Contracostatimes.com: April 15, 2016
Car. Carriage. Bike. Balloon. There are lots of ways to tour the Napa Wine region. I prefer to kayak, dock my boat in downtown Napa and walk to the tasting rooms. It’s easy with a tidal river that actually pushes you forward if you time the tides right.
“It’s beautiful. It’s a different perspective of the Napa Valley,” says Laurie Aboudara-Robertson with Kayak Napa Valley. The tidal river winds lazily through the wine region — its brackish waters the perfect playground for all kinds of birds and the occasional otter and seal.
“We even had a dolphin in the river for six weeks,” she says. “And I actually saw someone near Kennedy Park catch a sting ray.”
Kennedy Park is one of three Napa River launch sites where Kayak Napa Valley begins its tours. You can also rent or bring your own kayak to Napa and time your trip to the tides and the tasting room schedules.
There are 21 tasting rooms in the vibrant and walkable downtown core. A $30 Taste Downtown Napa wine tasting card gives you tastings at eight different venues, all serving Napa boutique wines.
This year’s pass, good through 2016, has some of my favorite wines and tasting rooms. Capp Heritage Vineyards serves generous tastes of supple reds and bright, citrus-y whites made by a family that’s been in the business 160 years. The tasting room is warm and elegant with live music on Saturday nights.
The tasting room at Mark Herold Wines is more — let’s say, eclectic. “East-meets-West steam punk,” according to one pourer, who says the room reflects what’s “in the winemaker’s head.” Here, too, you’ll find generous pours of unique wines you can’t find anywhere else in the Napa Valley.
And for the wine adventurist, there’s the Bounty Hunter Wine Bar and Smokin’ BBQ — inspired by the state of Montana but with more than 400 wines (40 by the glass). Even their juicy beer-can chicken pairs well with wine.
An overnight stay is a good investment when you’re wine tasting. Perched over the Napa River — near the oxbow — is a handsome brick building that was once the town’s mill. It’s now downtown Napa’s highest Michelin-rated hotel — the Napa River Inn. It’s within walking distance of the Wine Train, downtown tasting rooms, restaurants and the popular Oxbow Market and the inn has free parking and bike rentals.
Downtown Napa is bike-friendly, and a new bike path is being completed along the riverfront. But should you chose to navigate the river itself, you’ll find it’s an easy paddle.
“If you follow the tides, you can do 12 or 13 miles a day,” says Craig Smith with the Downtown Napa Association. And because Smith lives in Napa, he knows how to time the tides perfectly.
“One of the coolest things we do with the sun still up,” he says, is to go out with the tide toward Vallejo, sit still for about 20 minutes and then let the tide take you back to Napa under a full moon. “It takes just a couple of hours.”
It’s no wonder downtown Napa has become such a popular tourist destination — second only to the famed Napa Valley wineries.
Downtown Napa Association: https://donapa.com/ (purchase site for Taste Downtown Napa wine tasting cards)
The Napa River Inn: http://www.napariverinn.com/
Kayak Napa Valley: http://www.kayaknv.com/