Whether you’re a winophile or don’t know your Merlot from your Pinot Noir, you haven’t experienced the beauty and history of Napa until you’ve gone on a vineyard tour. Winemaking is an incredibly laborious and complex process—it takes years of aging, and 50% of the work is done in the vineyard itself. Napa contains 15 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) or microclimates, determined by soil type, so a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Yountville region could taste completely different if you drink it in Rutherford, despite the fact that they used the same cab grapes. Contrary to popular misconception, only 5% of California wine is produced in Napa.
We’ll let you in on a little secret: Liquor licenses are in such short supply that vineyards and restaurants hand over as much as $300,000 to buy one on the private resale market. Therefore, some establishments don't want to go through the hassle of getting one and being listed in guidebooks. If you come across a vineyard you’re dying to try with your husband, call them up in advance to schedule a private appointment, and most of the time they will let you in.
There’s also an unspoken rule that if you attend a free tasting, you need to buy the same number of bottles that you consume gratis. Since you and your wedding guests will be drinking quite a bit of alcohol, even if you make use of the spit cup, stay safe and hire a driver for the day. We recommend Beau Wine Tours (Visit beauwinetours.com or call 800-387-2328 and ask for “Woody”). Bonus: They know all of the up-and-coming wineries in the area and all of the latest gossip in town, which trumps renting a car.
There are three different kinds of vineyards that exist here: “ghost” wineries that don’t own their own grapes or equipment, vinters who own the means of production but produce mid-level quantities of cases, and established vineyards that have been around for decades.
Check out the three vineyards we visited, plus a brewery:
The Ultimate Guide to Napa: