Mailbag Monday: Transportation While Tasting in Napa?

Hi Alleigh—
I saw that you went to Napa a couple of months ago.  How did you get around while you were there?  Did you have a driver that you would recommend?

My friend and me on the back roads through the vineyards at the start of our bicycle wine tasting tour

My friend and me on the back roads through the vineyards at the start of our bicycle wine tasting tour

Ah…Napa!  One of my best friends and I met there in mid-February for a girl’s weekend.  She was coming from British Columbia and I, obviously, headed west from Washington, D.C.  Even though she lives in Canadian Wine Country, her husband is not a huge wine tour fan and Hubby, as you may know, doesn’t drink.  So, what better place than Napa for two wine-loving females who haven’t seen each other in 3 years?

We did rent a car to get to and from San Francisco, but except for a short drive to the Napa Premium Outlets, we left the car parked at the hotel and either walked, biked, or had a driver for all of our tastings.

 

Me on a bike outside the entrance of Peju

Me on a bike outside the entrance of Peju

Our first full day of wine tasting was done on bicycle.  We rented hybrid bikes from Napa Valley Bike Tours for $39, and we both opted to pay and extra $5 for the gel seats.  In retrospect, we probably should have also paid the extra $15 to return the bikes in the morning, this way we wouldn’t have had to rush out of Mumm to be back at the store by 5pm.  In fact, had we done that we might have even been able to stop at one more winery on our way back to the hotel, but hindsight is always 20-20, and that was poor planning on our part.  Also, by just paying for the rental, we didn’t have a follow-up van to pick-up any purchases.  While that worked out well for us because my friend had a messenger bag and I had a backpack that allowed us both to carry some snacks, plastic wine glasses, and the several bottles we bought (admittedly, some of which we drank along the way), if you’re concerned about carrying the bottles with you on the bike, Napa Valley Bike Tours has several guided and self-guided tour packages that included a follow-up van.

My friend riding along the Silverado Trail leaving Mumm Napa

My friend riding along the Silverado Trail leaving Mumm Napa. This was the only stretch that felt like “real highway.”

Overall, working with Napa Valley Bike Tour was very easy, and I highly recommend them if you have any interest in doing a bike wine tasting.  I emailed with Tiffany several times before heading out to Napa to make sure that going on our own was the best option for us.  Tiffany was incredibly helpful, listening to the wineries we were interesting in visiting and balancing that with our experience (or inexperience in my case) bike riding. Once we arrived at the shop, I mentioned to the guy who was there the conversations I had with Tiffany, and he agreed with our plan.  He then fitted us with bikes and helmets before we headed off on the Rutherford loop, which was 16 miles of mostly flat riding with occasional rolling hills mixed in.  Except for the first couple of miles through vineyards and back roads, and a couple of miles towards the end that were along the busy Silverado Trail, most of the ride was along fairly small roads that took us past dozens and dozens of vineyards.  I was very nervous about doing a day of cycling and wine tasting, particularly as I don’t think I’ve ridden a bike in 5+ years, but between my normal running routine and adding 15 miles on the stationary bike at least twice a week for a month before we went, I was fine.  All in all, it was a stunning ride and the absolutely perfect way to see that part of Napa.

Our second full day of tasting was in the Carneros area of Napa, and we hired a driver from Napa Valley Tours & Transportation for a flat rate of $55 an hour for 6 hours plus 20% gratuity for a total of $400 (or $200 per person).   NVTT was great to work with, and while they were a little slow in getting the final paper work to me to sign, I have no hesitation in recommending them either. My only word of caution is not to make the mistake we made in going significantly over time, as the overtime charges are in 1/4-hour increments after the first 5 minutes.  There is no question that it was our mistake, and a costly one at that, as the driver reminded us that there would be extra charges, but we were having such a good time that we weren’t really thinking about how much those charges would be.  Lesson learned… stick to the negotiated time.

Me tasting the 2011 Estate Chardonnay at O'Brien Estate Winery in Napa

Me tasting the 2011 Estate Chardonnay at O’Brien Estate Winery in Napa

Overall, everything went smoothly. I worked with one of NVTT’s concierges to discuss the wineries we were interested in visiting and establish a final itinerary.  One of the wineries I mentioned was closed on Sundays, so they offered an alternative suggestion and then made all of the reservations.  We were picked up at our hotel in a Mercedes R350, which was nice and roomy.  Our driver was talkative, friendly, and knowledgeable.  This worked out particularly well for us when one of the wineries I picked turned into huge bust, and he suggested a smaller, family-owned winery (O’Brien Wine Estate) on the spot.  He called them from the car and was able to get us a last minute, personalized tour with the owner/winemaker.  It turned out to be one of my favorite wineries of the trip.  I absolutely fell in love with the red wines.

So, the long and the short of it is that we had a wonderful experience with both of the companies we used. I definitely recommend both Napa Valley Bike Tours and Napa Valley Tours and Transportation.

My friend and me on a cycling break drinking Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc outside Oakville Grocery on Yount Mill Road

My friend and me on a cycling break drinking Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc outside Oakville Grocery on Yount Mill Road

Question of the Day:  Have you done any wine touring in Napa, either by car or by bicycle?  What company did you use and what did you think of the experience?

Cheers–
Alleigh

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