California’s Best Wine Country On A Budget

November 16, 2011 4:38 PM

A Toast To Bargain Wines by George M. Taber, Simon & Schuster

atoasttobargainwines1 Californias Best Wine Country On A BudgetAward-winning author George M. Taber’s A Toast to Bargain Wines is an accessible mix of history, business, and reference, and includes a two-part guide to the world’s best buys: George’s ten favorite bargains of every varietal (plus two splurges in each category), then 10 value brands from 12 regions around the world. Here Taber shares his insight for casual wine drinkers and connoisseurs alike to finding and enjoying good wine at a great price.

Napa Valley, the heart and soul of California wine country, is a place where you can drop $1,000 a night for a bed at Meadowood resort, $1,000 for dinner at The French Laundry, and $1,200 on a bottle of Screaming Eagle wine. If you’re really pinching pennies, you might want to go to nearby Sonoma County or Lodi. Napa, though, remains wine heaven, and there are a few deals to be found.

Napa Valley Redwood Inn

3380 Solano Ave.
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 257-6111
Details, Reviews & Directions

This is where wineries house their harvest help. It’s located right in the heart of the valley and is an easy jumping off spot for visits to wineries. It offers a simple breakfast in the lobby early in the morning and has free internet connection. A truck selling Mexican food is often parked nearby, and there’s a Starbucks and a pizza shop within walking distance. The staff is California laid-back and helpful. Remember you’re in Napa for the wine, not the hotel lobby.

Gott’s Roadside

933 Main St
St. Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-3486
Details, Reviews & Directions

For decades this hamburger stand was named Taylor’s Refresher, and that’s what locals still call it. After Joel Gott, one of the guys behind the popular Bandit wines, bought the location he put his name on the door. The place is straight out of the movie American Graffiti. The only thing missing is Suzanne Somers in a T-Bird. This is a classic fast-food place, and the hamburgers are great. Critic Robert Parker, Jr. is a big fan. It’s located right on Route 29, Napa Valley’s main drag, and is the place to stop for a bite between winery visits.

Heitz Wine Cellars

436 St. Helena Highway South
St. Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-3542
Details, Reviews & Directions

The best indoor activity in the Napa valley is wine tasting. You can drive up Route 29 or Silverado Trial, sampling wines all along the way. In the good old days, wineries such as Robert Mondavi gave free samples, if you would take its tour and learn a little about winemaking. Now some wineries charge $75 or more for special tastings. Fortunately, there is still Joe Heitz’s place on Route 29. You can get a limited free tasting there, although you need to pay to try better wines.

Grgich Hills Estate

1829 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573
(800) 532-3057

Grgich charges for tastings, but its friendly staff has a habit of pouring free sips for people they like, or those who buy some wine. Located in the heart of the valley, this tasting room is pure fun. If you’re lucky, Mike Grgich himself will show up the day of your visit. He’s famous for charming the ladies. During the harvest, Grgich has a popular grape stomping in the style of I Love Lucy and just as much fun.

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