The Traveling Steve's

Welcome to Napa Valley!

After being on the California Zephyr train for the last two nights, it was wonderful getting a great night’s sleep at the Hyatt House in Emeryville. After checking out, Steve (DOS) and I rented a car from Avis, which had an office near the hotel, and drove up to the Napa Valley.

We are now staying at the Marriott Napa Valley for the next five nights, and then switching over to Sonoma for four nights. Our drive to the Napa Valley was only an hour or so, and as it was a Sunday morning, the traffic was light.

We have a nice room at the end of the hall on the first floor of this low-rise property (two floors only) and are enjoying not having to take stairs or an elevator to our ground floor room. There is also a sliding door which leads to an outside courtyard area.

While we’ve both been to Napa/Sonoma many times over the years, we’ve never been in the off-season winter month of February, and didn’t know what to expect. We way overpacked with winter clothes for the Chicago and train portions of our trip, and assumed Napa would be very cold as well. Fortunately, the weather has been wonderful the last two days we have been here, and while a bit chilly in the morning and evenings, it has been in the 70’s during the day. Gorgeous weather, without the humidity we get in Florida!

The Marriott is having some major renovations done in the lobby area, but that doesn’t really affect us, and we enjoy our first floor courtyard-facing room. It’s actually very quiet since it’s at the end of the hallway. We spoke with the Concierge Lucianne at check-in, and she gave us lots of tips, 2 for 1 tasting coupons, and made recommendations on some of the wineries to go to. She gave us so many coupons and brochures, we had to really sort these out when we went back to the room!

Like many things in the last couple years due to COVID, things and policies have changed in Napa Valley since we last went. Probably the biggest change is the requirement to have a reservation for the tasting rooms, which previously you could just show up and get a tasting for a reasonable fee. Now almost all tasting rooms require a reservation, and most have a prepaid fee of $5o or more per person with a 24 to 48 hour cancelation, (many are in the $75 to $150 range and higher) which is rather steep compared to the days of old when $5 to $15 was the norm and you could just show up without a reservation for a tasting, and usually keep the glass too! Many wineries would also offer a complimentary tour of their facilities and vineyards as well. Those days are over that’s for sure! To be fair, some wineries or tasting rooms offer a 2 for 1 coupon for a basic tasting (usually not the premium or library tasting) for hotel guests, although you still need a reservation.

Napa’s new concept is to have a sit down wine tasting with a small group, while a “wine educator” gives you a spiel on their wines and the region. That’s nice, but like Disney World, you have to have to plan ahead what you are doing day by day such as Walt Disney’s World’s theme parks that now require a reservation for a specific park. It’s also a bit of a double whammy as with COVID, most tasting rooms do not offer cheese or chauchertie platters due to the food and sanitation laws. What is wine tasting without cheese after all? Planning ahead takes all of the spontaneity out of a visit, but that’s the sign of these times I guess.

Freemark Abbey’s regular wine tasting @ $50 a person.

Anyway, as we had arrived at the Marriott in the early afternoon, Lucianne had recommended that we go to nearby Burgess Winery for a tasting. Burgess Winery had recently been relocated in the valley, unfortunately due to the horrific fires in the Valley in 2020 which destroyed their property, and they are one of the few wineries that welcomes walk-ins.

We had been to Burgess Winery back in 2015, when it was then located high up on Howell Mountain. We really enjoyed going there as it was out of the way from other wineries, and had a special charm and character to it; even old fashioned if you will. I remember way back then the nice lady that served us wine rang up the purchase on an old cash register, and ran the card with the old carbon-copy swipe machine, something we hadn’t seen in years. Charming it was as we commented to her!

Burgess and a few other wineries were destroyed unfortunately in the fires of 2020, and many of the vineyards lost their 2020 harvest as it was ‘choked’ with the smoke that covered the valley.

Burgess is now setting up for a comeback in the valley, as they purchased the former Luna Vineyards. Planting new vineyard can take several years, but until then they can source grapes, and still have library selections for sale. We showed up around 3pm without a reservation, which these days in Napa Valley is not something you do, but our concierge said Burgess welcomed walk-ins, and we had a very courteous host named Andrew who really took care of us.

Andrew first poured us a nice Sauvignon Blanc while giving us a tour thru the production facilities.

We then moved to the outside garden area, where DOS and I had an impromptu and private tasting for two! The late afternoon weather was delightful, and we really enjoyed trying the different wines Andrew served us.

We bought three bottles of wine to take home, careful not to overpack the quantities of wine which we ultimately have to take home on our flight back on February 16th. We will probably buy a portable case for wine during our visit out here, which holds a case and can be checked on the plane, and depending how much wine we buy out here may have some shipped home as well

After leaving Burgess Winery, DOS and I stopped by downtown Napa for a walk around the area, and to get our bearings for the week of restaurants and possibly tasting rooms we wanted to visit. We took a few photos near the welcome center before heading back to the Marriott.

Back at the hotel, we attended the complimentary hotel wine tasting from 5 to 6 pm, which is hosted by a member of the sales team each night. It was an informal event, but nice to chat with some fellow guests over a glass of vino, and share tips we each other on their day and travels thru the Valley.

Later we had dinner in the dining room at the hotel the first night with a couple we met at the hotel’s wine tasting event.

It was a fun first day in Napa Valley, and we look forward to the remainder of our stay here, and then moving on to Sonoma as well.


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