Review – Napa Valley Wine Country Tours
As I write this I am sitting with a cool flannel on my head and my fourth coffee of the morning steaming by my side. Why? Because I spent yesterday’s holiday (it was Memorial Day here in the USA) touring Northern California’s valleys and consuming my body weight in wine.
Like me, you’ll probably have a few preconceived ideas of what a wine country tour is like: likely fairly sedate, enjoyed by a sophisticated older crowd and probably involving quite a bit of spitting perfectly good wine into a glorified metal buckets.
It turns out not all wine tours are like that.
Just stepping onto the Napa Valley Wine Country Tour’s bus is enough to make it apparent that the tour is likely to be a little different. The bus resembles something you might choose to travel to the Grammy’s in rather than to tour Northern California’s vineyards: black leather seats, dark tinted windows and disco lighting.
The second clue – if it wasn’t already obvious – are the complimentary mimosas, served as the tour host (who also acts as bus driver, guide and caterer throughout the day) explains that we’ll be visiting no fewer than four wineries and probably sampling two dozen wines in total.
First Stop – Jacuzzi Family Vineyard
Our first stop of the day, at around 10 am, was Sonoma Valley’s Jacuzzi Family Vineyard. Founded in 1937 by Valeriano Jacuzzi, patriarch of the famous hot tub and spa manufacturing family, the winery is one of the largest in the Sonoma Valley, covering several hundred acres.
The tasting room is housed in a mock Tuscan villa decorated with wine making paraphernalia and various pieces of hot tub related machinery. It is free to taste up to five wines from the more than 20 produced at the vineyard and, once you’re done with the wine there are plentiful samples of bread, oils and vinegars available in the adjacent olive press.
Second Stop – Sonoma and the Roche Winery
We climbed back aboard, perked up by a healthy intake of mid-morning wine, and continued on to the small town of Sonoma where we were directed towards a handful of local wine tasting rooms.
We chose the Roche winery, whose tasting room is housed in a charming shop just to the corner of the town’s main square. It is distinguishable due its large number of Irish flags flying in the front – Roche is, you see, a rare thing: an Irish winery.
Here – reflecting the Irish spirit of excessive alcohol consumption (their words) – we sampled no fewer than nine wines including a pinot grigio, a pair of pinot noirs and, a novelty for me, a merlot directly from the barrel.
Third Stop – Lunch and the Baldacci Family Vineyard
14 wines down, we wobbled back to the bus for the winding journey across the small range of hills that separates the Sonoma and Napa valleys. Inhibitions now fast disappearing, the quiet atmosphere of the bus earlier that morning had vanished in favor of loud conversation among diverse range of guests (our tour included visitors from Britain, Australia, Ireland, China and a handful of other US states).
At our third stop, the Baldacci Family Vineyard, we were ushered immediately into the tasting room where a brave sommelier shouted over the semi-drunken hubbub about the finer points of the family’s chardonnays and pinot noirs.
We sampled five further wines before being encouraged to purchase a bottle to continue drinking during the complimentary lunch in the vineyard’s gardens.
Fourth Stop – Um… Somewhere in Napa
After lunch – now 19 samples and the best part of a bottle down – we continued on to the fourth and final winery.
To be honest, my memory of this last stop is a little hazy. I recall standing in a wonderful sunny courtyard having my glass regularly (perhaps six times… I’m not certain) refilled with wine which, by this stage of the day, all tasted fairly similar. Beyond that though… well I’m not certain where I was.
All inhibition now totally removed and the majority of guests contentedly drunk the journey home was a noisy affair. Minutes into the journey the sound system was plugged into an iPhone and the bus’s party interior began to achieve some relevance.
As a first foray into the Northern Californian countryside for new San Franciscans or tourists visiting the city I highly recommend this tour. Sure, you’ll learn next to nothing about wine and wine production, but you’ll drink a lot of it and, likely for that very reason, you’ll have a lot of fun.
We took the San Francisco to Wine Country Tour with Napa Valley Wine Country Tours. We were very kindly bought the tour tickets as a gift, but the tour would usually cost you $99 per person including breakfast, lunch and a mimosa. Tasting fees aren’t included, but are good value (we spent $15 each all day, but fees may vary as itineraries are subject to change).
The bus departed from central San Francisco (Union Square) at 8.20am and returned to the same spot at around 5pm.