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What it’s like to work a harvest in Napa Valley

When I graduated from the Viticulture & Enology program at UC Davis, my degree had prepared me for what to expect when working a harvest. I also had several friends who had worked in production post-grad so I had a pretty good understanding of what a harvest internship would entail. However, in my 3 years in Napa I’ve worked with many interns who didn’t study wine but decided to pivot careers and come work in the wine industry. Many of them have told me that there is little to no literature on the internet describing what working crush would actually be like. It’s already intimidating changing your whole career path, but especially so if you’re going in blind. There should be more out there about what harvest is like for people who aren’t yet connected in the wine industry, so hopefully this helps paint a picture. Note that this is based off my personal experience and perspective.

You get to make the wine

Before I get into the nitty gritty, it’s important to know that every player is crucial to making sure the wine gets made. Wineries need interns to help make that happen and Napa Valley makes so much wine that it would literally be impossible without harvest workers. Even if you are ultimately interested in front of house/DTC, the hands-on experience you will gain from working a harvest will set you apart and allow you to talk about the wine on a different level when selling it. From pressing the fruit to barreling it down when the fermentation has gone dry, everyone plays a part in the winemaking. It’s amazing to see that hard work get bottled and then to be able to share that with your friends and family and tell them that you made it.

Wine production is probably the least glamorous aspect of the wine industry. It’s quite messy and you will likely never leave a day of work without having wine stains on your clothes, hands, or even face, but that’s the fun of it – it’s one of the most rewarding things you can accomplish. How many other jobs are there that require you to use your hands and make something from the earth?

It’s physically demanding but extremely rewarding

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, working a harvest in the cellar is extremely physically demanding. You will be expected to drag hoses, lift buckets of grapes and wine of up to 70 pounds, push heavy pumps around, put oak barrels onto racks, dig pomace out of tanks with heavy metal rakes, power-wash for hours, get inside presses and clean them out, among other tasks. You might also be working outside for many hours a day and Napa can get hot in the late summer.

It will be your life for 3-4 months but the adrenaline will fuel you

A typical intern day for a medium to large scale winery starts at 5:30/6am and goes until 4 or 5pm (or later) if you’re on the day shift. Most wineries will have a night crew that comes in during the afternoon and leaves later in the night or sometimes early morning. You’re working 6 or 7 days a week. The moral of the story is you’ll be waking up really early and going to bed pretty much right when you get home. You’re at the mercy of what your supervisor needs of you and there’s no hard cut off for when your day is over. You’re pretty much dedicating your entire life to the grapes during crush and probably won’t have a life outside of work for a few months. I call it the harvest bubble and it’s actually kind of cool because everyone in the bubble is in the same mindset of working extremely hard to accomplish a common goal. Waking up to your 5 am alarm is the hardest part – once you get to work the energy can be so upbeat and exciting that it motivates you to get through the day, especially when the music in the cellar is going. You will also catch some of the most beautiful sunrises on your way in and that always made the early mornings special for me.

A Saint Helena harvest morning, 6:30 am

Depending on what kind of winery you work for, you might have a one month long harvest or a four month long one. If you work at a sparkling house like Mumm, Schramsberg, or Chandon, your harvest could be 1 – 2 months long and will likely be during August to early or mid September because grapes for sparkling wine are harvested earlier. This might be ideal if you would like to get harvest experience but you’re still a student and school is starting back up in September. Wineries with larger scale production start with the white grapes in August/September then process red fruit up until late October. I actually recommend this experience because you get a lot of hands-on work with different varietals, exposure to many winemaking techniques, and more time to absorb the information.

Get ready to clean

Common winery practices (that you will learn on site) are driving a forklift and dumping fruit bins into presses, pumpovers, punchdowns, rack and returns, barrel downs, nutrient additions, inoculations, and others. The biggest winery practice across the whole industry is cleaning, and lots of it. This includes sanitizing tanks and equipment, power washing (macrobins, presses, the crush pad, honestly power washing pretty much anything and everything), squeegeeing, and lots of floor spraying. Maintaining a clean and sanitized winery is essential for producing high quality wine and is equally as important as any of the winemaking practices listed above.

