Parking, Picnics and Restrooms

In our travels, we have often experienced the excitement of discovering a new winery or a new wine that we had never heard of.  In general, we enjoy the beauty of the architecture of many wineries and the sight of endless vineyards never fails to thrill us.  Sadly, these wonders can be undermined when a winery doesn’t take care of some basic amenities.

The first of these is parking facilities.  If we are visiting in the autumn and winter months, we don’t care as much if the only parking spots available are in the bright sun.  But if we’re in Wine Country in July or August, we really appreciate a spot that’s shaded from the sun by a wall or some trees.

For one thing, we are likely to have some bottles we have previously bought sitting in the car.  We don’t want them to be cooked.  Here are a few tips.  Pick up a simple Styrofoam cooler at a drug store or grocery.  If you happen to have a mini fridge in your hotel room, buy a few ice packs and put them in the cooler.  You can also buy a Styrofoam shipping box from the first winery you visit and put your new bottles in it.  Keep it inside the car, not the trunk.  Add bottles as you buy them.  At the end of the day when you get back to your hotel, bring the bottles with you, leaving the Styrofoam box in the trunk for the next day.  (Of course, if you’re tasting near your home, just use the cooler you take on picnics or camping.)

If you don’t have a cooler, put any bottles you buy on the floor in front of the rear seats or under the front ones.  This isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s better than leaving your newly bought wine in the full sunshine.  This is good practice even in the cooler months, when wine can still heat up in a closed car in the sun.

We love picnics and often dine al fresco back home.  A picnic lunch near the vines, with a newly bought bottle of a cool and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best ways to maximize the pleasure of a day in Wine Country.  But some proprietors don’t like the mess and the critters that show up to share a meal with their visitors.  In some jurisdictions, the local elders limit or deny licenses for picnic grounds.

Picnicking at Frank Family Vineyards.

For example, only those wineries that predated Napa County’s restrictions are allowed to have facilities for picnics.  Perhaps the best known is V. Satui, in St. Helena, which has a fine delicatessen as well as wines that they produce.  Others with picnic grounds that we have enjoyed in Napa Valley are Rutherford Hill and Frank Family.

The wineries in Sonoma County are not so restricted.  We particularly recommend Dry Creek, Preston and Chateau St. Jean.  In Europe, picnicking isn’t frequently encountered at the châteaux and domaines.   But nobody cares if you bring a blanket and make yourself at home by the side of a vineyard or in a churchyard.

Finally, we expect any public location, especially one that serves liquids as a business, to have clean, well-lit restrooms.    We don’t insist on showplaces right out of Architectural Digest, but there’s no excuse for not keeping them clean and tidy.  Nothing can spoil a tasting visit like a dirty john.  We won’t name names, but they know who they are.

Wine Club Deliveries

You’re in a winery and you just adore the wines you’ve been tasting.  In fact, you’re quite voluble about it, telling your friends and total strangers just how good these wines are.  At this point, the friendly waitperson who has been serving you suggests you join their wine club.  Your powers of sales resistance are at an all-time, alcohol-induced low.  So you sign up.

We like to think we have stiffer spines than that, but we also know we’ve joined around twenty clubs over the course of time and are currently members of six of them.  (It’s a good idea to join for a while and then resign when you have enough from that producer in your collection.)  We very much enjoy receiving great wine, even if we have to put some of them down for a few years.

Photo courtesy of The Spruce Eats.

What we don’t like very much is the process we have to go through to get those wines.

For one thing, there are too many deliveries.  For example, one of the clubs we belong to delivers six times a year.  At the other extreme, another club only wants you to buy a certain number of bottle each year, which we take advantage of each spring.

And then there are the shipping costs.  In many instances, the fee for sending you the wines is nearly equivalent to an additional bottle.  One thing we appreciate in some clubs is the occasional special deal for reduced rate shipping.

Prior to each shipment, the winery sends you an announcement of the next wines they’ve chosen for their members.  We have found that in virtually every selection, there is at least one wine that we don’t particularly want.  Most clubs allow you to customize your order or to switch out some wines, but most expect you to buy the same number of bottles, or to spend the same amount of money.

This wouldn’t be so bad if wineries had first rate information systems to serve their members.  Sadly, that is not often the case.  We have had experience with web sites that are inaccessible, that don’t show all the wines available, that will allow you to add to an order but not subtract, or that simply don’t work.  At this point there is no alternative but calling the winery, which especially in these pandemic times means that you leave a message for someone working at home, who may or may not get back to you in a timely manner.

We have also experienced mess-ups on the winery’s side that resulted in our getting the wines we ordered and the wines that were on the original membership shipment list.  If the winery is nice, they’ll tell you to keep the wines you hadn’t asked for because it was their error.  In other cases, we have had to return the unwanted wines, which is a general pain.

Now, don’t let us deter you from joining one or more clubs you’re genuinely interested in.  But no matter how large or famous the winery may be, they’re still small businesses, with the systems and processes that are the weaknesses of all such enterprises.  Enjoy your wine, because you probably won’t be too crazy about the process of getting it.


