travel:: Napa, Sonoma, SF (part 1)

As you probably gathered from my instagram feed, Craig and I just returned from the most incredible trip to wine country with three other couples, some of our most favorite people. This was our first real non wedding-related vacation together since Leighton was born, and it was much-needed! I’ve been dying to go back to wine country since my girls trip almost 3 years ago, and I’m so happy we decided to make this trip with several friends. We spent 2.5 days in Napa/Sonoma and then headed to San Francisco for a full day of touristy stuff before flying home Sunday. I took way too many photos (surprise!) and have so many things to say about everywhere we went, so I’ll do ya a favor and break this up into a few posts. Hopefully anyone who might be planning a trip to wine country will find these recommendations helpful!

NAPA::
We flew into SFO and immediately hit up In-N-Out Burger before what ended up being a very long drive up to Napa, thanks to a lot of traffic and some strange connections between interstates in the city. Just a side note — the burger hit the spot, but their fries are pretty lackluster.
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After driving for what seemed like forever (thanks to Trip for piloting #datbus for us!), we made it to Napa and went straight to Mumm for a champagne tasting. It did not disappoint! Gorgeous farmhouse setting, our own private patio, tasty bubbles, and a relaxing hour or so after traveling all day. We were surprised to find out that they make a Pinot Noir as well as a Sparkling Red, which we all decided would be perfect for the holidays. 
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We had dinner downtown at Oenotri — good pizzas, pastas, and wine (including several $750 bottles that we definitely did not order), and a busy, festive atmosphere. It was the perfect way to end our first day of vacation.

Thursday’s full day of tastings and tours started bright and early with our amazing driver/wine country concierge, Denise. We used her services last time upon recommendation from a friend, and they are so very worth it. She chose several of the wineries for us and booked our tastings/tours at each venue, gave us recommendations for meals, and then drove us around Napa and Sonoma in our rental van. She’s super knowledgeable about the area and vineyards, and I’d highly recommend using a service like hers if you’re ever taking a trip there.

Italics was our first stop of the day, and after seeing the tasting room, I wasn’t sure anything would top it the rest of the trip. The tasting room is set back in a cave, which is on top of a hill overlooking their property. As you can see, it’s not a bad view. 
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There are a number of hallways running through the caves, which house their barrels of wine. Once built out for their needs, caves are a lot more cost-effective for wine storage because they naturally stay at a low temperature (I think somewhere in the 50-60 degree range).
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This room was so stunning — I didn’t think there was any way we were special enough to do our tasting in there. Alas, we were. 🙂 The wines were excellent (all reds, other than the one white blend we tasted before going into the cave). We planned to collect bottles at each of the wineries we visited and ship back a case of 12, so it was hard to not just buy every option they had at Italics. (Well, let’s be honest — the price per bottle is really what kept us from buying them all.) Our host, John, was welcoming, knowledgeable, and totally not stuffy, which we all appreciated. Even after visiting 7 other wineries by the end of the trip, this was absolutely a highlight of the trip for us.
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Denise set up a really special tasting for us with the owner (Barry) of Tamber Bey Vineyards — at his home, set in the middle of one of his vineyards! Tamber Bey (named for two of Barry’s horses) does have a venue for regular tastings/tours, which is amid an amazing-looking equestrian facility, but you can’t beat being invited into someone’s home to learn about and taste the wine they make. Barry set up our tasting at a table on his back patio overlooking the most dreamy backyard gardens. I’m pretty sure we would have missed our next appointment if Denise hadn’t pulled us out of there, because I could have stayed all day. The wine was so good that Craig even requested we buy the Chardonnay, and he has always been adamant that he does not like white wine.
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We ordered lunch from Yountville Deli, which we ate in the van on the way to our next stop. I have been dreaming about my turkey/brie/avocado/bacon sandwich on ciabatta bread for almost a week now. Our third stop of the day was Aonair, or as I like to call it, the “dudes winery.” All four of the guys on our trip loved this place, and I can’t really blame them. Our host was really laid back and took us on an informal tour of the winery and caves, then let us hang out on the huge back deck of the cabin to enjoy our wine (while sitting in chairs made from wine barrels). We all agreed it would be the perfect spot to watch football in the fall. Also, his dog, Pedals, was seriously adorable.
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Rounding out our first day was Charter Oak Winery. The winemaker’s wife is a very talented artist and was actually the one to give us a tour of the property and lead our wine tasting. Her larger-than-life paintings of cityscapes are really colorful and full of life. She paints 3 cities on top of each other, and, as she told us, her style is unlike anyone else’s in the world. I’d love to have one of these in our home, but one that we saw was going for a quarter mil, so I don’t think that’ll happen anytime soon. I liked the cottage feel to the property and really liked her Zins, which we didn’t have a lot of on this trip. 
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When we came to Napa the first time, our favorite meal was lunch at a place called Farmstead in St. Helena. It was pretty much a requirement that we go back for dinner this time. I guess I was too busy eating and talking to snap any photos, but I can assure you it was as delicious as the first time we went a few years ago. 🙂 I could have eaten a dozen of their beignets with bourbon caramel sauce!
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Meanwhile, back in Atlanta…. Leighton was busy doing this:
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 Napa truly is a must-visit if you enjoy wine. Even though we were on the go the whole day with multiple venues to visit, it’s hard not to feel relaxed and happy while sipping incredible wines and taking in scenery that is absolutely stunning at every turn. Add in some of our favorite travel buddies, and it makes for a trip of a lifetime. Next up, Sonoma!

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