The takeaways are priceless

Harvest is rewarding not only because you get to make a product and see it from start to finish, but you also bond with the people you are working with. I’ve met some pretty incredible people and formed life-long friendships with some of the people I’ve worked harvests with. When you’re on the grind with these people 6 or 7 days a week for 2/3 of the day, you get to be pretty close with them. Some of the best times are on your 13th hour of work at 11:30 at night when you’re so delirious laughing about something so silly with the people you’re working with. Those were some of my favorite memories and that camaraderie and good morale are truly what get us all through the long days. And what make it all worth it! 

Wineries will usually provide lunches at least once a week if not everyday. I always cherished these times during harvest, when everyone comes together even on a crazy day to relax and bond. Two of the other interns I worked with became my roommates of over 2 years and two of my best friends, and we still reminisce about working our first harvest in Napa together. The wineries will usually wrap up the season with an end of harvest lunch or party, and most will send you off with a few bottles as well.

It will be one of the best times of your life

Harvest, especially your first one, has the potential to be one of the best and most memorable times of your life. It’s fast-paced, exciting, grueling, sweaty, fun, and inspiring all at the same time. On top of making some of the best wines in the world, you will make incredible new friends, drink some pretty killer wines, be exposed to a thousand-year old industry, and likely be in the best shape of your life. The juice is worth the squeeze!!!

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Where to Taste – Napa

With over 400 wineries and new ones popping up all the time, Napa can be a daunting place to plan a wine getaway if you’re not familiar with producers and the different AVAs. This post is by no means comprehensive, but let it serve as a jumping off point for where to look when booking tastings. These are some of my favorite wineries to visit when indulging in Napa. Enjoy!

Spring Mountain Vineyard

If you are looking for a classic winery that showcases Napa and instantly makes you feel in the heart of this famous valley, look to Spring Mountain. This historic winery was established in the 1880s and some of the original buildings still remain today. In terms of winemaking, they are famous for their Bordeaux varietals and unique, velvety expression of Cabernet Sauvignon (which is even featured on the wine list at The French Laundry). The sprawling estate itself is gorgeous, sitting on Spring Mountain in Saint Helena with each of its buildings beautiful and charming in their own ways (check out the Estate Tasting for a look into all of these). You can’t go wrong with any of the tastings this winery has to offer, nor the wines they pour.

Davis Estates

For a more a more avant-garde expression of Napa but equally as delicious, visit Davis Estates in Calistoga. This winery is on the younger side, founded in 2011 by the Davis Family, but there is no lack of tradition and passion despite its age. The estate has a stunning grandeur that becomes instantly apparent after turning into the drive off Highway 29. Upon walking into the visitor’s center, we were greeted with a glass of Chardonnay to sip while taking a walking tour of the grounds and learning the history of the Davis family and estate. The experience concluded with a seated tasting of the remainder of the wines in their cozy lounge with fireplaces lit and a view of the valley. Each wine was paired with a bite prepared by the in-house chef that complemented the wines perfectly! I suggest allowing at least 90 minutes at this property to fully enjoy all that the estate and friendly staff have to offer.

