A Black Girl’s Guide To Napa Valley


Vineyards in Napa Valley, California, USA.

Napa Valley has been an opulent bucket-list destination for many years. Also known as Wine Country, the valley is roughly an hour outside of San Francisco and Sacramento, and is a popular destination for unlimited wine tasting from some of the best vineyards and vintners across the globe. It’s the prime destination for girls trips, engagements, as well as quick weekend getaways. 

As wine tourism is a large economic driver for the area, in recent years, the wine country is attempting a demographic shift, wanting to skew much younger, expand their nationwide reach, and diversify their offerings to bring more people to the valley. “Many people make Napa Valley a bucket-list destination, and we really want to change that,” says Jenny Toomer, the General Manager of River Terrace Inn. 

Some may find the price point of a trip to Napa to be a deterrent, but it’s more affordable than many would presume. However, the rather glaring reality is that more than anything, Black women should experience the luxe Cali destination.  A visitor report on Napa found that Black people make up only 2.7 percent of the annual visitors to the wine country – and the presence of that statistic was felt. However, Napa Valley is both attainable and approachable for Black women in particular. 

Today, Napa Valley embraces the opportunity to welcome fresh visitors, inviting them to immerse themselves in the myriad delights the wine country has. To close the widened gap of Black people visiting Napa, we’ve compiled a Black girl’s guide to the region, to help navigate where to eat, play, and stay. 

Napa Valley Wine Train

One of the premiere offerings in Napa is the Napa Valley Wine Train, which provides both a picturesque view of the wine country, while also helping break down the stigma and pretentiousness that wine varietals are associated with. 

Nestled in the vibrant heart of downtown Napa, the Wine Train stands as the epitome of wine country’s most unforgettable culinary journey, invoking the timeless allure of luxury rail travel through its newly restored rail cars. The inaugural clean energy locomotive of the Napa Valley Wine Train, affectionately named the “1864” in homage to the rail line’s inception year, heralds a new era of sustainable travel. Boasting a cutting-edge, American-made EPA Tier-4-compliant engine crafted by Rolls-Royce and orchestrated by the esteemed Knoxville Locomotive Works, the “1864” symbolizes the train’s commitment to the environment and innovation.

Experiences

On the Wine Train, there’s a multitude of experiences to choose from. I took both the Legacy Experience and the Vista Dome experience. The best part of the wine train is that you’re joined by seasoned sommeliers who can recommend the best wine pairings for your meal, as well as suggestions on wine flights including selections from Far Niente, Opus One, and Beaulieu Vineyard’s Georges de Latour Private Reserve. 

Legacy Experience

Sign up for the Legacy experience if you’re more adventurous – starting in the morning, the train makes stops in St. Helena for two seated tastings at some of the most popular wineries in the area, including seated tastings at the iconic Charles Krug and V. Sattui, as well as a stop at the popular ‘Welcome to Napa Valley’ sign. At Charles Krug you’ll be whisked away into a winery that was modeled after Tuscan architecture with tastes of great California wines and scenic views of the countryside that make you question if you’re actually in Napa Valley. Here you’ll get tastes of their 2023 limited release rosé, 2019 family reserve generations as well as their 2019 limited release malbec. With fruits strong in the region, each wine has notes of different berries such as strawberries, blueberries, and even boysenberries.

At V. Sattui, you also get some of those same gorgeous views, however here, you’re met with even more approachability – you’ll see fellow Napa Valley visitors casually sitting outside enjoying a glass of wine and the beautiful weather. The seated tasting includes three of their best wines, a 2022 Los Carneros Chardonnay, 2021 School House Zinfandel, and a 2019 Vittorio’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. As an added bonus, Sattui saves the best for last, and allows guests to get a taste of their Madeira, a Solera-made, wood-aged wine, fortified with brandy. Strong yet sweet, the dessert-wine has flavors of caramel, toffee, and orange zest. Outside of just purchasing one of your favorite wines at Sattui, the winery is complete with its own market filled with artisan cheeses, meats, breads, and chocolates (just in case you are looking to take some back home). 

Pro-tip: Come hydrated and prepared to drink. The Legacy experience offers a three course meal and dessert, but to make it throughout the day, you’ll need a healthy balance of food and water to conquer the day.

Vista Dome Experience

Take the Vista Dome lunch experience if you’re looking to have the awe-inspiring views of the wine country without ever leaving the rail car. Here is where you can indulge a little bit more and really get into the wine. Add the Vista Dome experience to your itinerary if you’re not looking to pack your day, but still get to enjoy some of the wine country’s best. The experience begins a little later in the day, so you have ample time to embrace slowness before tackling another boozy afternoon. 

