Making the most of your visit to wine country
I’m celebrating 10-years living in Napa Valley this month. What a journey it has been. I arrived here as a newly certified Sommelier in 2008 green with ideas of what ‘real’ Napa Valley was all about. Actually, I really had no clue. I had visited here many times over the years, but now with a new arsenal of knowledge I was certain to take this valley by storm and drink the finest of wines to my heart’s content. Little did I know that my path would take a few (Ok, several…) twists and turns and land me in my current situation starting my 9th season as a tour operator/owner of my company, Flex Wine Tours. I hate to go ‘cliche’ and say I’ve “seen it all“, but…I’ve kind of seen (most) of it all.
Let’s take some inventory…
Visiting nearly 900 of the 1000+ wineries between Napa and Sonoma, there are not too many experiences or places that I have not either done or know about. I’ve tasted over 50,000 wines alongside hundreds of winemakers, owners, vintners and other Somms. I’ve toured over 10,000 persons, spent 20,000+ hours touring, and logged over 150,000 miles across every AVA covering over 100,000 total acres in both Napa and Sonoma. I’ve dined at all of the one, two, and three Michelin starred restaurants and met numerous 5-star chefs along with too many other dining establishments to mention. I’ve gone to almost every major wine-related event and harvest party ‘theme’ you can imagine tasting some of the best food and wines you will never even hear about. I’ve been through 5 house moves, a couple of seasonal floods, a major earthquake (6.1 in 2014), and most recently the devastating fires in October 2017. Tired yet…?
I don’t bring all this up to brag…not in very the least. I bring it up to highlight one simple fact – I’m very attune to what people want when they visit wine country. Or better phrased, I learn quickly what people want when I talk to them. And, the tricky part is that is it can be vastly different, or the same, from group to group. The main point is what we offer is not for everyone…I get that. However, most do not even know all the options offered to them. I regularly witness how poorly people spend or waste their time and dollars here unnecessarily, and it kills me. What I want to discuss in more detail is the added value of what I (we) offer for visitors that may be looking at a myriad of ways that barely scratch the surface of all there is to discover here in wine country. Here goes…
Private Touring Added Values
By far the most critical element of enjoying your trip here that really can make or break your overall visit. Most people are vastly overwhelmed with trying to figure out who, what, where is best for their group. With all due respect to travel agents and concierges, no one has their ear to the ground more than local tour guides. We have the inside scoop on all things food, wine, accommodations and events. Not to mention the logistics involved in getting around both valleys. We help you plan for your entire trip.
The average stay here is 2-3 days. It is impossible to really see much in that time with over 1,000 wineries and over 200 restaurants. From airport to hotel and back, there are several things that can eat in to the small time-space of a weekend. As obvious as this is, I am amazed at some of the decisions people make fully knowing their time is so limited. We help parse through all the different choices so you can make the best decision for your particular visit, whatever the occasion, so you have that quality time so desperately coveted.
If you consider all of the touchpoints from beginning to end, there are so many spots that can become critical spending decisions. Wine country has gotten quite expensive and when you take in to account all that goes in to a visit here it can far exceed budget expectations. Just tasting fees alone can run the tab up quickly. Let our local knowledge and connections work for you to get the best deals on everything wine, food and hospitality.
Wine & food expertise.
Let’s not kid ourselves…it’s all about the quality wine and food 99% of the time here. You can go to ‘anywhere USA’ and get a decent glass of wine and good food these days. What separates Napa and Sonoma is learning about what is new and different, how it is made, and the people or places that created the rich history since the mid-1800’s. We take a vine-to-bottle and farm-to-table approach to share our expertise on what makes this region truly that special.
Meeting the people.
Anyone can rent a car or take an Uber up and down Hwy 29 and get reasonable wine or food for an ‘ABC’ type of day. There is no substitute for meeting the people behind that scenes and hearing their stories about what brought them or keeps them here. All of the characters that are involved with the process of making a wine label or creating fine cuisine always seems to lend to a great story that captivates their audience. We like to say we get greeted with hugs not handshakes.
Most visitors to wine country are confined by what they find online or referrals from friends that have been here in the past. Rarely does this uncover some of the amazing options available to the ‘roads less traveled‘ places and unique experiences that are offered through the valley. Whether you want a specialized food & wine pairing, cave tours, barrel tastings, making your own wine, educational tours, vineyard ATV tours, private estate tastings, meet the winemaker, or just a remote place to call your own, we have all the key relationships to curate the day just for you.
I’ll leave you with this…you spend all this time, effort and money just to get to wine country, why skimp on arguably THE most important part of your trip tasting some of the best wines and food in the world…? In the long run, it will even out and you will be glad you did your due diligence to let us earn our keep by planning just the right days for you. More importantly, that special person (or persons) you’re here with will thank you for your efforts and insights for splurging a little more.
We hope to see you out with us soon…cheers!
James – Chief Wino & Guide