Newton Vineyard (now tasting out of Brasswood)

I first discovered this hideaway gem (also on Spring Mountain) in 2018 when I was an intern at Domaine Chandon as both properties are owned by the same parent company. Even though Newton is owned by a large luxury conglomerate, you would never know it because they have done such a good job of keeping that small, boutique winery feel. I loved Newton for their chic atmosphere and beautiful French-inspired gardens (in addition to their stunning wines, of course). Unfortunately, the entire property burned in the fires of 2020. However, they are rebuilding the entire estate to be a state-of-the-art facility and are still producing wine at a different facility. They are tasting out of Brasswood Napa Valley and you can still purchase and ship wine from them. Newton is famous for their Unfiltered Chardonnay (post on unfiltered wine to come) but I also love their Spring Mountain single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Robert Sinskey

This is the perfect chill spot to unwind at on a sunny and warm Napa day. Tucked into the hillside off of the Silverado Trail, Robert Sinskey has a chic interior tasting bar and a sizable outdoor patio (where I prefer to taste) where you can have your tasting. Sinskey puts a large focus on food and wine pairings which I love and pairs your tasting flight with bites that the culinary team curate and prepare. What I really like about this producer is that they are willing to step out of the box of your usual Napa wines and bottle something a little more fun and off the beaten path, like their vin gris of Pinot Noir and Libration magnums series.

Stags’ Leap Winery

This winery (not to be confused with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, its neighbor) has a history dating back to the Prohibition era. The estate first had grapes planted in 1872, and later a prominent San Francisco couple purchased the property turning it into an elite Napa resort for the high society, and was said to have hosted gatherings at the manor during the 20s. Since then, the original manor (which resembles a castle) has been preserved and caves on the property have since been constructed. The grounds boast vineyards and gardens and seem to transport you to an old-world wine countryside.

This will definitely not be the last Napa Tastings post – after living here for almost 3 years I am still discovering more every day!

Winemaking techniques – Filtration

Filtration is a winemaking technique that has been used for many years in both Old and New World winemaking. While it has benefits for the aesthetic appeal of a wine, it is also important for the structural integrity and ageability of a wine.

There are many methods of filtration (not to be confused with fining*) but they should not involve any chemicals or extra additives. I’ve outlined a few of the main methods below:

Plate-in-Frame, or Pad Filtration

This is a common type of filtration technique used for smaller scale producers. Like the name suggests, it involves plates that sit vertically in the metal frame of the filter mechanism. Pads made from cellulose (tree or plant fiber) are inserted between each plate, and the wine travels through the filter mechanism by moving through the pads. Any sediment, microbes, tartrate crystals, etc. are left adhered to the pad and at the outlet you have your clean*, filtered wine ready to be bottled.

The cellulose pads come in many different pore sizes through which the wine moves, depending on how much a winemaker wishes to filter his or her wine. Wine may pass through multiple filtration passes or even multiple types of filters, one to clarify the wine from bigger sediment pieces and another one to reduce microbial content in the wine. Plate-in-frame is the method of filtration with which I am the most familiar. It is technical and time consuming, but requires skill and precision to operate.

Membrane/Cartridge filter

With a membrane filter you can “sterile” filter your wine. The word sterile sounds scary, but it just means that the wine passes through a membrane with a pore size of less than 0.45 microns (smaller than what we can see) so that spoilage bacteria or yeast cannot get through. Filtering your wine at this level quite literally removes most of the potential for spoilage and thus increases the potential to age the wine for many years. It drastically decreases the likelihood of having any harmful yeast or bacteria in the bottle that could have harmful effects on the wine’s integrity, such as altering the taste or smell. This is the type of filter often found at the beginning of a bottling line and the last line of defense against spoilage before the wine is bottled.

Cross-flow filtration

Cross-flow is very common in medium to large-scale commercial wineries. It is more straight-forward to hook up and run than plate-in-frame and can also be used to remove Brettanomyces yeast, which can yield sensory characteristics that in America may be undesirable.

Not every producer filters. Some wines don’t need to be – they may have settled in barrel/tank for quite some time so that when they are racked off the lees there is hardly any sediment. Some wines are meant to “drink now” and the winemaker may not deem sterile filtration necessary. Like most things in winemaking, there is no right or wrong way to do it, it’s mostly winemaker and consumer preference. There is nothing bad or wrong about a wine that has some sediment at the bottom. On the converse, just because a wine has been filtered that is not a bad thing! Filtration is just another step in the winemaking process like crushing or de-stemming the grapes. It doesn’t add any “chemicals” to the wine or make the grapes any less organic. You can always ask the producer what their filtration method is to gain a better understanding of it as well.

