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? :)


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.


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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!


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!


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


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.


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. :)


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


So eloquently put, sheesh! ;)


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.


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. :)


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.


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.


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


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.


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.


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!


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


Yes, wine cave – muwahaha!


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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!


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!