05 July 2010

Napa recap: Wine and hot air balloons

By: Jessica B.
Tagged: travel

Imagine sitting in a moderately comfortable chair, basking in the sun as a soft breeze blows by. And when you need a break, you pick between three small flutes of champagne, each cool, sweet and delicious.

That was my vacation.

Napa was…amazing. I really cannot say enough positive stuff about it. The wine tastings were fun, the weather was INSANELY gorgeous and I got to do a lot of fun stuff.

Chicago, I love you, but I had a really difficult time coming back. I may or may not have cried when the plane left San Francisco.

I hoped to recap everything in one post but I’m going to split the trip into two: what I did and what I ate. Trust me, tomorrow’s food porn is XXX rated.

But let’s start with what I did. In five days, I visited 12 wineries, drank more wine than I can fathom, went on one awesome wine tour and rode in a hot air balloon. Yes, I faced my fear (more on that shortly).

Wineries and tours:

No shock, I went in with a list of places I wanted to visit, after consulting IRL and Twitter friends and my hotel for recos. But after my tour with Platypus, I found that smaller, off-the-beaten-path wineries were really what I was interested in. Big wineries, like Robert Mondavi, are great and interesting, but the smaller ones gave me a better experience. I could talk to people and get to know them and the wine better. They could also spend more personal time with you, which was exactly what I wanted.

Here are the wineries that I really loved visiting and hanging out at:

I still had fun at the others, like Sterling, Cakebread Cellars and Chandon, but the ones above really blew me away.

Me at Robert Biale

Speaking of tours, my tour group totally bonded on our winery trip around Napa. We were shy at first and the boom, Twilight, the Bachelorette, Harry Potter and reality TV brought us together and we had SO much fun. A few us of even met up for dinner later that night!

Here’s my group:

I also discovered a love of red wine (especially Syrah), which I didn’t have when I arrived. Right now, 12 bottles of wine (and two mini champagne bottles) are being shipped back to Chicago and I cannot wait to indulge. I really think about wine differently now, but not in a snobby way.

Hot air balloon!

As you may remember, I posted about possibly doing a hot air balloon tour but was nervous because of my slight fear of heights. Well, fortunately, I put my big girl pants on and did it.

Me in the basket, no backing out

I did it!!

And it was also AMAZING. I felt no nerves or anything once we were in the air and I could even look down without freaking out.

So what does it feel like? Like you’re floating. You can barely feel it move and you’re so blown away by the view that you don’t want to come down. Sure, the basket is tight and you have zero space, but you’re not focused on that at all.

Here are some photos from 2,000 feet above ground.

I would absolutely do this again.


While I was in Napa, I opted to skip the B&B route for a more traditional hotel and I could not have been happier with my stay. I stayed at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa and had a great experience. Sure, there were a few bumps with a fire alarm going off at 6 a.m. and a spa miscommunication, but overall, it was a great time. I had a room that was bigger than my first apartment and it had a patio, redwood trees outside my room and an easily walk to the pool, where I baked like a little SPF’ed potato.

And housekeeping was so sweet. They would organize my toiletries every day when they cleaned. Look at this service!

Really, everyone was really nice and I have to give a big thanks to Todd at the hotel for being so helpful in giving me tips and recommendations on what to do. If you want to find out more, the hotel is on Twitter and Facebook (and they do a great job interacting with followers/fans) so check them out. I plan to stay here again when I go back. yes, I’m going back (hopefully very soon).

More photos

This is only a small sampling of the hundreds of photos I took, you can see everything on my Flickr page, seriously, there are some gorgeous shots!

What kind of wine do you like? How was everyone else’s holiday weekend?


  1. Jen says:

    We are going to San Francisco next month, so I am loving all your recommendations. I just booked a wine tour through Platypus. :)

  2. E.P. says:

    This looks INCREDIBLE! W and I were supposed to go out to California last summer, and it never happened because I thought I was going to get a job interview. (That didn’t happen, boo.) But we seriously have discussed going out there for a little honeymoon, and if so, we’re chatting with you about everything you did. Because, honestly, this sounds like the dream vacation!

  3. I’m so jealous that you went up in a hot air balloon! I’ve always wanted to but am WAY too afraid of heights.

  4. I have a serious hankering to fly out to Napa and do exactly what you did. Sounds amazing.

  5. nic says:

    I’m so happy you had such a good time. YOU look happy. :) Great recommendations too! Definitely want to go to Cakebread, but is it by appointment? Want to get all the details about the hotel too…we’ll chat!

