For more than 150 years, a small piece of land a little over an hour’s drive north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has been producing a wealth of diverse wines. Today, those grapes garner international favor and respect. Napa Valley is home to more than 100 different soil types that allow for many varieties of vines to thrive in a relatively compact growing area. With a range of distinct climates in one locale, numerous vineyards flourish in the region offering stunning wine choices to experience and indulge in. Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir are the chief grape varietals that bring Napa its distinguished title as one of the best wine destinations in the world. For those who wish to go beyond the typical tasting endeavor when exploring Napa, expert guides in the area offer singular private pursuits that allow visitors to sip exceptional vintages at exclusive artisan wineries.
NAPA BY THE NUMBERS
It is the valley’s Mediterranean climate zone that makes it so fertile. This ideal wine weather is a rarity in the world—just 2 percent of the earth’s surface features the rare conditions of warm days followed by cool nights and little to no rain in the long summer growing seasons. Los Carneros—the southernmost district of Napa—sits near sea level and, as vineyards stretch north to the tip of the region, the elevation rises to 4,339 feet at Mount St. Helena. Along this stretch of lush land are varied distinct climates, which produce some of the area’s favorite wines.
With fertile soil that grows a vast variety of wine grapes coveted the world over, it may be surprising to learn that Napa is a relatively small area: The locale constitutes a space that is a modest 30 miles long and only a few miles wide. Interestingly, just 9 percent of Napa County is planted with grapes. Be that as it may, there are more than 500 wineries and tasting rooms in the area. Growers in Napa are small, but mighty: 95 percent of the region’s wineries are family owned and 80 percent make fewer than 10,000 cases of wine annually, yet still they maintain their standing as some of the world’s best.
With so many wine selections at a visitor’s disposal, even a vino connoisseur can find the aid of a wine expert an excellent advantage when visiting Napa. “The Valley is quite popular now. Without ‘insider’ connections, it’s hard to have the ultimate wine experience,” says Karen MacNeil, a private wine tutor and author of “The Wine Bible.” “… I take small groups around the Napa Valley … . We visit only the very top estates—most of which are not open to the public. My clients and I have private sit-down wine tastings with the vintner
or winemaker,” MacNeil says. These one-on-one experiences differ vastly from the general tasting with a winery employee as clients are exposed to not only the winemaking styles, but also the history, business and culture of the region. “In fact, what I offer are not standard tours, per se,” MacNeil notes, “but rather, once-in-a-lifetime wine experiences.”
Photo Credit: Feature image, top and bottom left photos: Bob McClenahan; Bottom right: Megan Reeves
Pairing perfectly with world-class wines are Napa’s culinary masterpieces. “For the luxury traveler with an appreciation for fine food and wine, there really is no better place,” says Kevin Macway, a more-than-20-year veteran of famed restaurant The French Laundry in Napa Valley’s Yountville. Today, Macway runs private tours of the wine region through his company, Access Napa Valley. Using personal connections with local vintners, winery owners and wine industry professionals gained in his time with The French Laundry, Macway curates bespoke Napa tours, which include dining at the locale’s finest eateries. “... The people here [in Napa] exude a passion and sincere hospitality that I find unparalleled anywhere else I have traveled,” Macway says.
Napa’s delightful weather and extraordinary scenery also offer ample opportunities for wellness activities. Verve Napa Valley, a private tour specialist, sets up customized wine tours that can cater to any theme. From practicing yoga in the sweeping beauty of one of the area’s picturesque vineyards to planning a leisurely hike through the region’s rolling hills before enjoying a gourmet picnic and wine pairings, there are ample opportunities to be one with nature in Napa Valley.
WINE COUNTRY—MONTAGE STYLE
With Montage Laguna Beach’s Sky High California Food & Wine Experience, Napa’s famous locale can be explored as a one-day excursion. The lavish travel experience opens doors to exclusive oppor- tunities that only Montage and its Napa Valley partners have to offer. Guests are transported via a private jet to the gorgeous Northern California wine region where they’ll be escorted to Napa Valley Aloft for a thrilling hot air balloon ride. Flying high, the balloon allows for unobstructed views of the entire valley. After touching back down, a Champagne brunch catered by the talented culinary team at Montage Laguna Beach awaits.
The rest of the day in Napa consists of a private wine tour at a vineyard of the guest’s choosing. The tour is completely customizable with possible activities at the wineries including wine tasting, winemaking lessons and more. After the winery experience, guests will set for the skies again in a private jet back to Southern California. The exhilarating excursion concludes with a one-on-one Studio garden tour lead by Executive Chef Craig Strong and a beautiful chef’s table dinner, which he prepares at Studio restaurant. The carefully crafted daylong experience is filled with memories that will age as well with time as the bottles of wine sure to come home with you.