Click here for an Inside Winemaking podcast episode about Filtration

*fining entails adding an agent to clarify wine by binding to tannins, sediment, color, proteins, etc. and then the unwanted compounds are either precipitated or filtered out.

*by clean I mean filtered and rid of sediment, debris, microbes, or anything unwanted in the wine. However the term “clean” when used in wine marketing has no one, clear meaning. Marketing ploys use this broad term to suggest that the wine is natural or doesn’t contain additives, but since there is currently no legal definition of “clean wine” it does not actually guarantee that it is. It doesn’t guarantee the consumer anything in terms of the quality of wine or where it came from.

Where to eat in Napa

Great food and wine go hand in hand and there is no shortage of that in Napa. Here you will find a plethora of delicious Italian and American food, but there are more diverse cuisines popping up everyday. We have old favorites such as Bistro Don Giovanni and Bouchon, but new and creative additions have come to play such as Osha Thai and Wilfred’s Lounge in downtown Napa.

This will surely not be my last post on where to eat in Napa but hopefully it can provide a starting point for your next wine weekend getaway.

Bistro Jeanty, Yountville

Bistro Jeanty is one of my top two favorite restaurants in Napa. The facade of the building looks like something out of a French countryside village and as soon as you enter the restaurant you immediately feel like you could actually be there. The service is friendly and recommends great options on the menu, which is predominantly French cuisine. We tried the fried smelt, beef tartare, spring special among other. Delicious and authentic, I can’t say enough good things about this place.

For Brunch – Ad Hoc, Yountville

Chicken and waffles but make it Napa. Chef Thomas Keller has tackled it all including a stellar brunch spot for when you want something boujee but also comforting. We came for the most light and fluffy omelette you will ever taste, but stayed for the caviar spread. Where better to have caviar for breakfast than in Napa Valley? It is served with toast points, chives, red onions, homemade crème fraîche and fluffy egg yolks. Top it all off with their Bloody Mary and you’re set for a day of wine tasting.

Zuzu

Queso frito

Zuzu is a true locals spot and my absolute favorite restaurant in Napa. If you want to feel like you are sitting at a bistro in a European city, go to Zuzu. They serve Spanish tapas and have a great wine list featuring all kinds of sherry and delicious Spanish whites and reds (that are affordable too!). Get the paella – you won’t regret it!

Napa’s best-kept secret is…

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:

Vineyard 29

Mayacamas

Brown Downtown

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

Brendel

Mayacamas tasting room

Don’t just visit downtown Napa for your dinner reservation. Take advantage of all the hidden gems it offers on your next stay.

The case for Chardonnay

Chardonnay is one of the topics about which I am the most passionate. For some reason I feel extremely adamant about getting the word out that Chardonnay is not all movie theater butter and heavy, heavy mouthfeels. It can actually be light and floral and dance on your palate like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc (but better). Unfortunately, California has cultivated the narrative that Chardonnay is synonymous with oak and butter when in fact, the French have been using oak in their Chardonnay winemaking for centuries.

So why is it that these oaky and buttery Chards came to be? At its core, Chardonnay is actually a cool climate grape that originated from Burgundy, France. If you ever hear someone offer you a “White Burgundy,” it’s going to be Chardonnay. It’s the dominant white grape of the region, as is Pinot Noir the dominant red. The growing conditions in Burgundy can be more harsh than those of California, with much more frost events possible and lower temperatures during the growing season on average.

Chardonnay, as we’ve seen, can grow in California and it can be quite beautiful. But it gets so hot in California during the growing season that sometimes a lot of new oak gets used in the aging process to wrangle the rich, ripe flavors of the grape. Chardonnay can stand up to a lot of new oak aging which is why this style of winemaking has become so popular over the years.  

