Napa Valley Nostalgia: A Walk Through the Vineyards

Napa Valley Nostalgia: A Walk Through the Vineyards

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There are more than 400 wineries in the Napa Valley, each with its own unique style, setting and history. Guests are able to enjoy unforgettable wine tastings, stunning views and behind-the-scenes tours of wine cellars and caves – but make a reservation for a hassle-free experience. Approximately 95% of wineries in the Napa Valley are family-owned and operated, which means nearly every spot will feel like home.

Tourism is one of the largest industries in the Napa Valley, and supports an estimated 13,437 jobs, with a combined payroll of $387 million. According to a new research study, Napa Valley welcomed a total of 3.5 million visitors in 2016, which represents an increase of 6.3% from 2014 (with 3.3 million visitors), or an average increase of 3.14% per year. In 2016, 79.2% of visitors surveyed were from the United States (compared with 86.4% in 2014) and 20.8% were international visitors (compared with 13.6% in 2014).

“The tourism industry continues to provide a significant positive impact to Napa Valley’s economy,” stated Clay Gregory, president and CEO for Visit Napa Valley. “In 2016, the Napa Valley visitor industry generated $1.92 billion in total visitor spending within the county, which represents a 17.5% increase since 2014, with visitor spending at $1.63 billion.”

Most of this spending was generated from local hotel guests who were responsible for $1.34 billion, or 69.9% of the total.

A Personal Tour

While visiting the Napa Valley, we stopped at Materra | Cunat Family VineyardsYao Family WinesKieu Hoang WineryHeritage Eats, and Monticello Vineyards – Corley Family. We had a toddler with us, so you can rest assured that all of the destinations mentioned below were agreeable to children and accommodated our requests for specific times to visit and check out each location.

In all cases (except Heritage Eats because that was a food venue, not a vineyard), a cheese plate, grapes, nuts, chocolate, crackers, bread and/or bread sticks were provided as snacks during the wine tastings (fees may apply – check with the individual outfit).

Materra | Cunat Family Vineyards

Brian Cunat and his wife Miki are the powerhouse team behind Materra l Cunat Family Vineyards, located at 4326 Big Ranch Rd, Napa, CA 94558. In 2007, Brian decided to combine his love of wine and his dream of farming by purchasing a 50-acre property in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. Working with an expert team of vineyard managers and winemakers, the property was transformed with Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier.

Whether you enter as a red or a white, we’ll argue you’ll be a little bit of both by the time you leave Materra l Cunat Family Vineyards. There is a strong emphasis on rich, dark, bold flavorful Merlots and extremely limited productions worth their time in the bottle. The vintage Cab Savs from Rutherford and Howell Mountains are melt in your mouth amazing, and the Chardonnay, Sav Blanc and Viognier make it difficult to land on just one white to take home. Out of all the stops we made throughout the day, this was by far one of our favorites for the build, body and consistency of the wines.

Wine Club members get an extra special treat in enjoying vintages otherwise unavailable to the general public. The extra special flair of members-only perks carries throughout the Napa Valley, no more apparent than with Materra l Cunat Family Vineyards.

This truly is a family establishment. Brian and Miki’s eldest daughter, Neena, shares her experienced palette with guests during daily operations, while their youngest daughter is responsible for branding the business and creating pleasing label designs for the bottlesthemselves. In addition to the talented offspring, Brian’s brother, John, and the extended Cunat family split their time between investing in the vineyards and advocating for growth and development.

Recent renovations have drastically changed the tasting room landscape at Materra l Cunat Family Vineyards – and it’s an oasis from the moment you step inside the family-owned property. We won’t even mention the heated bidets, glass soil floor or wine barrel room you have to see to believe. Well, since we already mentioned them…you really do have to spy them with your own, well, eyes.

Materra l Cunat Family Vineyards is open by appointment seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. except for New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. The last tasting of the day is at 4:00 p.m. Appointments may be made by contacting info@materrawines.com or (707) 224-4900.

The winery’s upcoming 10th Anniversary Harvest Party occurs on Saturday, August 26, 2017 from 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. More information on the event here.

Yao Family Wines

Retired NBA star Yao Ming had a taste for fine wine and made the decision to open his very own brand in November 2011. The global humanitarian established his winery in St. Helena and named it Yao Family Wines. Located at 929 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574, Yao Family Wines is a hop, skip and a jump away from Napa proper and worth the short drive to take a taste – and see the funky red and white decor.