  6. Sounds fabulous! Going on a hot air balloon is on my list of things to do!

  7. Ginger says:

    Sounds like an awesome trip–so glad you decided to do the balloon too! Isn’t it sort of other-worldly up there?

  8. molly says:

    Jessica! Seriously this is all so freaking amazing! The hot air balloon – you rock! I’ll have to add that to my life list now. :)

  9. Elizabeth says:

    What a trip! I’m so glad you went on the balloon!

  10. Sounds amazing! I am so glad you went on this vacation and had such a wonderful time. Napa wine tours are HIGH on my list of vacations! One day!!

    Can’t wait to see the FOOD PORN! Haha

    Oh and I LOVE ALL WINE. Seriously, red, white – bring it on. I’m not a huge fan of rose wine, but I will drink it!

  11. katelin says:

    your pictures look amazing! i am so jealous of your winery adventures and hot air balloon ride. but glad you had so much fun, woo!

  12. mandy says:

    I am so, so happy for you that you took this trip. Sounds like it was beyond wonderful and those stunning pictures from the hot air balloon! Congratulations on conquering your fear. I’m looking forward to the food porn post!

  13. Kate says:

    I’m not a wine fan, but this sounds like the perfect vacation for you — so happy you had a good time! And kudos for facing your fear. :)

  14. Wow – what a great recap of an even better trip. Sounds superb! I wish I liked wine (so does my dad who has something like 1,500 bottles in his collection). But, I’m allergic to red wine (migraines!) and usually prefer beer or a mixed drink over white wine. The one wine I’ll never pass up? Sparkling wine. Give me a glass of good (i.e., not cheap) Prosecco, Cava or Champagne and I’ll happily drink it any day (that I’m not preggers)!

  15. I am so glad you are enjoying your travels! Napa is amazing, I’m not surprised you ahd a hard time leaving!

  16. Erin says:

    Your trip looks amazing! I think it’s great that you went up in the hot air balloon. I loved looking at all your pictures on Flickr.

  17. Nora says:

    I’m glad you had such a great time =) Way to go on conquering your fear of heights, too. That’s awesome.

    I love me some Chardonnay although Pinot Grigio is becoming a close second favorite =)

  18. I am SO jealous! You look like you are having a BLAST!!!!

  19. Erin says:

    Sooooo jealous. *sigh* I want to go back, too!

    My mom didn’t appreciate red wine until she did some tastings in Napa, too. Now she prefers red to white! Funny how that happens.

    I’m glad you had a wonderful time.

  20. Michelle says:

    Good for you for overcoming that fear!! I also (in addition to having a fear of flying) am not a huge fan of red, but I’d still like to try some good ones and see if I’m missing something. My fave is a nice Viognier… I like citrusy whites.

  21. Akirah says:

    Yay! I’m so happy you did the hot air balloon. It sounds like an experience you won’t forget.

    I’m also glad that you had such a fun trip. You’re so cool. :)

  22. Ray says:

    looks like a fabulous time! Can’t wait to read about the food porn

  23. steph anne says:

    Wow, what a gorgeous view from the hot air balloon! I’d love to visit Napa someday! I’m glad you got over your fear. :)

  24. So glad we got to hang out! xoxo

  25. Heidi Renée says:

    This all sounds amazing. I really need to learn to like wine.

  26. Maki says:

    Aw it looks like you had a fabulous time!! I’m so glad and I’m amazed with all the things you did in Napa!!!!! Welcome back:)


  27. Stevie says:

    So fun!!! I have hot air balloons where I live (also in Wine Country, just outside of Seattle) and I’ve grown up seeing them floating in the sky. Now I see them floating over the skylight in my shower! I’m totally curious and totally terrified of them. I may have to try it one of these days :-)

    The smaller wineries are definitely the way to go, especially in Napa/Sonoma. There are some great household name wineries, but I always enjoy talking to the winemakers at the smaller places. It seems to be more of a passion for making good wine, as opposed to making lots of money (no one’s making money these days, though).

    Syrahs and Malbecs are my favorite. I LOVE the spiciness and richness, and when you get a good one, they have that gorgeous, deep reddish purple color. YUM!!!

    Love all your Flickr photos! Looking forward to the rest of your recap!

  28. I agree- I would love to do a hot air balloon ride, particularly after reading that account! So glad you had a blast, no surprise that I’m looking forward to Part II.

  29. phampants says:

    Wow, the hot air balloon pictures were fantastic! I’m glad you went up high