What to avoid (and make a point to include) while visiting one of the most overhyped areas in the country.
Castello di Amoroso
4045 St. Helena Highway, Calistoga
As if Daryl Sattui weren’t snickered at enough by Napa Valley wine circles for his mediocre wine and hyped-up, commercial tasting room, he’s gone and built a replica of a 13th-century Italian castle. Visitors are not allowed past the moat (even for a peek inside) if they haven’t made a reservation; beat-down staff block the plaster-of-Paris gate.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville
There’s no doubt that a meal at the French Laundry might be one of the best of your life. And the ridiculously extravagant service, in which battalions of starched servers swoop down to lift tiny pieces of silver after each course, can even be fun. But let’s face it: Most people aren’t in the mood to fork out $500 for dinner for two, not including wine. Nor do many have the stamina necessary to keep hitting redial, two months in advance, to get a reservation.
Napa Valley Wine Train
1275 McKinstry Street, Napa
Oh horror of horrors, driving away from a day of wine tasting and seeing a train filled with pudgy tourists with purple Cabernet-stained lips, pressed up against the windows staring at you. At $50 to $150, the ride’s overpriced (the $150 includes lunch with champagne); and the train is really nothing more than a Disneyland ride for grownups—which, on a bad day, is exactly what Napa is. Everything you buy on the train is extra (like food and wine); and it only stops at the most well-known wineries, such as Grgich Hills and Domaine Chandon.
Long Meadow Ranch
1796 St. Helena Highway, Rutherford
707-963-4555 ext. 161
It’s finally catching on, but for the longest time sustainability was not the word of the day in Napa. Exception: Long Meadow Ranch in Rutherford, which for years has had an organic farm, an organic winery, and an organic ranch. For $150, you get the grand tour: a hike around the grounds, then a big, fancy lunch of fresh produce, olive oils, and grass-fed beef from the ranch. And of course, lots and lots of homemade wine.
886 Rutherford Road, Rutherford
Wine’s good and all, but don’t forget about that other bushy tree-thing that grows under the same conditions: olives. Napa’s Mediterranean climate produces some of the best olive oil in the world. (Take that, Italy!) Round Pond offers a fabulous 90-minute tour and tasting ($20) that shows you where the olives are cultivated and milled. Then you’re treated to a tasting of the oils (including a delicious Meyer lemon one) and red wine vinegars—with good bread, cheeses, and seasonal organic produce.