3 Unique Wineries to Visit in Napa Valley

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A hot air balloon ride and incredible dining experience were seriously awesome ways to kick off our trip to Napa Valley with the Hilton HHonors Your Ticket to Dine Sweepstakes preview, but what I was really looking forward to was the WINE portion of the program!

When in Napa, right? :)

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Wine tasting at a few of the 400+ wineries in Napa has been on my bucket list forever and ever, so I was more than ready to get a glass in my hand after our hot air balloon ride Saturday morning.

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Our first stop of the day was at family-owned and operated Round Pond Estate in the Rutherford region of Napa.

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Round Pond is not only known for their hand blended and bottled, organically grown wine, but also for their artisan olive oils and vinegars, which we were also going to taste during our visit. I thought that was so unique!

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The views at Round Pond were hands down my favorite of the day. I can totally imagine sipping the afternoon away under one of these umbrellas with Ben or a group of girlfriends.

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In addition to the wine, olive oil, and vinegar tastings, we were also able to enjoy lunch just steps away at a beautifully set table on the outdoor patio.

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The wine was poured and without further ado we were sampling the 2011 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 MacDonnell Family Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2009 Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

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I liked the Sauvignon Blanc, with hints of candied apples, jasmine, and key limes, the best.

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It was also the least expensive at $24/bottle. Win! (Just typed “wine”!) ;)

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After getting a few sips behind the heart, we began the vinegar tasting portion of the program with Round Pond’s gourmet red wine vinegars made from their estate-grown grapes. Now, I had no idea there was even such a thing as vinegar tasting, but now that I do, I’m kind of obsessed!

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Our guide showed us there’s a very unique way to taste vinegar without choking on the super sour aroma.

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Simply drip a few drops of the vinegar onto a sugar cube, then quickly suck it out. The sweet sugar allows you to pick out and taste the sweet fruit notes in the vinegar.

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The Petit Verdot Blend Vinegar, which tasted faintly of strawberries, was my favorite. Loved this experience!

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Next we tasted Round Pond’s house pressed and blended olive oils, made from olives grown right on the property. Again, totally unique!

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First we tasted the Italian Varietal Olive Oil, which was poured into a Tuscan tasting cup then placed into the palm of our hand so we could swirl and warm the oil up.

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With three quick sniffs, a tiny sip, then three quick intakes of air into our mouths, we were fully able to taste the flavor of the oil before swallowing. If you cough as it goes down, that means it’s extra good olive oil. I EXTRA liked the garlic flavored oil, and devoured 14 loaves of bread dunked into it. :)

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An UNBELIEVABLE lunch was up next, starting with fresh, estate-grown tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and mozzarella cheese.

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Tender mesclin salad, salami, prosciutto, and grilled chicken joined the party, then I heartily inhaled.

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I have never tasted more juicy tomatoes, nor more melty prosciutto in my life. It’s always the simple things, no?

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Homegrown strawberries and Romano cheese drizzled with Round Pond’s Blood Orange Syrup (I DIE) were next.

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Followed by Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Pound Cake drizzled with more of that blood orange syrup. My life felt complete!

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I sort of wanted to stay and drizzle more stuff with syrup, alas, there were other wineries to visit. Palmaz Vineyards was up next!

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Palmaz Vineyards was founded by Julio Palmaz, a doctor from Argentina who invented the heart stent. Yes, the heart stent. After licensing the technology to Johnson & Johnson decades ago for buckoo bucks, Julio and his wife purchased the 150+ acres of land where they, along with their children who all currently live and work on the property with their families, built the vineyard that lives and breathes today.

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In addition to their unique story, Palmaz also has a very unique way of making wine.

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Simply put, grapes are very fragile and when agitated too much during the harvesting and wine making process, the wine they produce can turn out to be, well, not good.

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So eloquently put, sheesh! ;)

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Anyways, that said, the harvest process is carefully controlled and monitored by Julio’s son, Christian, to make sure the grapes are moved through the receiving belt, which removes leaves and branches that come in with the harvest, as gently as possible.

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From the receiving belt, the grapes move via gravity through a large tube into the empty tanks 3 floors below. It is thought that by moving the grapes this way, vs pouring them into the tanks, they will stay intact with the bitter seeds remaining in the center, thus producing a better tasting wine.

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4-7 days later, the now wine is again sent via gravity through a series of pipes and filters that extend 10+ stories into the ground, before it’s placed into barrels to age.

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It’s actually a very complicated process, which I didn’t understand 80% of, but it was cool nonetheless, and neat to see a completely different type of winery in Napa than I ever expected. Very mad scientist. :)

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After the wine is aged, it’s blended then bottled. The final product is what we got to drink after the tour, as part of a beautiful tasting menu that was laid out in the winery’s tasting room.