In Lettie Teague’s “Must a Chardonnay be Bombastically Oaky?” she discussed the topic with former Beringer head winemaker and Chardonnay legend Ed Sbragia. He suggested that maybe the winemakers back in the day who hopped on the oaky bandwagon didn’t understand oak as well as we do now, and they also had much fewer options in terms of toast and brands. Yes many descendants of European families with winemaking backgrounds settled to start the industry here in Napa. But that doesn’t mean there was constant communication between the old world and the new world when it came to winemaking, and the growing conditions here are so different from those of France and the old world. For the most part, it was winemaking in the wild wild west. Winemaking has advanced so much since Chardonnay was first planted in Napa, so why should this grape be unrightfully shackled to the reputation it had in the 80’s when none other is? Besides Merlot, but that’s a whole other issue to tackle.

The right Chardonnay can even be paired with dessert!

A common association with oaky is the term buttery. While there isn’t actual butter in the wine (sigh) the chemical compound that creates the movie theater butter flavor, diacetyl, is produced by malolactic fermentation. This secondary “fermentation” is really a conversion of malic acid to lactic acid (malic acid is naturally produced in the wine during primary fermentation). Malic acid is tart and edgy while lactic is creamy and soft. This creamy mouthfeel and other complexities derived from MLF are desirable in a wine and why many winemakers encourage MLF in their Chardonnays. However, malolactic fermentation is not synonymous with heavy and buttery Chardonnays. It is possible for a wine to have gone through 100% malolactic fermentation but still be light and fruit-forward, just like you can have a heavy, oaky Chardonnay with no malolactic fermentation in it. The key is the aging process – if the wine’s been aged in neutral oak, a very small percentage of new French oak or none at all, it can still be incredibly bright. I’ve had delicious, bright and fruity Chards that underwent 100% malolactic but were aged in 100% neutral oak.

Escargot paired with Bourgogne

I understand it can be risky to buy a bottle or even a glass of wine at a restaurant if you know you don’t like heavily oaked Chardonnays. However, it might be worth the risk to find a new wine that you actually love. The wait staff and sommeliers are there to help you find the right wine, so be sure to describe what you do want with words like “light, crisp, fruit-forward, mineral, and Chablis-like” if that’s what you want. Chablis is basically Rombauer’s alter ego – it’s light, crisp and high in minerality (which is quintessential of its growing site). If you do like a heavy, oaky Chardonnay you should communicate that as well so whoever’s helping you knows not to stray from those options.

Key terms to look for if you prefer a Chardonnay that is light, fruity, crisp, floral and high in minerality:

Chablis

Petit Chablis

Bourgogne

Bourgogne Blanc (White Burgundy)

Neutral oak

Stainless steel

Chardonnays from Australia (specifically Margaret River)

Keep in mind that Chardonnay from Bourgogne might still be aged in oak, but it will probably be less intense than the Kendall-Jacksons and Rombauers of California. Pay attention to if the wine was aged in new French oak or neutral French oak (anything older than new).

A light, crisp Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains. 13.4% alcohol was a refreshing change of pace too

All wines are beautiful (if made well and from good grapes). Stay wary of people who say all Chardonnays are bad – maybe they just haven’t found the right one and you can take it upon yourself to introduce them to one they might love. I even got my mom to start drinking Chardonnay (after she had avoided them for years because of the oaky and buttery trend) just by finding the right ones. Happy Chard hunting!

A Bourgogne label

What it’s like to work a harvest in Napa, continued

I had the idea to write about working a harvest in Napa for a long time but I struggled when it came time to get it all down in words. After you do something enough times, it can become second nature and harder to describe to an outsider. That was my problem with the original piece, and after sitting with the post for some time I realized that because there was so much information to cover I left out a few crucial details.

