POSTED ON May 26, 2009 | IN Napa on a Budget, Wine News | BY Joe Becerra

The Wine Spectator’s June 15th issue has a feature article entitled “Napa Valley Getaways, a Wine Lover’s Guide to Fit Every Budget.” Well, not every budget as you might imagine. The Wine Spectator’s subscribers assuredly are in income brackets that span from the super rich to the high middle class. I would surmise, there are few wine lovers below this economic bracket that read Wine Spectator on a regular basis.

At the top end, for “those sparing no expense” subscribers, the article makes recommendations of where to stay and dine in the Napa Valley. They mention Auberge du Soleil, Brandesonno, and Meadowood where room rates run from $450 to as much as $8750 a night at Meadowood.

I would imagine that many Wine Spectator readers immediately did as I did and skipped to the budget portion of the Napa guide. I consider myself an expert in this area since we travel often to the Napa Valley and always travel in the budget mode. I think the article missed some important tips that I would like to add.

A weekend getaway for two to the Napa Valley realistically is going to cost about $700 at the low end, and that’s if you are very careful. Lodging is the most expensive portion of the trip and I would add to the Wine Spectator list of budget lodging recommendations, the Chateau Hotel, the Chablis Inn, and the Lodge at Calistoga. Nothing is fancy at these places but they are clean and comfortable. If you spend most of the day exploring the Napa Valley, why do you need a fancy place to lodge? With the money you save on budget lodging, you can splurge on dinner.

For dining, I would add Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena. This is another of Cindy Pawlcyn’s restaurants with a good selection of small plates and reasonably-priced wine list. The ambiance is wonderful and there are many locals, including winemakers, who dine here often for lunch or dinner. In Calistoga there is Bar Vino or Hydro, both in the budget category for dining. In the town of Napa, Pearl has great food and is a bargain, a best-kept secret. A new spot in Napa is Elements Restaurant and Enoteca. This restaurant has a terrific menu of small plates, and on Wednesday nights the corkage fee is waived.

We recommend instead of eating lunch at a restaurant, buy a deli lunch and have a picnic at a winery. We generally picnic each day we are in the wine country unless the weather is terrible. We love the beauty and the peace and quiet of a picnic in the vineyards. It is rejuvenating and a lot less expensive than a fancy restaurant. Find more information on picnic wineries and purchase deli items.

As far as saving money on a visit to a winery, consider these tasting rooms:

Hagafen Winery — website has for a two-for-one tasting coupon, tasting fee applies to a purchase.
Mumm Napa — free tours and check their website for a coupon for a free glass of sparkling wine.
Casa Nuestra — nicely priced wines, $5 tasting fee applied to a purchase
Frank Family Winery — no tasting fee.

Just google “wine tasting coupons napa” and you will find enough two-for-one tasting coupons to last you for a month’s stay.

By the way, I truly enjoyed James Laube’s column “Timeless Napa.” It is a good read and in his column he mentions how much he enjoys the natural beauty of the Napa Valley and how he finds solace in visiting wineries and places that were there in the early days of the Napa Valley.


  1. Steve Howe says

    I remember the days when very few Napa wineries charged for wine tasting. But you are right that you can find wine tasting coupons online.

    I’d also suggest visiting other wine regions. One of my favorites is Amador County in the Sierra Foothills. They have great wines, it’s very scenic, and very few wineries charge anything at all.