Steve (DOS) and I stayed in Napa Valley for five nights, followed by four nights in Sonoma. We went to many different wineries ranging from the boutique to the large and well known ‘name’ wineries. As a point of reference I noted in the last post, we stayed at the Marriott Napa Valley, which was located off of highway 29, and a short drive or Uber ride to downtown Napa.
On two of the days in Napa, we utilized Platypus Tours. We have used Platypus several times over the years, and you can’t beat them for quality, price, ease of touring, and best of all fun! Every tour we have ever taken with Platypus has been excellent, and not only is it recommended so you’re not drinking and driving, but Platypus knows the wine regions and wineries well, and takes you to some of the more boutique wineries you would probably not have the chance to visit. Platypus picks you up in a large mini-bus type van, and limits the group to no more than 10 people, although on our Napa tours we had four passengers on one tour and eight on the other.
The seating aboard the bus is very comfortable, and is arranged in a “U type” configuration so everyone can spread out a bit, and still talk to each other as well throughout the tour bus.
With Platypus you are picked up around 10am and return around 5pm, and a picnic-type lunch is included at the second winery. Everyone we have ever met on these Platypus Tours is like family by the end of the day; I can’t say enough good things about them! (And no I’m not a paid spokesperson or getting an endorsement fee; they are just worth bragging about as they are so fun and efficient!)
Platypus keeps a list of the wineries you have been to previously (even from years ago) and tries not to duplicate any of the wineries if possible. Normally you go to three wineries, and while the tasting fees are extra, that are quite reasonable, averaging around $20 or so per person. Many of the wineries on the Platypus Tours will even waive the tasting fee if you buy a couple bottles of wine, which is not always the case on the big wineries unless you buy a lot of wine or join their wine club.
Anyway, enough of the background info for this post: let’s go with Platypus to the Napa Valley Wineries!
Day 1 Platypus Tour Wineries: Ghost Block, Auburn James, and Bread and Butter
We were picked up at our hotel by Jason, our Platypus driver, promptly at 10am. On this tour there was only one other couple, so there were only the four of us touring on our first Platypus day trip. Jason first explained the day’s schedule for us, and as a legal thing (and sign of the COVID times), we had to scan the box bar code and agree to the terms and conditions of our COVID status among other things. It was a quick formality, and we were soon on our way to the first winery: Ghost Block.
Along the way to Oakville, we passed by the many vineyards of the valley before arriving at the winery, which is located adjacent to the renowned Oakville Grocery.
Ghost Block is multi-generational family estate winery, and has three distinct wines: Ghost Block, Oakville Winery & Elizabeth Rose. Like at most of the wineries with Platypus Tours, we had a private tasting of several wines, including an outstanding Oakville Cabernet, which we bought some to take home.
Before leaving we bought a souvenir Ghost Block cap along with the wine, and had our small group photo taken with our wine educator; i.e. wine host.
Our next winery was Auburn James, which was located along the Silverado Trail with a tasting cottage in St. Helena. On our way to the small but very upscale town of St. Helena, Jason pointed out a few sites along the way. Here is a short twenty second video of the ride northbound on highway 29, passing some of the more famous wineries such as Cakebread and Sequoia Grove.
And here are a few pics passing thru the Main Street of St. Helena on the way to the Auburn James Tasting Cottage.
Auburn James was a newer yet more rustic-looking winery established in 2005. Prior to entering the cottage, our driver Jason gave us a quick history of the winery.
Jason then introduced us to our Auburn James wine host, Doug, (Napa/Sonoma use the term wine educator, but to me host sounds more friendly and welcoming so I’m using that now and throughout) wore a cowboy hat and entertained us with some good stories and wine, prior to Jason serving us lunch on the porch of the cottage.
After lunch, Doug gave us a tour of the wine production facilities, both outside and indoors. The sheer size and number of barrels even at a small winery never ceases to amaze me, as well as the work, love, cost, and care that goes into making wine.
After the tour, we wrapped up the visit on the porch, where we were fortunate to have met one of the friendly co-owners, Matt Ospeck, who per the wineries website says: ” Matt Opseck was an old car devotee and wanted to name the winery after America’s first car company, the Auburn Automobile Company that was credited with the first automobile design way back in 1874. After a meeting with Jim Frost and his sister, the new company decided to adopt AuburnJames as its official name.” Hence the iconic car logo! Matt was very down to earth and friendly and chatted with us a while before we headed out to the last winery of the day.
DOS of course had to buy some wine before we left, and like many of the wineries they could ship wine to us at home in Florida (although someone must be there to sign for the shipment).
On our way back to the bus, DOS and I got our photo taken with Doug. Thanks Doug and Matt; we really enjoyed having lunch and your wines at the Tasting Cottage!
After leaving Auburn James, we drove for a bit over and down the Silverado Trail until our next and final stop for the day. The weather was cool in the morning, but by 3pm it was in the 70s; quite unseasonably warm for this time of year (mid-February), Jason and the other wine hosts told us. Fortunately DOS and I dressed in layers, and I had changed out of my sweatshirt (underneath my short sleeve Columbia shirt) at the last stop, although we still took our jackets the whole time we were in Napa/Sonoma due to the changes in altitudes, morning/evening coolness, and occasionally for the wine caves we visited. The drive along the Silverado Trail and basically anywhere in Napa/Sonoma is very scenic, which we admired on our way to our last winery: “Bread and Butter”. We even saw some workers pruning the vines in the vineyards, as it was off-season for growing.
Bread and Butter Wines opened their tasting room just last summer in 2021, but they’ve been producing wines in the region prior to this. Their tasting room was very modern and inviting, and once again our Platypus group where the only patrons visiting while we were there. Bread and Butter Wines have simple labels, and this seems to be part of their motto with wine and life: “Don’t Overthink It.“
We of course bought some wine to take home, and our fun and energetic wine hostess posed with us before we left by the Bread and Butter “Wishing Wall”.
Previous customers had signed a wine bottle they had consumed with a special and plain white label, and these were displayed on giant racks on the walls. It was fun reading some of people’s wishes as our eyes scanned thru several of the bottles that caught our eyes.
Anyway, we finished up at Bread and Butter Wines as DOS finished paying for the wines he bought.
We took a couple photos in the vineyards, and then took our Platypus shuttle back to the Marriott, after a truly wonderful day in Napa Valley!
Back at the hotel we relaxed a bit before having dinner around 7pm. We went to a Brazilian Steak House which was just up the street from the hotel, called Galpão Gaucho.
Similar to the restaurant concept of Fogo de Chão, the multiple servers are constantly going from table to table to offer you various slices of beef, pork, chicken, salmon, or even pineapple. Between the extensive salad bar and meats, we definitely didn’t go hungry!
plSo ends our long day of touring on the first of four Platypus Tours we’re taking on this Napa/Sonoma portion of the trip. What a great day it was! Good Night!