Something I regrettably and completely looked over was the fact that you will be submerged in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The sunrises, smells, and sights of an early morning harvest drive to the winery are an experience unlike any other. The scent of the vineyard soil being disturbed, pomace dumped after pressing, and grape clusters released from their vines fills the air with a sweet and earthy aroma that is quintessential of harvest. This filled my car every morning driving on Highway 29 and it always excited me for the day ahead. Smell is the number one sense correlated with memory and I will always think of my first harvest in Napa Valley when I smell this scent.

As someone from Southern California, I always considered myself a sunset person and preferred this time of day to sunrise. Harvest changed me – there is something so peaceful and spiritual about a Napa Valley harvest sunrise that charges you with the energy you need to work through the long hours. The colors are an indescribable palette of pinks, yellows, blues, oranges, and reds. Every morning is unique to the one before but equally as special. There’s a reason the hot air balloon industry thrives in Napa! It’s easy to be on autopilot driving to work at 5 am, especially in the middle of the season, but taking a moment to appreciate the grandeur in the sky around you will truly make the early rise worth it.

Napa has such rich, prolific, volcanic soils because millions of years ago it was covered with active volcanoes and part of the valley was even submerged under water. In the early mornings driving to work when the sun begins to peak out of the Vacas, the Valley gives off a prehistoric aura. It’s so raw at this time of day and has a completely different feeling than when the rest of the Valley wakes up and the bustling tourism begins. You can’t experience this feeling any other time of day and it’s truly something special to be witness to its beauty in the peacefulness of the early morning.

I touched on this in the first piece, but I don’t think I elaborated enough on how much you will learn working a harvest in Napa (especially as a harvest newbie). I came to work my second harvest in Napa right after I had graduated with a degree in viticulture and enology. You can learn so much in school, but until you are actually thrown into the cellar you will only have a conceptual understanding of winemaking. I thought I knew how a pumpover worked, but it wasn’t until after I did them just shy of a hundred times that I actually felt like I understood them. I took an extremely in-depth sensory evaluation course for my major that taught me how to look for flavors and aromas in wine. That was one of my hardest and most rewarding classes, but I really learned how to smell and taste flavors in wine by smelling and tasting my way through the cellar during harvest – tasting the grapes in the bins waiting to be weighed, putting my nose in the barrel as I filled it with wine, stopping to smell the fermentation of an open-top Pinot tank as it wafted up during a pumpover. I would literally taste the foam of an inoculation as the fermentation was starting just to see what it was like. It wasn’t great but you get the point. Now when I taste wine I am much better at pinpointing what I smell because I am connecting it to the cellar and the step of the winemaking process that created that particular scent.

That said, you will only get out of a harvest what you put into it. If you show up every day willing to work hard and invest yourself into the work you will be rewarded with a wealth of knowledge. Get to know the people, both interns and full time, working on your team because they probably have really awesome stories and experiences to share. You can learn a lot just by watching your teammates work and asking questions. Most people who work in production love what they do especially if they studied wine, and will love answering your questions about it. You truly get more out of the experience the more you devote yourself to it. Taste and smell as many things as you can and be willing to help with as many different projects as possible because this exposure will pay off.

Between these two posts I’ve talked a lot about how beautiful and exciting harvest is, but you will only truly understand when you immerse yourself in it completely. Cheers!

Ownroot Collective x Post & Vine

If you’re not a member of Terra Jane’s Ownroot Collective you are missing out. I have attended 3 (virtual) tasting events so far and I’ve already discovered so many new and delicious wines that were living right under my nose for so long and I had no idea. Ownroot is a wine club that features amazing and talented winemakers and their own, small labels. Most of these producers make wine for a larger brand, and Terra aims to highlight the creator behind the big label by showcasing their personal side projects.