Yao Family Wines offers the Yao Ming Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the Napa Crest Napa Valley Proprietary Red Blend, as well as their premiere vintage Sauvignon Blanc. Although not available when we visited, we hear they now offer a tasty Rose as well. If a persistently hearty blend is what you’re after, you may just find it here.

Yao Family Wines

If you enjoy what you taste, join the wine club as it’s limited to the first 200 members. Founders Club guests enjoy four regular wine shipments, including exclusive access to the Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Special pricing and complimentary tastings make you a VIP for all occasions.

The grapes are fermented using artisan winemaking techniques and are aged up to 18 months in 100% French oak barrels. The final blend is made from only the best lots. Important side note: the labels feature a hand-drawn illustration of Napa Valley with the ancient Chinese character for “Yao,” elegantly representing both cultures in which Yao Ming has made his home.

Yao Family Wines is open by appointment seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The last tasting of the day is at 4:30 p.m. There are three menus available for tasting. Appointments may be made by clicking here or calling (707) 968-5874. Walk-ins are welcome, but service is based on availability.

Kieu Hoang Winery

By far one of our favorite stops for its authentic Napa Valley beauty, charm and allure, Kieu Hoang Winery, located at 1285 Dealy Ln, Napa, CA 94559, is not to be missed. We walked out of this winery with multiple bottles – and a lofty hope to be able to find a way to pack them in our suitcases!

Maybe it’s because the winery was founded on research, but we couldn’t get enough of the positive vibes we attracted before even entering the place. Kieu Hoang is an American entrepreneur and philanthropist, originally from Vietnam. As the CEO of RAAS, Inc. (USA) and Vice Chairman of Shanghai RAAS Blood Products, Hoang has made it his life’s journey to explore the inumerous health benefits of red wine.

Hoang found in his research that healthy cells did not just exist in human plasma, but also in red wine. This led him to the discovery that a small grape has 5,000 more genes than in any human. He built Kieu Hoang Wines with the highest level of High Density Lipoprotein among more than 100 tested items.Through these findings and his undying passion for wellness, Hoang traveled the world to plant roots in Napa Valley where he regularly works with experts to deliver the finest in healthy red wine.

In March 2017, Hoang donated $5 million to San Jose flood victims – the largest recorded gift since the disastrous flood engulfed three neighborhoods a week prior.

Kieu Hoang Winery is located in the Napa Valley in the Carneros American Viticultural Area (AVA). The Carneros District is the southernmost grape growing region in the Napa Valley. The fog and evening breezes off nearby San Pablo Bay make the Carneros AVA the coolest wine producing region in the valley, ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

A second property is located in the exclusive Spring Mountain District located in Napa Valley. Located above 2,000 feet, it has seven acres of vines. Kieu Hoang Winery produces its high-end limited production Platinum Label out of Spring Mountain.

Kieu Hoang Winery produces complex aromatic wines, such as the Cabernet Sauvignon and ripe, dark berry-infused Red Blend. Bartlett pear, honeysuckle, star anise, and subtle hints of allspice round out the delectable Sauvignon Blanc, while apples, toast and honeycomb melt in your mouth through their Chardonnay. Rose, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Merlot are also hands-down the worth trying on your trip.

There are Platinum, Gold and Silver wine club memberships available ranging from $1,000 to $300, respectively. Exclusive members-only invitations, tasting room experiences and quarterly wine shipments await with these packages.

Kieu Hoang Winery is open by appointment by contacting info@kieuhoangwinery.com or calling (707) 253-1615. An RSVP form is also located here.

Heritage Eats

When the cheese, crackers, grapes, and breadsticks from the above wineries are no longer enough, head on over to the healthy fare delivered straight to you from Heritage Eats. Located at 3824 Bel Aire Plaza, Napa, CA 94558, Heritage Eats is one way to put your diet back on track as you hop from vineyard to vineyard. This cozy little spot takes you on a detour from the game, not completely out of it, so you can quickly get back to tasting the varietals you love.

Founder and owner Ben Koenig IV states, “I wrote our business plan on a beach in Goa and then refined it in Bhutan, Vietnam and Thailand.”