It isn’t necessary for us to mention it, but we will anyway: We love Wine Country.  The sectors we spend the most time in are in the United States, but we have also gone wine tasting in Europe, Africa and Australia (sadly, not yet in South America).  We find the scenery to be beautiful, the food delicious, the people friendly and, of course, there’s the wine.

Meadowood Resort in St. Helena.  Photo courtesy of Five Star Alliance.

We have seen a worrisome trend in recent years, beginning in Napa Valley but spreading elsewhere as well.  What was once an area dedicated to a very particular kind of agriculture, with a few nice hotels, is being transformed into upscale resorts with wine tasting as a sideline.  Now, we have nothing against attractive hotels and try to stay in them as often as we can when travelling.  And there’s nothing wrong with golf, tennis, spas and top-flight dining rooms.  But when they start crowding out reasonably priced hotels and inns, so that Wine Country becomes the preserve of only those who can afford to stay there, then we have a problem.

Perhaps an even greater issue, as we see it, is that the vibe of Wine Country becomes different.  Perhaps 75 years ago, the reason to visit Napa Valley or Sonoma County was to be in the country, buy fresh fruit and maybe do some horseback riding.  But for at least forty of the intervening years, roaming through vineyards and tasting wine that have been the attractions there.  Even in some of the sleepier parts of Europe or Australia, wine tasting as a weekend or vacation activity has taken off.

Hotel de Pavie in Saint-Emilion.  Photo courtesy of All Wine Tours.

By changing the emphasis from wine tasting to spa living or golf, the tasting rooms will attract a different clientele.  Instead of couples taking in three or four wineries in a day, there will be visitors who only schedule one tasting a day, scheduled around their tee times or massage appointments.  Diners may have glasses of wine at suppertime, instead of a bottle and they may not be as particular about what’s in that bottle.  In fact, they may be more inclined to dine at the resort than in the local restaurants.  We have already experienced a bit of this in Napa Valley and are fearful it will creep in elsewhere.

Wine tasting has not been an inexpensive avocation ever since wineries discovered that charging for small pours of fine wine was a more profitable proposition than giving it away.  But tasting was a pleasure that could be enjoyed by casual tourists as well as connoisseurs with deep pockets.  Altering the focus to those who can afford Wine Country resorts will change the way that wineries approach their market.

There is nothing that can be done about this trend.  Those who want to open resorts will do so, and those more interested in golf or workouts are free to indulge those pastimes.  But those of us who are wine tasting devotees can go about doing what we have been doing.  We can, and will, visit, sip, dine, sip some more and maybe stay for dinner.  Let’s hope the wineries continue to cater to us.

Darioush Winery

There’s the jewelry store around the corner, and then there’s Tiffany.  There’s your favorite diner, and then there’s French Laundry.  So there are Napa palaces, and then there’s Darioush.

The entrance to Darioush Winery.

From the time that it opened in 2004, the Darioush “hospitality center” has stood out for its architecture, its wine, its shopping and, to our point of view, its excess.  Power Tasting is dedicated to the wine tasting experience.  We put the emphasis on tasting wine as a vacation activity and a pleasant avocation.  We have found that Darioush places the emphasis on the experience, more so than the wine itself.

Let us hasten to say Darioush does make some very fine wines.  Their style runs to big, round, powerful wines.  A number of them are based on Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.  In our opinion, the strength of Darioush’s list resides in their Rhone grapes: Viognier and Shiraz.  At Darioush, the grape is called Shiraz, not Syrah; what animates the Darioush winery is the glory that was once Persia, where the grape originated.

The name of the founder, Darioush Khaledi, harkens back to the great Persian emperor Darius, which not coincidentally is the name of their top-of-the-line Cabernet Sauvignon.  The proprietor is an Iranian immigrant to the United States who made his fortune in the grocery business and then entered the world of wine.  He built his Persian temple alongside Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail so that it would be noticed.


Tasting at Darioush.

It certainly can’t be missed.  Out front, there is a flaming cauldron that heralds a colonnade of pillars topped with Persian-like double sculptures of horses.  These lead to a large building made of warm, honey-toned stones.  The interior is equally commanding, with more columns holding up a high ceiling and a skylight, over a large, square tasting bar.  Scattered around are small rooms and nooks for private seated tastings; these too are furnished in Persian style.

Along the walls and in the corners are items for sale: purses, scarves, knick-knacks and wine-related implements.  All of them are exquisite and, as we were told by a Darioush representative, “our clients expect the items we sell to be expensive”.

And that says everything about the winery.  Everything about it, including the wine, is designed to overwhelm the visitors’ senses.  You are certainly invited to try and enjoy the wines, in the context of beauty, refinement and luxury.

It is notable that the building is called a hospitality center, not a tasting room.  The owners say that the experience at their winery is based on the culture of “Tarof”, a Persian word that can indeed be translated as “hospitality” but also with connotations of an emphasis on deference and social rank.  You are surely welcome, in the same sense as a visit to your wealthy uncle.  You are introduced to many wonderful and precious things, but in the end you feel smaller, rather than enriched.