting fees, corkage will seem small after that. 

Thank you all for the replies so far. I think some of you are thinking I have no budget. I have a pretty good amount of money I can spend for our short period of time. I'd just prefer to spend it wisely. Splurge where I need to, save where I can. This is all good stuff and very much appreciated. 

 

Paul - I have considered breaking us into 2 groups and is a great idea if we were 100% striking out on places we had to hit. I think our list is big enough to find a few spots each day. While we may do that one day, since we all like wine, but don't really consider us "aficionado's" I like the idea of us being together more and enjoying the company as much as what's in the glass.

It is our first time here, so I'm more about the experience, than wondering which wineries isn't as good as it used to be or which mailing list I will never get on. Its about the journey, not the destination, right? 

I have always enjoyed dining at Brix and on their backyard patio that overlooks their garden and the Mayacamas mountains.  Corkage friendly - $20 per bottle for up to 6 bottles with a corkage waived with each bottle purchased from their list.

If I were to pick two wineries for your group, I'd pick Pride (good wines, fabulous views with picnic tables) and Schramsberg (one of the older wineries in the area and are better known for their sparkling wine).  

The mustard weeds should be in bloom (yellow flowers) around that time of year and are found all over the valley vineyard floor.  

dirtysouth posted:

Paul -

It is our first time here, so I'm more about the experience, than wondering which wineries isn't as good as it used to be or which mailing list I will never get on. Its about the journey, not the destination, right? 

Nothing meant to be snobby in my advice at all, just practical.  Let me stress this a little more.  Large groups have a terrible, terrible, awful, nasty, putrid reputation in wine country.  Even in my AVA, which didn't even make DoubleD's list, the majority of wineries will not take a large group without a reservation and a full 1/4 will not take them at all.  Yeah the reputation really is that bad.

IN Napa even wineries as commercial/industrial as Rombauer and Pine Ridge won't take a group larger than 6.  I just think you're making it really hard on yourself and will be very limited in trying to keep the group together.  You do have a couple of advantages if you can get on the phone with someone: 1. you're not Northern California local (which is really where the asshat group reputation comes from), 2. Everyone in your group likes wine, so you might get a few places to break policy for you.  It's going to be tough for you though to get anything set up.

I wouldn't propose you set out in two different groups, I'd try to find places close together where you could set up dual appointments and divide up when you arrive so everyone gets some time with everyone else.  The other thing you could look for is places that will let you book 2 groups of six.

Probably the easiest and best option though is to go with a tour company.  They will vet you to make sure you're not birthday party asshats and then set things up for you at wineries they have relationships with that fit your bill.

flwino posted:

For 13 folks, get a larger van  AND a driver, then everyone can drink

100% this. I’ve done this before but I wasn’t the person who arranged it. I do know this is actually pretty common in the area and several companies offer this. 

Airport to hotel may be trickier, though. Might want to rent 4 budget cars to make the drive, then use van/mini-bus service in Napa. SFO to Napa is a trek. 

As for the rest of it, I’m pretty uninspired by the larger just-stop-by tasting rooms in Napa but I would say Plumpjack is probably my favorite of that sort.  Sequoia Grove is nice in a more moderately priced way. 

The people at Chappellet have always been so nice to me, I bet they will be able to work with you but you’ll need to make an appointment.  Staying in Napa is absolutely fine. No problemo.  For Pinot go to Carneros (very close to the town of Napa but in the other direction).  Etude is the best. (Also great Cabs.)  Saintsbury is also nice. Though, I might choose to go to Domaine Carneros which has some very nice Pinots as well as sparkling wines.   Again, call first. Especially since for all three of these wineries it is their limited production stuff that is really quite good  

Most restaurants have good corkage policy. (And many have good wine lists at reasonable prices.). Call first — make sure there is no bottle limit. 

stefaniawine posted:
dirtysouth posted:

Paul -

It is our first time here, so I'm more about the experience, than wondering which wineries isn't as good as it used to be or which mailing list I will never get on. Its about the journey, not the destination, right? 