The plus to this experience is that the newly renovated rail car makes for the best photo shoot with your girlfriends. There’s multiple photo-worthy areas that best capture the beauty of Napa Valley on this train. 

Similar to the Legacy experience, Vista Dome also includes a three course meal with dessert, and you have downtime to socialize with friends before you disembark at the train station. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be celebrating alongside other guests who are celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, or even engagements–even more reason to say cheers.

Pro-tip: Vista Dome is where you should dress to impress. More laid back than the legacy experience, you’ll get to eat, drink and be merry, and also pose for the camera.

A Black Girl’s Guide To Napa Valley
Views from a hot air ballon overlooking Napa Valley

Excursions

If you’re a morning person, a hot air balloon ride through Napa Valley is an absolute must to add to your itinerary. You’ll be up as early as 5 AM in the morning, but the lack of sleep will be well worth it when you take in a breathtaking view of the rolling hills wine country. You’ll pass over the coastline fields of crops, see animals grazing plus the gorgeous mountains that overlook the valley. You’ll spend roughly an hour in the air, and get in-depth insights from your tour guide who will give you the inside scoop on all the crops being grown in the area, plus the experiments and happenings on different fields that look over the Napa. 

Pro-tip: Dress warmly, as all hot air balloons take flight early in the morning.

A Black Girl’s Guide To Napa Valley
Views from the River Terrace Inn in Napa Valley

Where To Stay

If you want to stay close to the different experiences Napa has to offer, the River Terrace Inn is your best bet. A Noble House property, the hotel is a sister estate to the Wine Train, so it makes sense that the two are across the street from one another. The quaint property has stunning views of the valley from anywhere in the hotel, so even when you’re not out and about exploring, you still get to take in the beauty of the valley. If you’re looking to take part in some of the activities Napa has to offer, the inn is at the nexus of tourism. It’s at the train station where you can sign up for train experiences, hot air balloon rides and more.

Inside the hotel are gorgeous hotel suites that just feel like they were intentionally curated for and by women. Spacious rooms include vanity mirrors, televisions where you can use Chromecast to watch your favorite shows, bathroom mirrors that connect to bluetooth and a separate vanity mirror to prep for a day full of wine tasting. 

Eat & Drink

You would think that after dining on the wine train, you would be all wined out–but there’s still so much more to the wine country. Vineyards are just one facet to Napa. There are also collectives that provide tastings for wines that you won’t get on the wine train, like the wines at the Vintner’s Collective, which is a quaint tasting room that maintains the integrity of the original building–a converted brothel. Inside, you find a select group of small, family-owned Napa wineries. While many other tasting rooms will offer some of their most popular wines to offer, Vintner’s is a great boutique place to zero in one of your favorite varieties. It’s great for a crash course in wine, and you can take your skills back to your hometown, when it comes to tasting, analyzing, and pairing wines. 

A Black Girl’s Guide To Napa Valley
friends doing a wine tasting

For a casual dinner, Kitchen Door is just a stones throw away from Vintners Collective, and a certainly walkable dining spot. If you’re planning out your girls trip, Kitchen Door is a must stop after a day of wine tasting. It’s great to soak up all the delicious wine, and the tasty shareable apps such as the garlic cheesy bread, teriyaki wings, and deviled eggs. The menu is mixed with a variety of cuisine, where you can find delicious Italian offerings as well as pad Thai and Korean barbecue. You’ll certainly leave happily stuffed.

As a Black girl in Napa, you can’t visit Napa without paying a visit to some of the Black-owned stalwarts that are making waves in the vino industry. We recommend Vin En Noir, which features minority owned, and women owned winemakers. Expect snacks to pair with your wine like charcuterie and popcorn. Moreover, their selection of rosé is unparalleled. 

If you’re looking to break away from the wine a bit and opt for cocktails instead, Wine Girl Napa Valley is where you’ll get the girly Instagram aesthetic you’re looking for, plus the boozy Sunday Funday brunch vibe all under one roof.

Wander Like A Local

The heart of Napa’s infrastructure is built like an old town, with family run restaurants and buildings that have stood the test of time, which adds to the character of the wine destination. When you’re not tasting the country’s best wines, you can peruse through the town, it’s where I stumbled upon Oxbow Public Market, a food hall that has a variety of goods from Jewish cuisine to fresh preserve and honey for your next charcuterie board, a bookstore (and so many more treasures). A lover of books, I stumbled on a small haven with everything from science fiction, to encyclopedias of Banksy, and even autobiographical works on artists like Tupac. 

At Oxbow, I also found Model Bakery, a local spot beloved by locals and visitors alike. Based on the number of people devouring their baked goods from outside the shop, it’s a safe bet for breakfast. I tried the chocolate croissant, and the bakery truly lives up to the hype.



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