Becky and I just returned from a vacation in Napa. Not Napa Valley, but downtown Napa. I've been to Napa Valley quite a few times in the late 80's and early 90's. We would shoot a lot of commercials out in Hollywood.....and we were always making the trek to Laguna Seca for the IndyCar races. The people I traveled with from Valvoline were crazy for wine, so we always managed side trips for Napa Valley wine tours.
There are essentially three different tiers of Napa Valley wine tours. The first tier of wineries are open to the public. You drive up, pay $20 for a wine glass and take a guided tour. The problem here is each tour lasts about an hour. You get to hear how their wine is made (zzzzzzzzzzz). Only after the hour has gone past do you get to that incredibly generous 1-ounce pour. And you get to do it with throngs of people. And then you are forced to sit with Bob and Shirley from Tulsa and talk wine. Just shoot me.
The second tier of wine tours involves substantially better wine. These wineries require that you make a reservation. And they charge handsomely for that reservation. Caymus Winery charges $100 per person. You still have to put up with that hour lecture on how their wine is made. And you only get two samples of wine...a 2-ounce pour of their Cab and a 2-ounce pour of their Chardonnay. And Bob and Shirley from Tulsa are there, too. Shoot me twice, please.
The third tier of wine tours requires a really, really big wallet. For $600 you get a car and driver and the chance for a private visit with the owners of 3 cult wineries. At each winery, the owner will give you very generous pours of their best wine and chat with you for about half an hour. You are required to make a minimum purchase of one case of wine per winery. The average bottle of Napa cult wine goes for around $180 per bottle, so by the time all three wineries have been visited, your wallet will be about $7,500 lighter. That's a very expensive way to ditch Bob and Shirley.
I refuse to go on any wine tours. So the purpose of our vacation was to simply enjoy the very best wine and food we could find in downtown Napa. We stayed at a little boutique hotel (12 rooms total) right on the Napa River. While we were technically not staying in downtown Napa, it was just a 3-minute Uber ride to the heart of downtown.
One of my favorite places to hang out was the Oxbow Market. It's a huge, indoor, open market. It has everything from craft distillers, fresh organic produce, locally crafted cheese to specialty butcher shops. I think my favorite was the Five Dot Ranch. They raise organic, grass fed beef and then butcher the animals themselves. It's on display in a classic butcher shop setting. You simply step up, pick out a cut of beef and they grill it up for you.
The Oxbow Market is not to be missed. Also, scattered around the downtown, are numerous wine tasting rooms hosted by Napa wineries. If you go, this is a nice way to taste wine in a more intimate setting. If you are going to go carnivore in Napa, Cole's Chop House is fantastic. They made me one of the best bone-in, ribeye steaks I have ever tasted.
There is one place in downtown Napa that you should not miss under any circumstance: Bounty Hunter. Before I went to Napa, Bounty Hunter was a cult wine catalog I got 4 times per year. They manage to get their hands on the Napa Valley cult wines that you will never find in your local liquor store. I've bought a lot of wines from them over the years, but I never had any idea that they ran a restaurant in downtown Napa.