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How to Explore Napa Valley’s Vineyards—Without Driving

By Edmund Vallance

02.20.19

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Fly high above Napa Valley’s vineyards on an excursion with Napa Valley Balloons.

Courtesy of Napa Valley Balloons

Fly high above Napa Valley’s vineyards on an excursion with Napa Valley Balloons.

Here are six different ways to experience the great wine of Northern California without worrying about being a designated driver.

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After 25 years of drinking wine, I’ve come to realize that one glass can very easily lead to six. This is especially true in Napa Valley—a region that boasts over 400 wineries. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to explore the valley without reaching for your car keys. Here are six of our favorite alternatives.

By air

Wine tasting marathons can make early mornings a little painful. But it’s worth the effort for a sunrise balloon ride above Napa. Platypus Tours offers a full-day balloon and tasting package including a 60-minute flight, a sparkling wine brunch at Domaine Chandon, tours of four backroads wineries, and a picnic lunch. $349 per person (wine tastings not included).

For more airborne adventures, consider a private plane ride over the vineyards. RiverHouse Bespoke Collection’s A Vintage Flight with the Flock features a 40-minute flight on a 1939 Douglas DC-3 propeller plane, with stunning views of Napa Valley and the San Francisco Bay. The experience is enhanced with a selection of vintage Blackbird Vineyard wines. $4,000 for up to 10 guests.

See some of Napa’s latest street art with Paper Napan Walkabouts before sipping Cabernet Sauvignon at a local winery.

On foot

Paper Napan Walkabouts offers a one-hour guided stroll (or stumble) through the burgeoning Rail Arts District (RAD) in downtown Napa. Take in some colorful street art courtesy of international muralists like Felipe Pantone and Fintan McGee. Then adjourn to three local wineries, including St. Clair Brown: a charming spot with a sunny greenhouse tasting room. $40 per person.

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Alternatively, try the Yountville Wine Walk: a self-guided, one-mile walk through downtown Yountville. There are 19 wineries on the trail. But whichever you choose, be sure to visit Cliff Lede. Its onsite gallery is currently exhibiting the artwork of Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, and its cabernet sauvignon, Poetry, snagged a perfect score from veteran wine critic Robert Parker. Tastings $35 to $75 per flight.

On horseback

If horseback riding and wine tasting sound like a dangerous combination, never fear. Rapp Ranch Estate’s Ultimate Ranch Experience starts with a (sober) 30-minute trail ride through the vineyards and finishes with a tasting on the garden patio overlooking the estate—and a one-minute walk from the main building. The four Shadybrook and Rapp Ranch wines are paired with cheese and charcuterie. $155 per person.

The Wine Train has a variety of itineraries to choose from, including a Castle Winery Tour and a visit to Grgich Hills Winery.

By train

The Wine Train’s Famiglia Tour was launched in April 2018. This half-day excursion to three family owned wineries (Silverado, Whitehall Lane, and Grgich Hills) includes a four-course meal on an antique Pullman railcar and a complimentary glass of bubbly. Sure, the music is a little cheesy, and the food is nothing to write home about, but the sweeping valley views and wine-fueled party atmosphere more than compensate. It’s an excellent way to get a broad view of Napa’s wine production and to visit some beautiful wineries along the way. $372 per person (includes lunch and tastings).

Work up a sweat and then drink some of the Valley’s finest wines with Getaway Adventures or Napa Valley Bike Tours.

On two wheels

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Nothing fixes a red wine hangover like some “hair of the dog” and a bike ride through vineyards. Both are on the menu with Getaway Adventures’s Pedal ’n Paddle: a bike and kayak tour of the Carneros region. The package includes a visit to two small, family run wineries (we had tastings at Bouchaine and McKenzie-Mueller), a picnic lunch, and an afternoon’s kayaking along the Napa River. This is a rare opportunity to freewheel through the grapevines, in fields fringed with eucalyptus trees and wild roses. From $158 per person (tastings not included).

If pedal bikes and kayaks sound like too much work, you can always opt for an electric bicycle. Napa Valley Bike Tours’s Pedego Electric Bike Tour includes a trip to two Carneros wineries and lunch at Oxbow Market in downtown Napa. $189 per person (tastings not included).

A New Arts District Is Transforming Napa

On four wheels

Uber is always an option, of course. But wouldn’t you rather tour the valley in a gleaming Mercedes, BMW or limousine? If so, book Beau Wine Tours’s Collector’s Tour: a full-day, chauffeur-driven excursion to St. Helena’s small-production vineyards. From $1,275 per couple.

Alternatively, create your own wine itinerary with the help of Napa Driving Services. They’ll drive your car wherever you want to go, and they’re considerably cheaper than a taxi or ride-share service. Our driver was friendly and knowledgeable. We were grateful for his suggestion to visit Quintessa; the tasting in its midcentury-style pavilion on Dragon’s Hill turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. $40 per hour (six-hour minimum).

>>Next: Everything You Need to Know About Winetasting in Napa Valley

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