Hot off the heels of a Barcelona girls’ trip, I boarded a plane to San Francisco. The ultimate destination: Napa Valley.

Wine is a staple in our house. It keeps us even-keeled at the end of long days. We enjoy the surprise of opening new vintages and bottles from new vineyards. Jazzed by a new partnership with Sterling Vineyards—an already familiar winery to us—I couldn’t wait to sample the wines and learn more about their winemaking process.

(Click on the slideshows to enlarge for a better look.)

Getting to Napa Valley

From San Diego, it’s fairly easy. My airline of preference is Virgin America (now Alaska Airlines) to San Francisco because I love the Richard Branson-esq, upbeat vibe. At just over an hour, the flight is so short, there’s barely time to log on to the internet but personal in-flight entertainment runs from the time you step onboard so a full movie might be possible.

From SFO, you’ll need to hop in a car to reach Napa Valley. A luxury bus was provided for us and it took about two hours to arrive at the Andaz hotel in the heart of downtown Napa because we hit some evening traffic, but it gave the other bloggers and me a chance to chat.

Check-in: Andaz Napa

Andaz Napa Valley Guestroom
The Andaz Napa in the downtown area has a cool rustic vibe in the lobby and bar area.

The Andaz Napa does a fantastic job of blending into the local community with rustic woods and other natural elements in the lobby that provide a cozy ambiance in which one might want to sip wine for a while. And, that’s exactly what people were doing in the lobby… casually sipping wine over a conversation. Love it.

In contrast to the lobby area, the rooms are quite contemporary. I appreciated that the fridge has an empty shelf specifically for a white wine bottle that presumably you would have picked up along the way, as well as other wine-related accessories were placed in the room. There is also an emphasis on eco-friendly practices like no top sheet and reusing towels. I had a little trouble operating the TV, but that was it.

A big benefit to this boutique hotel in Napa is that there are so many adorable shops and restaurants within walking distance. I regret that I didn’t have time to shop but definitely will next time.

A 4-Course Dinner at Carpe Diem

We walked just a few blocks to dinner at Carpe Diem held in the wine bar’s private back room. It was the first of many beautiful tablescapes paired with excellent wine, food, and conversation.

The Sterling Vineyards wines poured included Sterling Sparkling Brut, 2013 Sterling Cellar Club Viognier and 2013 Sterling Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. And we ate Carpe Diem Mixed Green Salad, Carpaccio, Quack and Cheese and Caramel Apple Tart.

I don’t drink Viognier often, for no good reason really, but I was surprised by how mild this wine was with soft floral notes and (I think) peaches. I tend to lean toward Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I would definitely eat again here as every dish was divine.

A Day at Sterling Vineyards

From Andaz Napa, it takes about 45 minutes by car to reach beautiful Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga. Sterling Vineyards is the only vineyard with an aerial tram that takes you to the winery’s tasting rooms.

Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley is the only winery to have an aerial tram!

Here, enjoy a self-guided tour while sampling a number of wines, the spectacular view, and even lunch.

Except, we donned yellow safety jackets and went behind-the-scenes to learn a little bit more about the winemaking process. And, I was astonished by how much—even at such a large winery—is still done by hand. It was harvest time, so the winery was buzzing with activity.

We tasted wine in various stages from barrels, learned about fermentation, how they harvest grapes (very early in the morning), and so much more. I have such a deeper appreciation for what goes into producing a premium glass of wine.

sterling vineyards napa valley-7

Tours of the winery are self-guided, from tasting station to tasting station (we enjoyed this, too), and one should relax on the terraces for fabulous views over Napa Valley.

Sterling Vineyard’s architecture was modeled after that of the Greek island of Mykonos, where Sterling founder Peter Newton once lived. Before we left, I (along with everyone else in our group) stomped grapes… a bucket list item for me, definitely!

You can stomp grapes at Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley!

The juice and its antioxidants are fantastic for the skin! My feet were so soft (and this claim is validated by winery staff). Stompers step on to a t-shirt straight out of the barrel to take home a souvenir grape-y footprint.

Dinner at Rutherford House

The beautiful California Craftsman style home was the perfect place to kick up our feet and seek solace in the surrounding vineyards before a beautiful dinner.

All of this before cooking dinner with celebrity chef, restauranteur and Chef Spokesperson for Diageo Wines (Sterling Vineyards’ parent company), Joey Altman, who taught us a thing or two in the kitchen. I love that he always cooks with wine. And, he taught us little tips here and there that make cooking that much easier. I had no idea that I’d been cutting corn off the cob wrong for all of these years (cut with the cob vertically).

Seriously, we helped make a multi-course dinner that involved lobster risotto on corn sauce, duck on a butternut squash puree and more paired with a variety of Sterling Vineyard wines. It was fantastic and I forgot to take the menu otherwise I’d dive into more specifics. Note the number of wine glasses that are surrounding our plates.

The next day, we woke up and headed off to the airport excited for what our partnership with Sterling Vineyards will bring over the coming months.


Delicious bottles of Sterling wines served over lunch at Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley

A trip to Napa Valley for a weekend getaway is entirely possible though if you can break from life to arrive before evening rush hour, that is ideal.

While wines were preselected for us, we sampled at least 15 and I didn’t run into a single unpleasant glass. Sterling Vineyards offers wines in a number of price ranges.

My husband and I have adopted a motto of, “Life is too short to drink wine you don’t like.” But I canceled my wine subscriptions recently because we drink mostly red wines and were stockpiling whites. Among other Wine Club options, Sterling Vineyards has a Red Wine club. I particularly enjoyed a Cellar Club Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a small lot wine available to members of the wine club so I joined. The commitment is reasonable and the price is right (3 bottles a quarter for $110 – $130 each shipment).

Have you visited Sterling Vineyards? Do you have a favorite Sterling Vineyards wine?

I am working in partnership with Sterling Wines and I am being compensated for my participation in this campaign. All thoughts/opinions are 100% my own. Wine is intended for those whom alcohol is legal and appropriate. Please drink responsibly!

Andaz Napa room photo is used courtesy of the hotel. The others are a mix of my own and by photographer and jewelry designer Julia Szendrei.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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