The globally inspired fast-fine restaurant layers in elements from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and beyond to create fresh, local dishes made for the health of all. There’s nothing pre-packaged here. The tasty treats doled out at Heritage Eats include fine, seasonal, fresh ingredients – like the Beets Tararindo (tamarind roasted beets, mint, goat cheese, and pistachio); Baba Ghanoush (roasted eggplant, spiced yogurt, and pomegranate molasses); and the Asian Noodle Salad (Asian noodle, fresh cilantro, bell pepper, and sherry vinaigrette); Phat Asparagus (grilled asparagus, roasted shallots, pickled fennel, and citrus chimi). Don’t forget the award-winning falafel. Add a Strawberry Basil Agua Leche or a Coconut Almond Chai Tea and you’re well on your way for detoxing – for an hour at least…

Hey, it’s all about balance!

Heritage Eats is open from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. so the detoxing can literally happen at any time throughout the day and still count effectively. Kids eats free every Monday evening. Catering is also available (more on that here). In a hurry to get to the next spot? Online ordering is also available and can be pre-arranged.

Monticello Vineyards – Corley Family

With a full belly, it’s time to make the pilgrimage to Monticello Vineyards, located at 4242 Big Ranch Rd, Napa, CA 94558. This relatively small winery impressively produces approximately 15,000 cases annually designated Monticello Vineyards, Corley Reserve and Corley.

In 1969 Jay Corley came to Napa Valley to produce world-class wines and, nearly 48 years later, the family’s roots are ever ingrained in the Napa Valley tapestry. Sons Kevin, Chris and Stephen manage the winery: Kevin is the family’s Winegrower and President, Chris is the designated Winemaker, and Stephen rounds out the team as Director of Wine Sales.

We spent the afternoon touring the Napa Valley property with Stephen and he was a terrific host. At one point we were guided through the vineyard to experience the soil and ask questions regarding harvesting and production techniques. We gained a broader understanding of what it takes to cultivate the grapes we all love and appreciate – and Stephen took extra time to share familial anecdotes. We left truly feeling like a member of the Corley family – and that’s not a bad place to start!

As of 2017, there are five vineyard sites that produce lush, limited edition wines worth noting. Locations include the Home Ranch Vineyard and Knollwood Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District (Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah); their State Lane Vineyard in Yountville (Cabernet Sauvignon); Tietjen Vineyard on Niebaum Lane in Rutherford (Cabernet Sauvignon); and Yewell Vineyard on Ehlers Lane in St. Helena (Cabernet Sauvignon).

wine club is available and offers club members first access to new releases and event tickets, complimentary food and wine pairings, and preferential pricing. The Corley family hand-selects two wines that reflect the season to feature in each shipment.

Guests are transported back to a much simpler time when they visit the tranquil setting of the New England-inspired Jefferson House and gardens. An appointment gets you a spot on the Terrace or in the Wine Library. The Music Room may also be reserved for special occasions. Tastings occur daily from 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Guests are encouraged to call 707-253-2802 ext. 18 or email wine@corleyfamilynapavalley.com to reserve a tasting time.

Plan Your Trip to Napa Valley

While it is possible to visit multiple towns in one day, it’s not recommended, especially with children, an elderly or disabled guest, or the desire to sit and take your time at any given stop. Plan for multiple days to drive between towns and truly experience the unique blend Napa Valley serves its guests.

In 2016, the average Napa Valley visitor was 42 years of age, with 40% surveyed categorized as “Gen Xers,” and 30% as “Millennials.” Lodging guests were typically older (49 years) than day trip visitors (40 years). The average travel party consisted of four people (52.5% female and 47.5% male). In total, 59.9% of visitors surveyed were married and 31.4% were single.

If you’re interested in LGBTQ-specific events, Napa Valley has a bunch of them in June. The three-hour Gay Wine Train is also a huge hit.

The Napa Valley Welcome Center, located at 600 Main St. along the riverfront in downtown Napa, provides visitors with expert Concierge services from Napa Valley Ambassadors who offer complimentary Napa Valley Guidebooks, maps, brochures, and winery tasting passes. The Welcome Center, open daily 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., also offers complimentary Wi-Fi and a mercantile shop featuring locally sourced gift items. Make it a point to stop at the Napa Valley Welcome Center to get a lay of the land before you take the wine trek (makes it easier to experience more that way)! Plus, there are usually a few secret surprises only found here.

For additional information on Napa Valley, or to plan your Napa Valley experience, please explore VisitNapaValley.com, join “The Napa Valley” on Facebook, and follow @VisitNapaValley on Twitter.

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