Napa: 12 Things to Know When You Go

Darioush Tasting Room

A day in beautiful Napa can be intoxicating even before you take that first sip of wine. But whether it is your first or 21st trip to the wine country, these reminders always apply. Brent and I had the pleasure of taking a belated 5-year anniversary trip to Napa last week and these were our top takeaways. From making reservations to tipping to keeping precious wine out of a hot car, give these tips a read before you taste

1. Use a car service

No one wants a DUI so if you have a full day of tasting appointments, opt for a car service, Uber car or cab to get you from here to there. A driver often will serve as a private tour guide of the region and can offer volumes of advice about the various wineries and tasting rooms around Napa.

2. Driver beware

If you choose to drive, be aware that there is a no tolerance policy for drinking and driving. Police patrol the streets at all times of day and Napa residents have no qualms about calling in drunk drivers. Also, be aware that many lights are equipped with cameras so make sure to not run that yellow or red light.

3. Guided wine tours and pop ins

Some vineyards require appointments for tours and tastings, so plan ahead and make reservations. Don’t have reservations or just need to kill? No problem! This map of Napa’s wineries indicates the dozens of tasting rooms open to the public.

Stags’ Leap Winery

4. Don’t rinse your glass with water

When switching from one wine to the next, you may be tempted to rinse and clean your glass with water before the next taste. However, it is suggested to skip the rinse since water may dilute the next wine. If you have remaining wine then just dump (or drink) what is left. Switching from red to white or didn’t enjoy the previous wine? Ask the person pouring to rinse or “prime” your glass with a splash of the next wine. Give the glass a swirl, dump, and then move on to the next taste.

5. Drink water

Stave off a midafternoon hangover by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Most tasting rooms offer complimentary glasses or bottles of water. Not only will drinking water keep you hydrated but it will help to cleanse your palate between tastes.

6. Revisits

Want a little more of a particular taste after you’ve finished your flight of wines? Because of laws and regulations, most tasting rooms aren’t able to sell wine by the glass. However, just ask the host if you can “revisit” a particular wine for a second taste.


7. Defraying the cost of a tasting

Don’t be overwhelmed by the price of some tastings. At many places, you can offset the cost of a tasting by purchasing a certain number of bottles of wine or by joining the wine club. This information is usually printed on the tasting menu but if it isn’t, make sure to ask.

8. Wine club: should you join?

Many wineries encourage you to join their wine club during your visit and will often offset your tasting fees or ship your wine selections home upon joining. Becoming a club member is a good thing if you’re a frequent visitor and want to defray the cost of tastings or if you want to continue trying new releases from this particular vineyard at home. Just make sure to read the fine print before you commit. Many wine clubs have a year-long commitment before you can cancel. Plus, the number of bottles per shipment and the times per year they ship varies greatly so do the math since joining could be quite a financial investment. Still can’t decide? Also, check to see if you live in a state that allows wine to be shipped from the supplier. This may be a deciding factor in whether or not to join.

9. Number of wines in a flight

The average number of tastes per flight in a wine room or on a guided tour is three to five. However, expect to be poured at least one or two bonus wines above what is listed.


10. Tipping in the tasting room

If you have an exceptional server in the tasting room or tour guide at a vineyard, don’t be afraid to offer a tip. There will sometimes be a space on the receipt to add a tip at checkout but no every place does this. Tips are certainly appreciated in this service industry but are not required.

11. Pack a cooler

Leaving the tasting room with some purchases? Don’t plan to leave them in your hot car! The extreme heat from inside a car will alter the flavor profile so if you plan to hop from winery to winery, pack a cooler for your purchases.

12. Have a plan for shipping

There’s nothing worse than not having an exit plan for your purchases. If you are going to carry wine or olive oil back in your suitcase, consider buying plastic wine sleeves to keep the contents of any broken bottles contained. UPS, Fed Ex, and the post office are shipping options but double check that the office is open (reminder that they are likely closed on Sunday) and that they will ship wine to your home state. When checking a case or box of wine along with your suitcase, budget for the extra baggage fee as well as possible overweight charges. And of course, if you find yourself in a pinch, it is likely that the concierge at your hotel will ship for you (for a fee, of course).