Last Monday I had the privilege of attending the tasting featuring Rebekah Wineburg (yes that’s really her last name) as she guided us through her label Post & Vine. Rebekah is the winemaker for Napa Valley biodynamic and organic estate Quintessa. Quintessa is iconic for their one red wine that is a blend masterpiece of many little lots. They also make an age-worthy Sauvignon Blanc called Illumination that truly embodies its namesake.

A graduate of the UC Davis Viticulture & Enology master’s program, Wineburg follows a minimal intervention method when it comes to Post & Vine. She doesn’t add tannin or filter her red wines. She encourages a native fermentation of her wines and closely monitors temperature and quite literally listens to her fermentations to help them along the process.

Wineburg started Post & Vine in 2012 to further explore her creativity but more importantly bring attention and value to the unique and rich vineyard sites of California. She crafts her wines to express place – from the sandy, deep soils of Contra Costa County where the old-vine Carignane survived prohibition, to the Mendocino Testa Vineyard that was farmed by Italian families for generations. What’s so incredible about the Carignane is that these 100+ year old vines are ownrooted, meaning they are not grafted to a rootstock. This is very uncommon in modern viticulture because of the Phylloxera epidemic of the 1800s. However, Phylloxera cannot move in sandy soils which protects these vines from turmoil. These are the kinds of fascinating characteristics Wineburg aims to capture in the wines she creates. These same vines that survived Prohibition are also immune to the biggest pest threat to grapevine roots in the world and that is truly something to share. The entire point of making wine is to tell a story about the people who grew it and the place where it grew, and Wineburg succeeds in this with every wine she makes.

The group tasted and discussed her 2021 Rosé of Carignane, 2019 Contra Costa Carignane, and the Testa Vineyard 2018 Old Vine Field Blend in that order. For $19 the rosé is a steal. High in acid and flavor and lower in alcohol, you can easily drink this on any spring or summer day with or without food and have absolutely no headache the next day. The wine has a hint of minerality and a touch of grapefruit and watermelon on the palate. There is no residual sugar left in this wine or any heavy sweetness on the palate that can often come with a California rosé.

My favorite was the 2019 Carignane. This wine was also fermented to dryness but had a slight, delicate sweetness on the palate reminiscent of sundried red fruit, such as a date or prune. On the nose, hints of rich plum and dark red fruit and a hint of earthiness. The palate was fruity but held great acidity. For someone looking to venture away from the big Napa style but still wants a rich red wine I highly suggest the Post & Vine Carignane or Field Blend.  

Acquire Post & Vine directly through Rebekah’s site, through an Ownroot Collective membership, or at Jeffries General and Backroom Wines in downtown Napa.

How to plan the perfect day in Napa

After you’ve decided where to go tasting in Napa, the other half of the battle is planning your itinerary for each day you’re in the valley. With many wineries closing around 4 or 4:30, it can be difficult to fit all of your favorite spots into one day. I often hear of many visitors trying to squeeze 4 wineries in one day which is honestly not ideal; I would recommend visiting 2, maybe 3 wineries in one day. This allows you to actually relax and absorb all of the wine, scenery, and most importantly information that your guide is sharing with you! There is nothing worse for a wine educator than when guests come in late from another appointment and rush through their tasting. It’s not fair to the person hosting your experience, and you’re not doing yourself any favors by cutting your time short at any of these beautiful wineries.

So how do you make the most of your vacation? As a rough outline, this is how you can set yourself up for success:

Breakfast or brunch

Napa is a marathon not a sprint so it’s important to get something in your system before that first tasting (which might be as early as 10 am). If is this the case and you don’t have time for a big sit down brunch, The Model Bakery (both in Saint Helena and Napa at the Oxbow Market) offer great grab-and-go breakfast options. They have a breakfast sandwich for everyone as well as an expansive selection of pastries and coffee for something lighter. I suggest calling ahead because the line gets crazy on weekends.

