The California Wine Country — Napa Valley’s Grape Gardens

California’s Napa Valley wine country is blessed with wonderful weather for growing some of the United States’ (and the world’s) best wines — and Napa Valley’s grape gardens. The area is full of wineries with beautiful gardens and you can spend hours tasting their bounty. For years, Napa Valley has given France’s wine regions a run for their money. The fall harvest season is one of the best times to tour Napa Valley’s fruitful splendor.

Welcome to the Napa Valley (photo courtesy napavalley.edu)
Welcome to the Napa Valley (photo courtesy napavalley.edu)

Over 400 wineries are located in the Napa Valley. The total number of wineries rises to over 600 if the neighboring Sonoma area is included in the count. Not all wineries will offer a tasting room, as they may only grow grapes for the larger wineries. Check your favorite wineries’ websites for up-to-date information on their tasting hours and tours. There can be a charge for tours and tastings.

Napa Wineries Map – Photo Courtesy Wine Country Getaways
Napa Wineries Map – Photo Courtesy Wine Country Getaways

The gardener will be delighted to see how grapes are grown. Trained onto trellises, the grapevines are deprived of water and nutrients in order to produce the best fruit. Even if you are not a wine drinker, you will enjoy the pairing of rose bushes to the grapevines. Roses are of a similar plant family and tend to “catch” diseases faster than the grapevines — a great indicator to the vintner to protect his/her crops. Many of the Napa grapes are grown on rootstock from France. At many wineries, you can walk up to the vines and touch the grapes yourself! And think about growing your own grape garden!

Grapes starting to ripen in a private garden (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Grapes starting to ripen in a private garden (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Each commercial winery has a lovely setting and generally has adjoining gardens to view. The California growing climate is a gardener’s delight! You will see lovely flowering plants everywhere in Napa. Colorful flower arrangements are are prevalent as bottles of wine

Where to stay: Lovely privately-run bed and breakfasts inns as well as basic national chain hotels and fancier boutique hotels are plentiful in the Napa Valley. Many offer free continental breakfast with your room reservation. Some of the inns also offer wine tastings or maybe a special chocolate or dessert buffet in the evenings.

A “day trip” from the San Francisco area is a bit of a jaunt, so be prepared for a long day. Rental cars are available in the San Francisco area. The drive to Napa is about an hour and a half from San Francisco proper depending on traffic. Most of the larger wineries offer ample free parking.

The Wine Train is another fun way to view the Napa Valley wineries. The Wine Train offers onboard wine dinners while you travel through and view the Napa Valley countryside.

The Napa Valley Wine Train (courtesy winetrain.com)
The Napa Valley Wine Train (courtesy winetrain.com)

Local shopping and restaurants abound. Eateries such as The French Laundry are world-reknowned and can have reservation waits of several months. Stop at the Culinary Institute of America’s western campus at Greystone for an excellent student-chef-cooked meal and some education about food and wine. The expansive Greystone Herb Garden is a cook’s delight! Many other Napa Valley restaurants produce tasty dishes with locally sourced fruits and vegetables.

Student Chefs in CIA’s Greystone Herb Garden (Photo courtesy Keith Ferris)
Student Chefs in CIA’s Greystone Herb Garden (Photo courtesy Keith Ferris)

One important recommendation: If you are purchasing wine and do not live within a few hours’ drive, consider having your wine shipped back to your home if your state’s liquor law allows it. On a warm day, leaving unopened wine bottles in the car cabin or trunk can cause the wine bottles to explode. Not the best way to enjoy your Napa Valley purchases!

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