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I immediately smelled the smoked salmon with wasabi-infused caviar, and quickly popped it in my mouth with a sip of their 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay “Amalia”. Perfection!

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Smoked Magret duck breast wrapped around creme cheese, fig preserves, and chives was epically paired with their 2007 Palmaz Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, which was my favorite wine of the day.

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Palmaz Vineyards is a must-see if you’re in Napa, in my opinion. To maintain quality, only family members give tours of the winery, which I think, in addition to the wine making process, is so unique. You are immediately made aware of how passionate this family is about wine, and it was cool to kind of get a peek into their lives.

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After saying goodbye, we piled into the bus (we used Platypus Tours – they were great!) and headed to our last stop of the day – Stag’s Leap!

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Stag’s Leap was the most “winery” of the wineries we visited, and the ivy snaking over the walls of the onsite manor house, used for parties and receptions, and the cool brick patio shaded with trees was just enchanting.

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We were greeted with a cold glass of sauvignon blanc, which only helped intensify my feelings!

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Stag’s Leap is best known for their two estate-grown Cabernets made from grapes that grow right behind the winery, butted up to the Vaca Mountains.

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Although the grapes for the two cabernets grow in fields that run parallel to one another, the wine they produce taste completely different. The soil in one field is dense, rich clay, while the other is drier, mountain soil, which produce a larger grape with thin skin, and a smaller grape with thick skin, respectively.

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PS the name “Stag’s Leap” comes from an old legend told by Native Americans who used to live in this area. Apparently deer or “stag” (an adult male deer) used to inhabit the valley where the winery is currently located, and hunters would drive them up into the mountains above where they could easily capture and kill them. During one hunt, a deer memorably jumped through the little divot in the rock located above the gal taking a picture below, where he escaped with his life. To honor the brave deer, the rock was named Stag’s Leap!

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Anywho, after taking in the view, we headed indoors to Stag’s Wine Cave, the best part of the winery.

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Yes, wine cave – muwahaha!

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The wine cave was built on the property from 2000-2004, and not only stores aging barreled wine, but also serves as a truly unique event space.

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From the front hall, lit with sconces built to replicate comets,

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to the winding halls underground, there are 4-5 different spaces to hold everything from private wine tastings, to wedding receptions. It is the COOLEST.

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Once inside, we were led to the Round Room, and presented with three wines to try.

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2008 S.L.V. Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 FAY Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2008 CASK 23 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

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I adored the Fay, which had notes of plum, black cherry, and vanilla.

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What a CRAZY unique way to experience wine tasting in Napa Valley. You must see this place for yourself!

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Full of expertly made food & wine, we ended our afternoon with a chatty trip back to the hotel. The day had been everything I was expecting, and more. I know I sound like a broken record, but I cannot wait to go back!

Overview

Round Pond – incredible views with the unique option to taste not only wine, but house-made vinegar, olive oil and, of course, copious amounts of blood orange syrup.

Palmaz Vineyard – unique wine making process with tours only given by family members to maintain quality.

Stag’s Leap – beautiful property, with an unforgettably unique wine cave.

Platypus Tours – great local transportation service. Create your own itinerary, or let them do it for you!

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Comments

  1. Theresa 07.23.2012

    I loved Round Pond as well!! I have some of their olive oil and the blood orange syrup and would love a few recipe ideas if you have any to share. I just keep holding on to the few bottles I have trying to figure out how to best use them. :)
    Will definitely have to check out Palmaz Winery on my next girls weekend in a few years. Sounds incredible. I also highly recommend V. Sattui, it’s another unique and wonderful winery with a little deli so you can buy a bottle of wine, some lovely cheeses and meats and sit out and enjoy their property. Lovely place!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 07.23.2012

      We were talking about how delicious the syrup would be in sparkling wine, or as the base of a margarita/cocktail!

      • Theresa 07.23.2012

        Great ideas!! Keep them coming :)

  2. I love Napa — we went last summer and I cannot wait to go back. We rented our own car and rove to wineries — but we also rented bikes one day and biked to them which, in my opinion, is THE best way to experience Napa.

    I would also recommend Rutherford Hill and their wine cave tour and Chateau Montelena, but only if you watch the movie Bottle Shock first! It’s the story of how Napa Valley was put on the map back in the 70s as a legit wine making region. Great flick and great tour.

  3. Becky 07.23.2012

    Sounds like a fantastic trip! My husband and I love to go wine-tasting as well. With a couple of our friends we started an annual “Iowa winery” visiting day :) so many new ones popping up!

