So, where is the “Heart of the Napa Valley?” This is what a recent visitor to Wine Country Getaways inquired in an email. “I will be in San Francisco and I want to spend one day in the heart of the Napa Valley, please advise.” We try to answer all emails so I got to thinking about how I would go about telling this person where he should go in the Napa Valley. Is the heart of the Napa Valley a winery, a town, Highway 29, or half way between Napa and Calistoga? After pondering a bit I realized that to find the heart of the Napa Valley, one must “experience” the Valley rather than venture to a specific area or location. I suggested a list of places to go and things to do that would guarantee him that he had been to the “Heart” of the Napa Valley.
Visit one of the historic wineries of the Napa Valley and, if time allows, take the tour there. This will give you a feel and understanding of the early pioneer days of the Napa Valley. Some suggestions are Schramsberg, Beringer, Rubicon Estates, and Beaulieu Vineyards. Robert Mondavi undoubtedly had the greatest influence on the development of the Napa Valley and a trip to his winery is always a great experience. His memories are embedded in this winery.
Visit one of the smaller wineries that is family owned, where family members take part in the daily operation of the winery. Smith-Madrone, August Briggs, or Hendry Winery are some good ones to visit where you are likely to get attention from one of the family members.
Take a walk in the vineyards. Ask in the tasting room for permission to walk in the vineyards to get a close look at how grapes are grown. Observe the grapes, the vines, the trellis system, the irrigation, and feel the soil. Get a sense of what it must be like to work the vineyards in order to make some of the greatest wines in the world.
Stop in one of the restaurants the locals love like Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, The Rutherford Grill, or Bistro Don Giovanni. Eavesdrop on the conversation at the next table. The talk will likely be about wine.
Take a couple of the crossroads that span the valley floor between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. If you see a side road off one of these crossroads, take it and see where it leads. Take a ride up Howell Mountain or Spring Mountain to get some views of hillside vineyards and a look down to the Valley.
Take your camera and shoot away to document your day. Take photos of wine bottles, vines, signs, people, food, and whatever you see that gives a sense of the sounds and sights of the Napa Valley. Capture in your photos the “Heart” of the Napa Valley.