Thousands of boutique and limited-production wines are waiting for you in downtown Napa—for only $20, or ten cents a taste!
JEANNIE CLAIRE’s articles have appeared in a variety of regional and national trade publications. She lives in Napa, California, where she is a freelance writer, and marketing and media relations expert.
Taste Downtown Napa
Ten Tasting Rooms, Thousands Of Wines
One of the most famous wine regions in the world and a great place to do wine tasting is Napa Valley, California. There are more than 400 wineries in Napa Valley and it could take weeks to visit them all.
So, how can a wine-lover get a thorough tasting experience without running out of time? Craig Smith, executive director of the Napa Downtown Association, offers a potential solution for this dilemma. Through a special program called “Taste Napa Downtown,” sponsored by the Association, oenophiles can purchase a tasting card for just $20 that enables them to taste thousands of boutique, limited production, and hard-to-find wines from Napa Valley and around the globe—for only 10 cents a taste! Even better, this as done at ten tasting rooms within walking distance of each other in downtown Napa—no need to drive long distances. The tasting rooms open at 10 a.m. and many are open until 9 or 10 p.m., later on weekends. So, there’s a lot to be learned about wines and a lot to discover, in a very efficient and cost-effective manner.
“If it’s your first trip to Napa, you should definitely visit a few wineries, take the tours and see how the wine is made. The winery staff is on hand to share their products and knowledge, and to guide you to getting the most out of your visit. But if you just want to taste good wines and don’t want to have to be driving from place to place to do it, you can’t beat the tasting card,” Smith says. “There are more wine tasting opportunities in downtown Napa than any place else in the world, and they all are in walking distance of each other.”
From the Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Provisions’ Wine Bar, the Vintner’s Collective, to COPIA: The American Center for Food, Wine, and the Arts, there are 10 tasting rooms with literally thousands of great wines to choose from. The “Taste Napa Downtown” card has additional benefits: most of the tasting rooms offer a 10 percent discount on all “to go” wine purchases; and COPIA offers half-price admission to its formidable museum when you present the card.
COPIA, which rises in sleek stone, metal, and glass from the banks of the Napa River, opened in 2001 with generous seed money from vintner Robert Mondavi and his wife, Margrit. The center includes galleries, demonstration kitchens, an outdoor amphitheater, and beautiful organic gardens.
COPIA visitors gather to taste wines at the Wine Spectator Tasting Table. Photo by Faith Echtermeyer.
Kathleen Iudice, public relations and community relations manager of COPIA, says the food, wine, and art museum’s half-price admission offers visitors an opportunity to tour the center’s exhibitions and gardens, and participate in daily food and wine programs, including “Winery of the Week” tastings at the facilities wine bar. “As visitors sample the featured wines at COPIA, they can also attend lectures and chat with knowledgeable staff who are there to greet you, answer questions, and make wine suggestions,” Iudice explains. She says COPIA recommends that visitors looking for a unique wine experience take advantage of the “Taste Napa Downtown” cards, which “offers an extraordinary wine value that is all contained within the Napa downtown area.” (Editor’s note: COPIA, is a major Napa activity unto itself. We suggest advance planning, as it might be worth a half-day visit or more—it’s a food-and-wine-lover’s paradise. The events schedule is available online.)
No Need For Designated Drivers
Walkability is definitely an added convenience of “Taste Napa Downtown.” By being in a mixed environment, located among the shops, art galleries and restaurants of old-town Napa, visitors can combine wine-tasting with other activities. People staying at local hotels and inns just walk through town; others can leave their cars for a day, rather than following a map and driving from vineyard to vineyard. With the distances between favorite vineyards, traveling, parking, and waiting for the vineyard’s activities, often that can mean seeing only 3 vineyards in an entire afternoon and sampling perhaps just 15 wines—and the opportunity for lunch or snacks is limited. “One of our biggest selling points,” notes Jim Beazley, owner of the bed and breakfast, Beazley Luxury Inns, which is located two blocks from downtown Napa, “is that we are within walking distance of over 20 Zagat-rated restaurants.”
