There's been great feedback on the big Napa Valley travel story in the June 15 issue of Wine Spectator. Locals are telling me that they agree with the premise that the range of wine experiences available is greater than ever, and many are telling me that we've given them some new ideas to explore. Excellent.
But others are noting that with the specialized experiences come higher prices tags, and that's true. In my cranky voice I lament how I remember when most winery tasting rooms offered free tastes. These days you'd be hard pressed to find a tasting for less than $25. Overall, I feel the experiences are as rich as they cost, and worth it, but that doesn't mean they fit in every budget.
So here are a few of my tips and recommendations for getting the most out of Napa and your wallet at the same time.
1. Consider visiting in the offseason (or mid-week). It's still beautiful from October through April, but there are fewer visitors and better deals. Spas and hotels in particular have better weekday prices.
2. Travel with a local or someone in the wine industry. Wineries often offer local and professional discounts for tastings and wine purchases.
3. For a cheap break from restaurant meals, check out picnic-supply places, as well as the Oxbow Public Market, which offers plenty of affordable options under one roof. Or, if you have identified a fancier restaurant you want to check out, consider eating there for lunch rather than dinner for a similar experience with a more affordable tab.
There are still some wineries that offer tastings for free, like Heitz and Buehler (which also offers a stunning tour of their property). Some wineries have relatively modest fees, with plenty to discover and explore. I can never get enough of the The Hess Collection's art gallery, and there are also terrific galleries at St. Supéry, Mumm Napa, Markham, Ma(i)sonry, Cliff Lede and Turnbull.
Robert Mondavi Winery and Beringer are both worth a visit for the beautifully kept campus grounds alone, and offer a variety of tasting options. I also recommend that folks do some exploring off of the valley floor and into the mountains that surround the valley—the drive up alone can be adventurous and exciting. My favorite is Pride Mountain Vineyards, which has stunning views and terrific wines.
We came across some really nice affordable places to stay in our research. Calistoga Spa Hot Springs recently had a facelift and each room is equipped with a kitchenette, which can help guests save money. The Sunburst Calistoga has some terrific deals, and each room has a minifridge. And the Ivy Hotel in Napa is known for its comfortable, handsome rooms.
I'd love to hear your feedback on any of these places, as well as your own favorite tips.