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Posted April 2006

Insider Winery Tours of Napa Valley

Insider Winery Tours of Napa Valley
photo Sterling Vineyards

By Heather Irwin

NAPA VALLEY—For discriminating wine tasters, a trip to Napa can sometimes be, well, more like a trip to Disneyland complete with tour busses, fanny-pack wearing tourists and tippling merrymakers who've had one too many $8 glasses of Cabernet. You're sooooo over all that.

For those in the know, there are behind-the-scenes tours that get to the heart of what Napa's really about: winemaking and winemakers. With just a little extra planning (and sometimes a few extra dollars), you can get up close and personal with the folks actually making the wine; learn the ABC's of wine tasting, get a VIP pass to the reserve room or taste straight from the barrel. Here are some of our favorite in-the-know tours and tips for getting the most of your tasting experience in Napa…

Sterling Reserve Tour
($45 per person; applied toward reserve purchase)
Ride the tram to the winery in the sky, Sterling Vineyards. Upon arrival, you'll be escorted on a special tour of this breath-taking winery, followed by a special three-vintage vertical tasting of Sterling's highly-acclaimed Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons in the elegant Reserve Room (no belly-to-the-bar tastings for you!). The tasting is offered every day at 11am. Reservations Required. Call 707.942.3349 for reservation.

Elegant Victorian Tea at Blue Violet Mansion
($24.95-$29.95 per person)
Each Sunday this Napa Bed and Breakfast offers an English tea at 1 and 3 pm with selections of custom bagged herbal & black teas. Seasonal menus with a variety of savory and sweet breads & home baked cookies. Seatings are fireside in the Grand Salon, which is adorned with hand painted wine country scenes and lit by crystal chandeliers. Reservations Required. Call 800.959.2583 for details.

Robert Mondavi: The Appellation Tour and Lunch
($90 per person)
On Tuesdays at 11:30 am, visitors get a personal tour and luncheon at one of Napa's most visited wineries. Learn about the uniqueness of the valley, and why each region produces wines of distinct personality and style. Afterwards, enjoy a three-course luncheon specially prepared by Mondavi's incredible chef in the Vineyard Room, overlooking the Mayacamas Mountains and the historic To Kalon vineyard. This program lasts approximately three hours, and reservations are limited to 10 persons. Advanced reservations are required. Call (888) RMONDAVI, ext 2000 for details.

Darioush Artisan Wine & Cheese Intensive
($65 per person)
Each Friday from 3 to 4:30 pm, Darioush winery welcomes the Bay Area's most popular artisan cheese celebrities, Peggy Smith and Sue Conley of Cowgirl Creamery, for a private, seated tasting of some of the world's finest small-production artisan cheeses paired with a variety of meticulously-crafted estate-based wines. Reservations Required. Call 707.257.2345 ext. 130 for details.

Merryvale "Come Spit on our Floor" Barrel Tastings
($7 per person, free to club members)
Barrel tastings happen frequently in the valley, but knowing exactly when they're occurring can be a head-scratcher. Each second Saturday of the month, from 1 to 5 pm Merryvale winery offers a unique barrel tasting of current vintages, as well as older vintages for tasters interested in the evolution of wine. (*Spitting in the cellar drain trenches is perfectly acceptable in barrel tastings!) Call 800.326.6069 x 439 for details.

COPIA: Start your Day the Wine Country Way
($15, includes day pass; $5 for members)
Planning a day of winery hopping? Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings from 10:15 to 10:45 am, COPIA offers a morning class to arm you with all you need to make the most of your wine tasting tour. They'll send you off with ABCs of wine tasting, spit bucket etiquette, answers to FAQs, and tips on which wineries are your personal best bets for a peak wine country experience. No reservation required. Call 888.51.COPIA for details.

Rubicon Estate
($25 for Legacy Tour and tasting; other tours additional)
Formerly known as Niebaum-Coppola, entrance to this historic winery now owned by director Francis Ford Coppola has turned into an exclusive visit and tour of the rehabbed estate. For an additional $25, take the Sensory Tour at 10 am, which includes a journey through the flavors and aromas of red and white wines. Reservations required. Call 707.981.1161 for details.

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