Using Winery Maps

Napa Valley is big, 29 miles from Napa to Calistoga.  Sonoma County is even bigger, 1,768 square miles.  (You can look it up; we couldn’t believe it either.)  In both cases, there are wineries almost everywhere.  There are 375 in Napa Valley and 425 in Sonoma County.  Words of advice: You can’t try them all, at least not in a single trip.  Maybe not in a lifetime.

So if you’re going to go wine tasting in these two renowned corners of Wine Country, you’re going to have to know how to get around.

An issue of a free magazine with winery maps.  Photo courtesy of Wine Country This Week.

  • Plan A: Check a winery map before you go. There are a lot of them available, but if you look closely they pretty much all come from the same source, Wine  The maps are fairly detailed and show the location of most of the wineries you’d like to visit.

Pros: It’s always a good idea to think ahead about where you want to go on a vacation or a day out.  So, for example, let’s say you’re really intent on visiting Beaulieu Vineyard.  With a map, you will learn that Grgich Hills, Franciscan and Inglenook are quite nearby.  With a little time for lunch, that should make your day.

Cons: Keep in mind that distances on a map look a lot shorter than what you actually experience when you’re there.  The important lesson is to spend your time tasting, not driving from one end of the region to another.  An inch on your screen may be ten miles of weekend traffic.  So read the map with care.

  • Plan B: Pick up a map when you get there. Almost every winery has a stack of free magazines by the door and many of them contain maps.  The most commonly found magazine is Wine Country This Week, which is mostly advertising for wines and wineries.  And the map is from Wine

Pros: Even if you study in advance, it’s good to have a map.  With rare exception, every winery has a supply and it does help to know where you are and where you’re going next. And magazine maps make nice souvenirs, especially if you circle the wineries you have visited.

Cons: Remember that the free magazines make their money through advertising.  Some of the wineries shown in bold letters or with a big star denoting their locations are in no way the best nor the ones you should necessarily be aiming for.  Maps can lead you to your destination, but they can also mislead.

  • Plan C: Wing it. Especially if you’ve been to either Napa Valley or Sonoma County before, you may know your way around.  Google Maps makes this a much more acceptable plan than in years before.

Pros: For some people, a little serendipity makes a wine tasting trip into an adventure.  If you keep your eyes – and your mind – open you may just discover a little gem you drove past on familiar roads in the past.

Cons: We have no argument if taking your chances is your style, but for many others with a limited amount of time to spend wine tasting, it’s a better idea to know where you’re going.  And just because you think you know the roads like the back of your hand, experience has shown us that things can look a little strange on the back roads of Napa Valley and Sonoma county.  And we have found that for wineries off the main roads, Google Maps can be just flat out wrong.

Beaulieu Vineyard

There are few wineries in California with more history than Beaulieu Vineyard, familiarly known as BV. Georges de Latour, a Frenchman, established his holdings in Rutherford at the turn of the previous century.  He had the foresight to obtain a license to make sacramental wine, so that when Prohibition came into effect in 1919 and almost all other wineries had to close, BV was still operating, sending bottles to churches across the country.  If a few found their way to a restaurant or a speakeasy, what could Mr. de Latour do about it, eh?

Critically for the California wine industry, in 1938 he induced a famed French winemaker, Andre Tchellichef (“The Maestro”) to be BV’s winemaker, which he was for 30 years.  In his time at the helm, Tchellichef bottled the wine that the de Latour family was keeping for its own use and sold it commercially.  It was one of the first signs of the possibilities of California winemaking.  To this day that wine, the Georges de Latour Private Reserve, is the top of the line at BV and one of the most sought after Napa Valley wines.  If you visit the winery, you can taste it (including well aged versions of this wine).

As with all Napa Valley wineries during the pandemic, tastings are served outdoors.  In the past and we’re sure again in the (near?) future, there are two wine tasting experiences at BV.  As you enter the property, there’s a modern building on your right and a vine-covered old stone building on your left.  There, you can taste BV’s copious selection of widely available commercial wines.  The stone building is where you can taste their finer wines.

The lights are kept low in their reserve tasting room, perhaps to give the impression of a church (remember those altar wines) or a fine restaurant.  The room is not very large, but they have other facilities in the building if they get crowds.  The servers are, for the most part, quite knowledgeable about BV’s wines and wine in general.

The first pour will usually be a Chardonnay but BV has built its reputation on Cabernet Sauvignon.  They have quite a few Cabs at different price points.  We have always been fond of their Bordeaux blend that they call Tapestry.  Like many Napa Valley wineries, BV is experimenting with different, non-traditional grapes.  Today they make a Cabernet/Syrah with a nod to Australia and a Touriga Nacional from Portugal.  We have found that if they’re not too busy and you show a proper appreciation of the wines, the servers will find some gems just below the bar.

Depending on what they’re serving that day, you may get a pour from one of BV’s original vineyards or some single clone wines that are quite unique.  If you want to taste the George de Latour, they’ll charge extra.  We advise you to pay the fee; it’s worth it if only to know what a foundational Napa Valley wine tastes like.

