The amount of time it took me to get to Napa is shameful. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over seven years! And I’ve wanted to go that entire time. In fact, I’ve wanted to go since I saw the movie “The Parent Trap” as a child. I don’t fully remember why I was so interested in wine country as a kid. Might have had something to do with riding horses, hanging out at a mansion, and building a secret fort in the grapevines, but who can say? What’s important here is that I finally went.
Though the trip was on the short side, it made for a relaxing weekend filled with family, food, and of course, wine. The occasion was my stepdad’s birthday, and family from three different states came together for it. Everything was planned for us, which is a bit of a departure from how I usually travel. In a bigger city, I wouldn’t be into the lack of control over our schedule, but it was perfect for Napa. Really simple and carefree. We essentially walked out of our hotel at the designated times and were met with a bus that took us to different vineyards.
The vineyards that we checked out were all on the more boutique side, which I honestly prefer, because if I’m traveling to wine country I don’t want to taste labels I could get in the grocery store. But to each their own. Some people find comfort in the familiar. In the rest of this post, you’ll learn a little bit about each of the wineries that we visited.
Our first day in Napa was really more of a half-day. Once everyone arrived in town, we grabbed a quick lunch, then set out for a bike ride to a couple of vineyards. Due to time, this bike tour might’ve involved more drinking than cycling, but it afforded us an opportunity to stretch our legs and immerse ourselves in the vineyard-lined streets.
The first stop of the trip was Ceja Vineyards. Ceja is a family operation, owned and run by first generation Mexican-American winegrowers in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. They take a “wine for food” approach, meaning that their wines are developed with food compatibility in mind. Despite being a small operation, their wine was served at President Obama’s inauguration and is now on display at the Smithsonian in an exhibit that showcases immigrant contributions. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, and answered our more wildly specific questions with ease.
Ceja was by far my favorite vineyard of the trip. It also taught me a valuable lesson. If you love a wine and are cool with its price, buy it. I adored a Chardonnay I tried at Ceja, but thought I might regret taking home a bottle from the first winemaker I visited. Instead I regret passing on it, as Ceja wines can only be purchased directly through their website (unless you’re local).
Our second vineyard was Bouchaine. This is a boutique vineyard where everything is grown onsite. Bouchaine didn’t quite strike a chord with me like Ceja did. Their wines were good, but their story just wasn’t as heartwarming and inspiring as Ceja’s. That said, they did let me pluck a pomegranate off their tree, so ultimately they’re winners in my book.
On the second day of our Napa weekend, we grabbed breakfast and then set out for a couple more tours and tastings. Before you ask, yes, I did wear the same shirt that I did on day one. I know it’s a little gross, and definitely not bloggerly, but we had a family photo shoot that morning and everyone was supposed to dress in light colors. I’d brought a light pink jumpsuit for the shoot, and was very excited about it. But that morning I realized I’d forgotten an integral piece of the outfit, resulting in me looking less like a fashion icon and more like a toddler in a onesie. It’s all good, though. I love the Madewell shirt I sported, so I don’t mind having more pictures in it. Here’s a link for those of you who dig it as much as I do.
Turnbull Wine Cellars
At Turnbull Wine Cellars, we got a full tour of the facility. Everything from vines to barrels to bottles. We got to watch grapes travel up a special produce elevator, and even chatted with the winemaker a bit. The property was beautiful. It’s full of fruit trees and herbs, so it’s probably where I’ll end up going in the event of the apocalypse.
I really liked the wines here and ended up grabbing a bottle for later. Couldn’t make the same mistake I did at Ceja! If you travel to Napa with a large group, I’d definitely recommend this spot. They stuck us in a private patio and set out personalized menus, along with some snacks to pair each wine with, so it felt pretty special.
Our last vineyard of the trip was Palmaz. This place had serious Dr. Evil’s lair vibes, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. Palmaz is another family owned spot. Julio Palmaz (the patriarch of the family) invented the Palmaz Coronary Stent, which revolutionized medicine. He then opened Palmaz Vineyards as a passion project of sorts. The grounds are absolutely stunning. The property is perched on the side of a mountain, giving you beautiful views of their vines. The actual winemaking, however, takes place underground. Like, eighteen stories underground. In a cool, high-tech wine cave. (Get my Dr. Evil reference now?)
Palmaz was the only vineyard that we visited that was affected by the recent fires in Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Luckily, they didn’t sustain too much damage, and nobody was hurt.
All in all, the time we spent in Napa was pretty magical. My stepsister, Jillian asked me to be a bridesmaid at her upcoming wedding, and it was a great opportunity to get everyone together. Everyone but my stepbrother Steven, who was too busy with school to hang out with us. But we brought a cutout of his face, so he may as well have been there.The only negative thing I have to say about Napa is that the restaurants we visited weren’t super vegetarian-friendly, and were a bit pricey. To be clear, we were able to find food we could eat everywhere, but the veggie dishes available to us just weren’t very exciting or varied.
As for Napa’s cost, well, I think that’s an assumption most people already make. That said, if you live in Southern California, there are definitely more budget-friendly wineries available to you in places like Santa Barbara, Solvang, and Temecula. They’re also a lot closer. But there’s something magical about going to one of America’s most renowned wine regions, so if that’s a dream of yours, you should make it happen! Just plan accordingly.