Deborah Coffee, owner of the Inn on Randolph, another B & B, says
adds that the benefit of not having to drive when wine-tasting is an obvious asset. But the downtown tasting rooms are also great for people whose time is limited or if they are not in Napa Valley during winery tasting hours. For example, Coffee says, guests arriving late afternoon may not have time to drive to a winery before the standard 5 o’clock closing.
One of the tasting rooms, Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Provisions Company, offers more than 400 wines for tasting seven days a week, plus lunch and dinner, and is open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. (until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday). Mark Pope, a.k.a., “The Bounty Hunter,” has made it his mission in life to hunt down California’s most elusive premium wines. Pope has set up Bounty Hunter as a restaurant with a wine bar at one end, tables for diners at the other, and a huge library wall of newly-discovered “bounty” wines, which are available for purchase.
Another popular wine tasting destination is Stave Wine Lounge, also open seven days a week. It is a unique wine tasting venue, employing Enomatic wine tasting machines, a state of the art wine tasting system that allow visitors to press a button, and select a wine to taste (photo below). The wine is aerated and poured into the visitor’s glass through a spout. Stave offers 32 small-producer for tasting that are not available anywhere else in the Napa Valley.
The Enomatic Wine Tasting Machine at Stave Wine Lounge: Just put your glass under the
spigot and push the button.
For Beginning & Sophisticated Tasters
“Many first-timers to Napa are inexperienced wine drinkers who haven’t yet discovered what type of wines they like,” says Deborah Coffee. “The downtown tasting rooms offer not only a wide variety, but helpful advice in a non-intimidating environment.”
The 10 tasting rooms also have appeal for the seasoned visitor who often has a sophisticated wine palate and has already visited the better-known wineries up and down the valley, according to Coffee. “And because many of the smaller vintners don’t have their own tasting rooms, downtown Napa is the only place visitors can actually taste before making a purchase and, in some cases, even find the wine.”
“Wine Collectives” are another interesting offshoot of the tasting bars, notes Craig Smith of the Napa Downtown Association. “These collectives give smaller, boutique wineries a presence where otherwise they would have to go it alone,” Smith also points out that the tasting rooms able provide many different labels from around the world—something not generally found on winery tours.
But what if you don’t have time to visit all 10 tasting rooms during your visit to Napa? “No worries,” concludes Smith. “If wine lovers don’t have time to visit all 10 tasting rooms and wine bars in one day, it’s not a problem. The card is good through the end of the year, and it’s transferable. Plus, for those who don’t want to walk, the free Downtown Trolley stops in front or near all locations.”
Mark Pope, founder of Bounty Hunter Wine &
Provisions Company, enjoying the Wine Bar & Bistro.
Photo courtesy of the Bounty Hunter Wine &
Napa’s 10 tasting rooms are:
- Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Provisions, 975 First Street (open 7 days: Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.).
- COPIA, 500 First Street (11 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Tuesdays and on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day).
- JV Wine & Spirits, 426 First Street (open 7 days, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.).
- Napa General Store, 540 Main Street (open 7 days, Sunday to Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.).
- Napa Wine Merchants, 1146 First Street (Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sunday).
- Robert Craig, 880 Vallejo Street (Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Sunday).
- Rocco Family Vineyards, 1130 Main Street (Monday to Wednesday 1 p.m. to 6p.m., Thursday to Saturday 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday by appointment).
- Stave Wine Lounge, 1149 First Street (3 p.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week); Vintner’s Collective, 1245 Main Street (Wednesday to Monday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays by appointment).
- Wineries of Napa Valley, 1285 Napa Town Center (open 7 days: April-November: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., December to March: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
The “Taste Napa Downtown” cards are available for $20 per person at the Napa Chamber of Commerce, 1556 First Street, Napa, CA 94559; phone, 1.707.226.7455; fax, 1.707.226.1171; www.napachamber.com.