The Non-Wine-Lover's Guide to Napa Valley

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Anyone that knows Derrick and I personally could tell you that wine is not our drink of choice. I actually just cracked a beer as a sat down to write this. It’s a “Pacific Ale” from Aslan Brewing Company called Dawn Patrol and drinking it makes me feel particularly bad ass. I can tell you right now, I’ve never felt bad ass while drinking wine.

But, I digress.

As you may have read on our About page, Derrick and I are road-tripping and house-sitting our way through the US and Canada this summer. Our first house-sitting location was in a quaint suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area called Concord. We kept watch over a three-bedroom ranch house and took care of some adorable kitties and a thriving vegetable garden. Who knew zucchini could grow larger than your forearm in 100-degree heat?

Again, I digress.

I am telling you the location of this house-sit because Concord, CA just-so-happens to be a one hour drive from Napa Valley. Even our snobby, beer-loving-selves couldn’t pass up a day in North America’s wine capital when we were so close. So, to Napa Valley, we went. Luckily, the itinerary we had planned with the help of recommendations and Google searches could keep even the biggest beer fan happy.

Disclaimer: As much as we don’t enjoy a nice glass of smooth red, we did spend our day drinking some damn good wine. This suggested itinerary will not help you avoid wine (that’s illegal in Napa), but it will help you find the best ways to enjoy drinking it.

First Stop: Sterling Vineyards
$32/pp for the Basic Wine Tasting

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When we started planning our day in Napa, we were immediately drawn to the vineyards that offered an atmosphere. You weren’t about to find Derrick or I in a small, 5-person tasting room, swilling wine and pretending to smell grassy undertones. This led us to Sterling Vineyards. When Derrick discovered that the tasting included a gondola ride to the Vineyard, he was sold. I’ve chosen to believe this is because of his love of skiing, but I think his desire to teleport played a role.

Let’s keep digressing, shall we?

We arrived at Sterling Vineyards just as the wineries were opening for the day (Napa – yes, all of it – opens around 11:00 am). I chose not to call this post, “Napa on a Budget” because even though we were on a budget, Napa isn’t cheap. As noted above, the cost of the Basic Tasting at Sterling Vineyards is $32/per person, or $64 total for Derrick and I. Sterling was the priciest of the three tastings but we were, of course, paying for the experience. However, the wine was great and the view was even better. The gondola was a fun perk of the whole experience and, I imagine, helps set Sterling apart from their hundreds of competitors in Napa.

In addition to the gondola ride, Sterling Vineyards offers a very interactive experience once you arrive at the vineyard. The tasting winds you throughout their facility so you get to see the operation while enjoying the output. There are four destinations along their tasting “route” which feature a taste of white or red wine at each stop. The tasting journey ends on their expansive outdoor patio which offers unbelievable views of the valley below. Elevation gain was another awesome perk of the gondola.

Overall, Sterling Vineyards is a quintessential Napa Valley experience. If you only have a few hours to enjoy the valley, Sterling is a must-stop and will keep everyone in your party happy, even the non-wine-lovers.

Second Stop: V. Sattui Vineyard
$15/pp

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This was hands-down Derrick and I’s favorite stop on the list. We’d been told by various Napa-lovers about the BBQ hosted on weekends at V. Sattui. If locals were mentioning the BBQ before the wine, it was undoubtedly our kind of place. We arrived at V. Sattui around 1:00 pm and the parking lot was PACKED. We’d heard the food was great and apparently so had everyone else. Although the parking was madness, once we found a spot, the rest of the experience was virtually stress-free.

V. Sattui has the perfect property for a BBQ of epic proportions. With room for over 25 picnic tables and plenty of lawn space for blankets and chairs, the parking seemed to be the only place that couldn’t easily accommodate all of the people. The tasting at V. Sattui is far more casual than Sterling Vineyards. Once you pass through the BBQ area (if you can resist), you’ll find an impressive barn-style building that houses both the tasting area, as well a specialty food shop. After losing our friend to the depths of the shop, she unearthed half-way through our tasting with a cart full of various cheeses, meats, chocolates, crackers, and wine for our picnic. I love a girl who knows what she wants.

If I’m being honest, the tasting itself was nothing spectacular. The wine was great but we were sardined between the hundreds of shoppers and fellow tasters and probably could’ve enjoyed the vineyard just as much, if not more, without the tasting. Between the bottled wine options, the BBQ menu, and the free olive oil and bread samples, the tasting quickly became an afterthought.

Again, Napa is not cheap and neither was Napa’s BBQ (sounds like an oxymoron). The food is a highlight but it can quickly bust your budget. Luckily, after settling into a nice shaded spot on their lawn, we forgot about the price and enjoyed the delicious spread. The view from the vineyard pales in comparison to Sterling, but you do get to watch the drunk tourists stumbling on and off the Napa Valley wine train which frequently passes by V. Sattui.

Third Stop: Domaine Chandon
$20/pp

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We may not love wine, but champagne is the exception. However, don’t even try to call it that in Napa lest you want to be shunned back to the Bay Area. Unless it’s from the Champagne Valley in France, it’s Sparkling Wine.

All aboard the digress train.

When we arrive at Chandon, we were immediately impressed by the sprawling, well-manicured lawn that surrounded the building, and partially covered it. The building itself was set into the hillside and much of its roof and walls were covered in the plant life growing around it. Once inside, the only natural light shone from the doors through which we’d just entered making it feel like nighttime, aka, a more socially acceptable time to drink. I didn’t hate it.

However, as soon as you got to the tasting room, the round bubble-like windows offered a beautiful view of the lawn outside and you were immediately reminded that yes, you’d been day drinking and were tipsy at 4:00 pm. I still didn’t hate it.

The tasting itself was very easy. You chose your tasting option at a bar-like counter, thanked the well-dressed gentleman who poured your (generous) sip of sparkling wine and went on your merry way until you were ready for the next pour. The exits were like a choose-your-own-adventure series as each led to a different part of their sprawling lawn. Their back lawn offers a beautiful view of their vineyard while their patio is more of a social affair with lots of people enjoying bottles of bubbly. Choose wisely, my friends.

Overall, Chandon is the perfect stop on any Napa Valley itinerary. It helps cleanse your wine tasting pallet and everyone knows some bubbly sparkling wine can give you the second-wind needed after starting to day-drink at 11:00 am.

Last Stop: Lagunitas Brewery
Price varies

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Any true beer-lover isn’t going to end their day at a vineyard, sparkling or not. As we’re heading back to the car, our friend casually mentions the close* proximity of Lagunitas Brewery, knowing that Derrick and I would bite. On our drive there, we discover that Lagunitas Brewery is located in Petaluma, CA, almost 45 minutes away from Domaine Chandon in Napa’s neighbor Valley, Sonoma. Luckily, we were driving there during Golden Hour (Napa – yes, all of it – closes around 5:00 pm) and the drive included amazing sun-soaked views of rolling hills and vineyards the entire time.

Lagunitas Brewery is a huge operation in Petaluma. Their main brewery is in a very large warehouse that you can see from a few blocks away. They also have their taproom on-site with a large outdoor patio on which you can enjoy a few brews. With a flight in-hand, we got back to our roots for our final drinks of the day just as the sun starting setting.

As you can see, not even Wine Capital, USA could convert us beer enthusiasts. However, we are so glad we reserved a day to enjoy such an iconic location of our country. Even if you don’t love wine, Napa has something for everyone and is the perfect way to spend a lazy summer Sunday, however you choose to indulge.

*It’s not close


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