A little extra tip.  BV shares its parking lot with the Rutherford Grill.  We often eat lunch there before we go tasting; if you want to go, you’ll need a reservation. It is a popular restaurant and the food is quite good.

We are never quite sure what Rutherford Dust was all about, but you certainly can find it (if it exists) at BV.

Visiting Napa/Noma in September

This article concludes Power Tasting’s irregular series on visiting Napa Valley and Sonoma County (“Napa/Noma”) in each of the months of the year.  So many people ask when the best time would be, and the answer is always the same: There is no best time.  Every month has its charms and its drawbacks.  If you’d like to read all of the series, scroll way down on the masthead on the left of on our Welcome page and click on Months.

One thing differentiates a visit to Napa/Noma in September from all the other months: the harvest is in full flight every day.  There are plusses and minuses to that fact.  There are some things that you can only see and do if you are there for The Crush, as they call it.  On the other hand, there are some things that you might want to see and do that are more difficult when the harvest is on.

Carneros in September, between Napa and Sonoma Counties.

If you want to get a visceral understanding of the industrial process that is winemaking, you can surely do that in September.  Just drive around a bit and you’ll find workers in the vineyards picking grapes, loading them in baskets and dumping the fruit into trucks.  However, just as often these days, you’ll see giant harvesters doing the job without hand laborers.  You’re more likely to see the manual process at the vineyards producing more expensive wines; the cost of labor is a factor in the price.  But the quality also comes from selective picking.

Making wine at Saintsbury.

Some wineries process the grapes in outdoor facilities.  Easiest to find are the sorting and de-stemming operations.  You may very well not get to see the actual crushing and maceration of the wine.  These are industrial processes and the last thing winemakers need is a crowd of tourists trying to figure out what’s going on.  You may find that winery tours available the rest of the year are not available during the week or two that the harvest is on.

Because so many people do want to visit during this time of the year, hotel rooms are harder to get and more expensive when you do.  Restaurants also tend to fill up sooner because of all the tourists, but fewer tables are taken by locals, many of whom are exhausted from making wine.

As elsewhere, the beginning of the month is still summer, while autumn rolls in at the end.  But California stays warmer for longer than other places, sometimes much warmer for much longer.  Sadly, one of the considerations about visiting Napa/Noma in September is the possibility that wildfires will erupt.  In 2020, the biggest of the Napa fires began in late September and lasted into October.  But in Sonoma County, the fires began in August.  In 2017, they occurred in October in both locations.  There is no reason to think that wild fires will happen, but plenty of reason to think they might.  This has to be part of your travel planning in these perilous times.

Whatever the issues, it’s a lot of fun to see The Crush.  That’s a powerful reason to visit Napa/Noma in September.

Visiting Geyserville

The way that California allocates postal addresses, a great wide swath of the northern end of Dry Creek Valley is officially listed as Geyserville.  So such redoubtable wineries as David Coffaro, Dutchers Crossing and Sbragia Family all have addresses there, even though they are far from “downtown” Geyserville.  The quote marks are used because the actual downtown area on Geyserville Avenue is only about two blocks long.

We would not recommend Geyserville as a destination on its own merits, but if you are tasting in the area, there is a certain charm that’s worth taking in.  While the town contains all the modern appurtenances, there’s still enough left of ol’ time Geyserville to give you an idea of what Sonoma County’s Wine Country used to be.

Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

The most notable taste of the past is a store with a large sign proclaiming it to be Geo. M. Bosworth & Son, General Merchandise.  There’s another sign in the window that lets you know that they sell Gents’ Furnishings and Notions.  This is the general store you’ve read about and seen in old Westerns and if you’re in the market for a cowboy hat this is the place for you.  And if you want that hat to be custom crushed, they’ll do that, too.  Today, Bosworth & Son is also a museum and a gift shop and there’s a statue of a horse out front.

There are a few tasting rooms on Geyserville Avenue, among them Meeker and Pech Merle.  Three in particular stand out.  Tonti Family and Etrusca share a tasting room and call themselves Duo Vini I Bocce.  That’s right – you can taste their wines and play bocce.  Further down the avenue is Ramazotti.  Together, they are a reminder that this area (all of Napa/Noma, actually) was settled in the 19th and early 20th centuries by Italian immigrants. They brought with them a winemaking tradition and replanted it in Northern California soil.  Ramazotti in particular features Italian wines such as Barbera and Sangiovese that are quite convincing reproductions of the Italian originals.  These wineries provide visitors with another hint of California history.

Photo courtesy of

We first started coming to Geyserville to dine in a restaurant called Santi.  The food was remarkably good and the restaurant was recommended to us by many winemakers.  Alas, it closed more than a decade ago; another restaurant named Catelli’s occupies the same place, and we have not tried it yet.  But here’s the back story:  There was another Catelli’s “the Rex” that was opened in 1936 by Santi and Virginia Catelli.  The owners, Nick and Domenica Catelli are lineal descendants of the original founders. More history!