Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to get a last-minute tasting reservation in Napa. I live here and I even have to make reservations weeks (sometimes months) in advance! It’s a catch 22 – everything is open and people want to go out and have all the experiences they missed out on during covid, but wineries and restaurants have never been more understaffed. The time when you could have a walk-in tasting seems like a completely different world but it actually wasn’t that long ago. Up until March 2020 you would have a much easier time getting tastings, aside from when wineries on the Silverado Trail started to require reservations to minimize traffic on this road (which seemed like an abomination at the time). It’s almost impossible to have a spontaneous weekend these days, but there are some hacks that have made having a last-minute Napa experience great.
The biggest hack to the reservation quandary that I’ve found is taking advantage of Napa’s numerous downtown tasting rooms. Yes, there is a whole world of vast vineyards and ornate wineries as you travel up Highway 29. However, downtown Napa is a lively hot spot for wine tasting that you could easily spend an entire day exploring.
When most people travel to Napa, they’re trying to hit the big name wineries and spend most of their time up valley. For this reason, it’s often easier to get a reservation at the downtown tasting rooms and some of them even still accept walk-ins. A few of the very ritzy wineries such as Mayacamas and Vineyard 29 even have tasting rooms downtown with experiences that are less expensive than what the main wineries offer. It’s a great way to taste these more exclusive wines in a trendy spot.
The link above lists all tasting rooms and wine experiences in downtown and the Oxbow Market (Napa’s version of the Chelsea Market), but here are a few of my personal favorites:
Alpha Omega Collective *this company owns a Spanish label and a SLO label that you won’t get to taste at the winery in Saint Helena. They pour these at their tasting room and they’re delicious, I prefer the Spanish label to the Napa one!*
On my list to try ASAP:
Chateau Buena Vista
Don’t just visit downtown Napa for your dinner reservation. Take advantage of all the hidden gems it offers on your next stay.