Nothing meant to be snobby in my advice at all, just practical.  Let me stress this a little more.  Large groups have a terrible, terrible, awful, nasty, putrid reputation in wine country.  Even in my AVA, which didn't even make DoubleD's list, the majority of wineries will not take a large group without a reservation and a full 1/4 will not take them at all.  Yeah the reputation really is that bad.

IN Napa even wineries as commercial/industrial as Rombauer and Pine Ridge won't take a group larger than 6.  I just think you're making it really hard on yourself and will be very limited in trying to keep the group together.  You do have a couple of advantages if you can get on the phone with someone: 1. you're not Northern California local (which is really where the asshat group reputation comes from), 2. Everyone in your group likes wine, so you might get a few places to break policy for you.  It's going to be tough for you though to get anything set up.

I wouldn't propose you set out in two different groups, I'd try to find places close together where you could set up dual appointments and divide up when you arrive so everyone gets some time with everyone else.  The other thing you could look for is places that will let you book 2 groups of six.

Probably the easiest and best option though is to go with a tour company.  They will vet you to make sure you're not birthday party asshats and then set things up for you at wineries they have relationships with that fit your bill.

Paul, no need to apologize. I wasn't viewing your comment as snobby at all. I actually really appreciate the insight you were giving to me. Forums are hard to read tone, so I apologize if you took my comment as anything other than, we may just need to wing it and see what happens. In the bit of "search" I did on this forum for Napa trips, it seemed like a lot of the posts were more about who wasnt as awesome as they used to be, or whatnot. My point is that we have no baseline, so while something may not be what they used to be, maybe it is still really cool for me at this moment. 

For what it is worth, I have reached out to the following so far and all have actually seemed pretty receptive to hosting my group:

 

Hall

Heitz

Orin Swift

While all pretty readily available across the US, I've really enjoyed wines from each of these producers in the past. 

 

Have not heard from:

Plumpjack or Inglenook

 

Again, seriously no need to apologize and sorry that my comments made you feel the need to do so. I do really appreciate all the comments on here as I have already gotten a lot more than I expected and its barely been 24 hours. 

 

Kevin

winetarelli posted:

As for the rest of it, I’m pretty uninspired by the larger just-stop-by tasting rooms in Napa but I would say Plumpjack is probably my favorite of that sort.  Sequoia Grove is nice in a more moderately priced way. 

The people at Chappellet have always been so nice to me, I bet they will be able to work with you but you’ll need to make an appointment.  Staying in Napa is absolutely fine. No problemo.  For Pinot go to Carneros (very close to the town of Napa but in the other direction).  Etude is the best. (Also great Cabs.)  Saintsbury is also nice. Though, I might choose to go to Domaine Carneros which has some very nice Pinots as well as sparkling wines.   Again, call first. Especially since for all three of these wineries it is their limited production stuff that is really quite good  

Most restaurants have good corkage policy. (And many have good wine lists at reasonable prices.). Call first — make sure there is no bottle limit. 

Good stuff! Thank you for this info, will need to check those PN producers out. Plumpjack email went out last night, but maybe seems like we can just stop out there from this post. 

dirtysouth posted:
winetarelli posted:

As for the rest of it, I’m pretty uninspired by the larger just-stop-by tasting rooms in Napa but I would say Plumpjack is probably my favorite of that sort.  Sequoia Grove is nice in a more moderately priced way. 

The people at Chappellet have always been so nice to me, I bet they will be able to work with you but you’ll need to make an appointment.  Staying in Napa is absolutely fine. No problemo.  For Pinot go to Carneros (very close to the town of Napa but in the other direction).  Etude is the best. (Also great Cabs.)  Saintsbury is also nice. Though, I might choose to go to Domaine Carneros which has some very nice Pinots as well as sparkling wines.   Again, call first. Especially since for all three of these wineries it is their limited production stuff that is really quite good  

Most restaurants have good corkage policy. (And many have good wine lists at reasonable prices.). Call first — make sure there is no bottle limit. 