    On a side note, just got back from the new Whole Foods and almond milk (the shelf stable carton) is on sale 4 for $5!!! Run!!

  4. EIleen 07.23.2012

    Looks like tons of fun!

    I laughed when I read about Stag’s Leap: where I am living in Germany right now, they have a similar story! They actually put a big statue of a deer on top of the cliff where it purportedly took place, and you can see it on the train when you are heading into the Black Forest.

  5. I love how there’s a wine cave – that’s amazing. Going on a wine tour in Napa Valley was definitely on my bucket list already – these posts just pretty much solidified that. :-)

  6. These photos are all beautiful! My boyfriend is from Napa, and his mom still lives there and is a member of several Wine Clubs, so she invites us to be her guests every so often and we feel like we’re living like royalty! I’ve had Stag’s Leap before but not from their property- wine caves are so fun :D

  7. Beautiful pictures! I would love to go to Napa one day!!!

  8. Joe Becerra 07.23.2012

    Very nice photos to give us a good feel of each winery. I have not been to Round Pond but is on my list for our next visit to the Napa Valley.

    Joe

  9. Kim 07.23.2012

    Stag’s Leap is quite the winery, and quite the education in “terroir” which we quite got after visiting the winery there.

  10. Stephanie 07.23.2012

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

  11. Trisha 07.23.2012

    Great review! That blood orange syrup sounds amaaaazing!

  12. Looks like such a great trip! This is definitely on my bucket list! How beautiful!

  13. Cathy 07.23.2012

    What a wonderful piece you put together to give us a sense of your trip to Napa! Between the beautiful photos and commentary, I felt like I could savor the aroma and taste of your wonderful meals. I am going to use the techniques for the Olive Oil tasting next time my husband and I do our own at home tastings.

  14. Cassimus T. 07.24.2012

    Ohh, Napa. I was just there with my family a couple of weeks ago! We just watched the movie Bottle Shock last night and now i’m dying to go back. Did you happen to stop by Gotts roadside in St. Helena while you were there? BEST place ever.

  15. [...] I’d just gotten back from Napa where I’d been spoiled rotten with good food & wine for 3 days straight. A fellow blogger [...]

  16. Ellen 08.07.2012

    I just got back from vacation so I finally was catching up on my blog reader when I came across this post. I absolutely love visiting wineries and vineyards. The second photo in the post (looking down an aisle of the vineyard) is identical to a photo I took a couple summers ago when I visited the Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard in the Yakima Valley of Washington State (another area of gorgeous wine country). Thanks for sharing your wine adventures!

  17. wendy ramirez 09.03.2012

    I live in the napa valley and take for granted the beautiful wineries we have in the valley. Your post reminded me that I have a beautiful staycation spot to explore. I have never heard of round pond, so I am now on a mission to check it out.

  18. [...] no matter where I go. Anyways, imagine my delight when I passed by THE Cakebread Cellars during my Hilton HHonors Napa trip last month on the way to another stop. I knew if/when I returned it would be one of the first [...]

  19. [...] a day and a half of hot air balloon rides, river tours, wine-tasting, and eating ourselves silly throughout Napa Valley, a group of food and travel bloggers wrapped up [...]

  20. Peter Bowers 12.25.2012

    Hi Kristin

    I was your tour guide that day and responsible for setting up your itinerary. Your blog post is very well done and perfectly illustrates the wonderful winery experiences had by all!

    Cheers!

  21. Sonoma Condo 07.18.2013

    Oh, now I want to taste some of the vinegar and olive oil! What a unique experience. I never knew they had such a thing!

  22. Wendy 08.02.2013

    I am planning a trip to Napa next year and I want to visit Round Pond. What “tour” did you do that allowed you to eat lunch, tour the estate and also taste wine, vinegar and the oils? That is the one I’d like to do. Also, would it be best to plan the entire day there to fit it all in? thank you for any information :)

    • Iowa Girl Eats 08.14.2013

      Hi Wendy! The tour was actually arranged for us so I’m not 100% sure of the name of the package. I’m positive their website would have all the info though!

    • Hi Wendy. I represent Napa Valley Tours & Transportation, we were the small limo service that over the decades grew and now boast the largest selection of luxury vehicles for tours in Napa Valley. We would love to show you the Napa wine country; you can see our vehicles and tours by clicking on our name to the left. Whether you choose us or not, we sincerely hope you come visit one of the most beautiful places in the world.

  23. Love it! Very well done, Round Pond for sure is one of my favs! I am glad you gals had an amazing time here in the Valley!!

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