This wasn't originally on my list, but it's on several other people's lists so I figured, what the heck!
My wife and I toured Napa Valley in early November, 2008.
I'm not at all a wine snob, but I do like tasting it. The good ones give you several different flavors in rapid succession, and that's why you see people sniffing, sloshing, swallowing, and looking thoughtful. That part of it is cool, but I don't like the idea of expensive wine as a status symbol. If you like how it tastes, then it's a good wine. Period.
When visiting wineries many people, including us, get overly ambitious. We plan out a day ahead of time, look at the map, and circle the wineries we want to visit. Say, for example, 9 or 10...
In college did you ever learn about the "hour of power?" Someone (usually a freshman) tries to drink one shot of beer every minute for an hour. At first it doesn't sound too bad. A shot of beer is no big deal, right? Then it starts to add up...(by the way, this never ends well. Don't even try..). Tasting wine in wine country can be a similar experience. A little taste of wine is no big deal, right?
Each winery encourages you to taste several of their wines, and although there is a little spit bucket at each one, it feels sacrilegious and wasteful not to swallow the wine you're tasting.
Soon it's noon and you're thinking, "Man, I need to get some food in my stomach!" It doesn't matter that you've only been to 3 wineries. So you stop for lunch. The waiter hands you their wine list...
As you emerge from the restaurant into the overly-bright sunshine it hits you that you have 7 more wineries to visit before they all close at 5:00. As your designated driver rolls her eyes, you present your plan to get through the winery list faster. No more chatting with the staff or marveling at the beautiful architecture of the winery. Run in, taste a few wines, buy a few bottles of the good ones, and get back to the car.
At the end of the day you're bleary-eyed, you have a headache, your palate has long-ago stopped functioning, and you've purchased 5 times as much wine as you thought you would. By the way, this technique never ends well. Don't even try. Go slow. Savor the experience.
There are two kinds of visitor to Napa Valley, people who are there to learn something new, and people who are there to be entertained. Some of the wineries have a theme park atmosphere that caters to the latter group, but some of the wineries clearly want to showcase their craft.
During our first day we visited:
The Wine Garage - A wine shop with a knowledgeable staff.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards
Sterling Vineyards - Take a tram up to the winery, take a self-guided tour, and taste wine. The view from their patio is amazing. This place had my favorite Syrah.
Darioush Winery - A strange, Egyptian-themed winery. On that day there were a lot of over-dressed people in there, and the women's perfume was a little overpowering. We walked in and walked back out.
Van Der Heyden Vineyards - Sort of the "anti winery." Simple buildings, dogs roaming around, and a colorful character that pours wine and tells tall tales about the winemaking business. I was charmed by such low-key unpretentious surroundings...but I was also drunk...