Good stuff! Thank you for this info, will need to check those PN producers out. Plumpjack email went out last night, but maybe seems like we can just stop out there from this post. 

I have just stopped by Plumpjack and it was open.  But that was a few years ago.  But... I just checked their website and apparently it is now by appointment. Ooooops!  Sorry. 

I'm not a big fan of the corporate walk in tasting rooms, and I prefer to visit mom and pop wineries for a more personal experience, but that is not feasible for your large group.  A lot of the bigger wineries have private tasting rooms (Merryvale For example).  I would make an appointment for that sort of tasting.  I wouldn't try to just wing it as a big group unless your going to a place like V. Sattui that caters to bus tours.

Interestingly, I've noticed that some wineries charge more per person for tasting as a large group (8 or more).  I imagine that larger groups don't buy nearly as much wine per person than smaller groups or individuals.

 

 

Couple new questions.

1) Thinking about moving to Rancho Caymus. Seems like this is more in the heart of everything versus "downtown Napa" for the Andaz. Is this a good call or is Downtown much better to stay for post day drinking evening time atmosphere?

2) Are there a lot of Uber / Lyft options out here or do I need the charter bus or our own vehicles?

napacat posted:
bomba503 posted:

Rutherford Grill

No corkage....all the time....as many as you want

may want to verify buts thats what it has been for a while

Rutherford Grill is the best...along with a new favorite Brasswood.

I’m with you on Brasswood. They make this molten mozzarella cheese served over bread with olive oil that you just want to rub all over your body and then lick..........oops. Got to go....

glennk posted:

Rutherford Grill is part of the Hillstone group right?  A step up no doubt compared to most chains but there has to be better options in Napa for dinner. 

Yeah. I mean, it’s fine.  It’s good. But people go there for the wine. Their upper tier wine list is not terribly far off retail-priced. That has always been the draw.  2013 Shafer HSS @ $290 off the list is the draw. Not the food.  (Or, really, the game people used to play that I’m sure still is- go with a few people and order the Screagle at a fraction of its retail value.  2013 is a $3000 bottle of wine retail at $1800 on their list.)

 

BTW, quick perusal of website to get current wine pricing led me to see they now charge $15/ bottle corkage after the first. Not much, just thought I’d mention it. 

Look, I am NOT an expert on Napa dining, and didn’t want to chime in since I’m used to having Napa locals on this board. But since the experts have left...

These are all provisionally reccomended, though you should double check they meet your needs.

Angele- French-ish. Good food, not earth-shattering.  Very nice setting. Inquire about corkage. Not my first choice for you but may meet your needs and definitely worth knowing about.

*Bistro Jeanty- French. Great food. Better tham Angele. Possibly very nice setting for your needs.  Corkage is a little steep, but doable.  Napa Valley institution. 

*Bistro Don Giovanni- Napa-Italian. Great food so long as authenticity is not expected.  Or I should say, it is authentic Cal-Ital. Good setting — it can get a little... bustling. I think I recall good corkage policy. Would recommend above some others on this list.  Long standing Napa Valley staple.

Zuzu- Tapas. Not sure that is appropriate for you but tasty food. Good vibe. Never had a problem with corkage but you should contact. 

Ad Hoc- Down home good eatin’. Great food. One menu for entire restaurant changes daily. Good setting. Low food cost (for its quality).  High corkage. 

*Brix- Cal-French. Napa-y. Great food.  Great setting — nicest of the bunch.  A little pricier food than the others on this list but only a touch. I recall decent or low corkage — possibly offsetting slightly higher food prices — but you should inquire.  

To me, Mustard’s comes before any of these if it makes sense for you as it is a Napa staple for me. 

The other two nights should probably be between Bistro Don Giovanni, Bistro Jeanty and Brix. 

 

P.S.  You might want to look into Harvest Table in St. Helena, too. Though I haven’t been. 

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