Napa Valley's world-class wine, food and landscapes draw some 3.5 million visitors a year to its wineries, restaurants and inns. But these days, a Napa visit doesn't come cheap. With tasting fees climbing past the $40 mark and hotel rooms going for more than $300 a night, a wine country visit is fast becoming a spendy proposition.
Affordable Napa may sound like an oxymoron, but we have insider secrets on where you can eat, drink, play and stay on a budget -- splurge-worthy steals that won't break the bank.
Napa's Michelin-starred restaurants may deserve all their starry glory, but at $275-plus per person, not including wine, that's an indulgence for a very special occasion, not a casual weekend getaway. Instead of going to the three-star French Laundry, head for Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc restaurant, where the casual, summery Addendum takeout window offers upscale picnic fare at friendlier prices. Enjoy Keller's awesome buttermilk fried chicken or barbecue pork ribs boxed lunch ($16.50 with two sides) under a pine tree canopy or amid the restaurant's gardens and fruit trees. Details: Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday-Saturday throughout the summer at 6476 Washington St., Yountville; www.thomaskeller.com/addendum.
Napa's other Michelin three-star chef, Christopher Kostow, just opened a new restaurant, St. Helena's Charter Oak, in the former Tra Vigne space. Here, a la carte entrees ($26) range from grilled beef ribs to pork shoulder, and there are seasonal prix fixe family-style menus as well. At $40 for lunch and $85 for dinner, it's a bargain compared to The Restaurant at Meadowood's $275 prix fixe. Psst: Charter Oak offers free corkage on up to two bottles of any Napa Valley wine. Details: Open for lunch and dinner daily and Sunday brunch at 1050 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena; www.thecharteroak.com.
Looking for a steakhouse dinner? At Five Dot Ranch Cookhouse, you can get a grilled steak dinner and wine for less than $40. Buy a rib-eye or New York strip from the meat market's "You Pick It, We Grill It" menu and, for $12 extra, the cookhouse chefs will grill it and serve it with two sides -- mac and cheese, perhaps, or polenta and seasonal vegetables -- and wine ($10-$14 per glass). Total tab: Under $40. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Oxbow Public Market, 610 First St., Napa; www.fivedotranch.com.
You can taste for $25 or less -- and sometimes much less -- up and down the valley. Sample the sauvignon blanc and cabernet at Whitehall Lane Winery for $25, or go sipping at the critically acclaimed, historic Freemark Abbey, where tasting experiences start at $20. Head to Markham Vineyards for the $20 heritage tasting and a peek at the winery's extensive art gallery. Wine tasting at Franciscan Estate also starts at $20. And St. Helena's Sutter Home Winery offers complimentary wine tasting, and not just of its famous white zinfandel.
More? Try the St. Clair Brown Winery ($25), Black Stallion Winery ($20), Etude Wines ($20), Kieu Hoang Winery ($15) and Madonna Estate ($25). Tasting fees at Rutherford's Sequoia Grove Winery start at $25. And in Oakville, visit the famous Robert Mondavi Winery where walk-in tastings start at $5.
If you love classic rock and vintage vinyl, Napa's JaM Cellars Studio is a must-see. You may know their Butter (chardonnay), JaM (cabernet sauvignon) and Toast (sparkling wine) labels; you can try them all for $15; a glass starts at $8. Background music is supplied digitally or via old-school vinyl, and you can request any song or artist off the playlist. Chill out in the rock-and-roll themed tasting room with its midcentury modern vibe and disco ball, and groove to free live music Thursday and Friday nights. Details: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and until midnight Thursday-Saturday at 1460 First St., Napa; www.jamcellars.com.