Napa Valley and its neighbor Sonoma Valley are known for their vineyards and wineries. We spent a Sunday afternoon touring by auto. Because we wanted to make sure that we got to do the actual tour at Sterling Vineyards (see separate review), we headed out CA29 through the Napa Valley through Napa and past St. Helena. The traffic midday was not too bad. We stopped along the way to take some photos of the fruit heavy vines at several of the accessible vineyards. With harvest a few short weeks away, there were a lot of wonderful opportunities for photos.
As we drove the CA29, we passed many well known brand names . . . Beringer, Mondavi and Sutter Home. Some of the buildings were spectacular! There were also many smaller, cottage industry type wineries that produce lesser known Napa Valley wines.
The winery tour industry is a business on its own merits. We were surprised to see the number of tours offered by limo tour operators. As we drove through Napa Valley, we must have seen at least 50 stretch limos and luxury cars. Just about all of the wineries that we looked into touring charged a fee, often between $10 and $25 per person (adults).
I was surprised at the narrowness of the valley itself. From the terrace atop the Sterling Vineyards property, you could see straight down through the valley. Many of the vineyards are on the valley floor but there are several that are up on the hillside.
What little we did venture down into the Sonoma Valley, we did notice that many of their grape vines were on and over the rolling hills as there was seemingly very little flat land in that direction. Perhaps we didn't go deep enough into Sonoma Valley? I don't know.
We did stop at one coop vineyard where grapes are grown for many member wineries. While tours were not provided, there was rather free access to the grape vines so we parked the car and got out to take some photos. The first thing we noticed was that the dark grapes appeared to grow larger than the white. All of the vines, regardless of variety of grape, were bursting with fruit ready to be picked. We were told harvest would take place starting in September . . . so just a week or two away.
If you make the trip on a summer weekend, be prepared for heavy traffic especially coming out of Napa Valley. For the most part, traffic moved rather well and didn't really cause us a significant delay. I think it took us about 15 minutes longer to return "out" of Napa Valley. The mistake we almost made was venturing too deep into Sonoma Valley. As we started to head in that direction, it was becoming increasingly clear that the traffic in the opposite direction was bumper to bumper for several miles so we aborted our trip after about ten miles for fear that we'd be late for our 6:30pm dinner reservation.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day tour of Napa Valley and would suggest that if you have a trip to San Francisco or Sacramento, you allow a day or two to take in the wine country of Northern California.
One of the things we were looking forward to doing was buying some wine to bring home. Unfortunately in a post 9-11 era, you can no longer take wine as a carry-on. While they did have some places that specialized in shipping and just about every winery shop could assist in your shipping needs, we didn't want to take the risk of having them damaged by airline baggage handlers . . . and didn't want to incur the added expense to ship via UPS so we passed on making a purchase on this trip. Maybe next time! In the meantime, we have a couple of wines on our shopping list here at home.