If you do have the time to eat a relaxed breakfast, here are a few options:

  • Sky and Vine rooftop bar Sunday Brunch
  • AVOW (brunch on weekends)
  • The Napa General Store
  • Ad Hoc
  • The Boon Fly Café in Carneros
  • Auberge du Soleil
  • Farmstead Saint Helena

Winery #1

I suggest allowing a minimum of 90 minutes at your first winery. Tastings are usually an hour to an hour-fifteen and between buying wine and getting to and from the property your first experience tends to be closer to 2 hours. *As a rule of thumb in general, leave plenty of time between tastings for travel. It can take up to an hour to get from Calistoga to Napa and you want to consider time it takes to call Ubers as well.

Lunch

If you didn’t have time to eat anything before your tastings started I would highly recommend budgeting at least an hour and a half for lunch. There are so many amazing restaurants in Napa and it would be really unfortunate to miss a chance to visit a few of them for lunch during your stay. Here are a few that I love:

  • Mustards Grill
  • R+D Kitchen
  • Farmstead Saint Helena
  • Bouchon (also easier to get a reservation for lunch vs. dinner!)
  • RH Yountville (also check out the RH Wine Vault)
  • For something quicker – Oakville Grocery in Oakville has artisan sandwiches, cheeseboards and grab-and-go options, and Sunshine Market in Saint Helena has a deli counter with great sandwiches as well

Winery #2

By this time it’s probably around 2 or 3pm. If this is your last appointment of the day before dinner you can really relax and take your time.

Option for in between winery #2 and dinner: downtown tasting room

Downtown Napa has a plethora of awesome little tasting rooms that often get overlooked when people plan trips here. There is Alpha Omega, Brown, Mayacamas, and Vineyard 29 to name a few. I love these tasting rooms because they give you a way to try these producers’ wines that you may not otherwise have gotten to try because their wineries are quite hard to get appointments at. Another added bonus is the tasting rooms often offer flights of their wines for a fraction of the winery’s tasting price. If you have a dinner reservation in downtown Napa, these tasting rooms are a great way to experience more of Napa and kill some time in between reservations.

Dinner

If you’ve made it to dinner, congratulations! Kidding kind of. There are so many incredible options for dinner in Napa and I will be doing a separate post on just that. Here are a few suggestions for now:

  • Cole’s Chop House – best steakhouse in Napa in a historic and lively building
  • Angèle – French-inspired cuisine along the Napa Riverfront
  • Los Agaves – NEW in Napa! Upscale Mexican cuisine with a brightly decorated interior and great drinks
  • Bistro Jeanty – also French cuisine, my personal favorite and very authentic
  • Brasswood Saint Helena – beautiful restaurant that also has a winemaking facility
  • Bouchon – a Thomas Keller classic, French cuisine in Yountville
  • Celadon – trendy and chic atmosphere in downtown Napa with a delicious menu
  • La Calenda – Chef Thomas Keller’s take on Mexican cuisine, very fun environment with great food of course
  • Goose & Gander – A Saint Helena staple with a great ambiance and delicious food

A Taste of Toscana

West shore Lake Tahoe

At just around $10 a bottle at Trader Joe’s, this 2013 Casone “Toscana” IGT from the Poggio Al Casone estate in Tuscany is a steal for an easy-drinking red. This producer has multiple tiers of wines, ranging from IGT to DOCG as well as a magnificent estate in the Tuscan countryside. This wine is a great introduction to Sangiovese if that is new to your repertoire – it’s light, approachable, and has just the right amount of fruit on the palate. Pair this wine with a pasta dish, such as fluffy gnocchi in a tomato-cream sauce or a penne a la vodka. This wine is so light that you could even pair it with fish, something like a baccalà (cod in red sauce, serve with angel hair pasta) or an oven-roasted salmon filet with charred cherry tomatoes and lemon. I would not suggest enjoying this wine with a heavy steak or heavy pasta dish as the food might overpower the delicate profile of this wine!

I enjoyed this wine after a long day of skiing and it was the perfect refreshing red to end the day with.

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