What is the Culture Like in Napa Valley? From a distance, Napa Valley probably seems like a Disneyland for people who love wine. Nothing but wine, wine tours, wine talk, and winemaking all day, every day. You might picture a bunch of rich snobs or vineyards filled with overworked, underpaid migrant workers. Or, you could browse the travel sites and decide that it’s just a big, giant collection of fancy wineries, even fancier hotels, and uber-expensive restaurants.
So, what is the culture of Napa Valley really like? What will you experience on a Napa wine tour? Here are the realities.
The ‘Wine Snob’ Side of Napa Valley
Excellence is a good quality. Whether you’re playing sports or creating a new software system or making wine, excellence is the culmination of lengthy, complicated research, lots of hard work, attention to every minute detail, and the ability to self-assess in order to get better next time. You don’t consider Alabama coach Nick Saban a “football snob,” he’s just excellent at coaching football. You don’t think of Bill Gates as a “software snob,” he just works extremely hard to design, develop, and deploy excellent software products. Similarly, what could appear on the surface as wine snobbery is actually a commitment and dedication to excellence in winemaking. When you take a Napa wine tour, it becomes easily evident that these folks are committed, passionate, and proud of excellence — from keeping their vineyards to harvesting responsibly to making and selling their wines. It’s pride in their work and their products more than actual snobbery.
The ‘Simple Farmer’ Side of Napa Valley
Behind that extraordinary commitment to excellence, vineyard owners and winemakers are really just farmers at heart. For the locals, days here start early, particularly during harvest season. Even the tourist culture has shifted to accommodate “farmers’ hours,” with wine tours beginning as early as 10 a.m. and usually wrapping up by 6 p.m. If you visit one of the restaurants frequented by locals, you will overhear little discussion about tannins and acidity and the use of oak barrels in making Chardonnay. You’ll hear much discussion about soil quality, sustainable farming practices, weather forecasts, and farm equipment maintenance. These people are more about early to bed and early to rise than about sipping wine and living the high life. Here, traffic is an eclectic mixture of wine tour limos and beat-up farm trucks, highlighting the intersection of the pampered treatment of the tourists and the hard work a farming life demands.
The Family Side of Napa Valley
When you come for your Napa wine tour, don’t be at all surprised to find kids of all ages at the vineyards, in the wineries, and even in the tasting rooms. Most vineyard and winery owners live and work on the same property — raising their children amid the crops and harvest and production facilities, just like any farming family would. Wine tours are also becoming more kid-friendly. Lots of the wineries and tasting rooms provide play areas, basketball courts, or at least some toys, snacks, and other things to occupy their tiniest tourists while Mom and Dad sip wine and discuss loftier matters, like earthiness and aftertaste. Since most of the tourists are responsible and courteous, there is rarely a problem with drunkenness on a wine tour, making it as appropriate for children as the average restaurant or ballgame today. You’re a lot more likely to find rowdy folks who’ve had a few too many at a Raiders or 49ers game than on a Napa wine tour.
The Cultural Side of Napa Valley
Agriculture aside, like most of California (particularly in and around nearby San Francisco, the unofficial cultural capital of the state), Napa Valley is steeped in culture and the arts. It isn’t just about wine, it’s about living on a higher plane of human existence. The arts are huge here, evidenced by Napa’s many museums and art galleries. Live concerts, including many outdoor concerts and festivals, are plentiful. Since the weather is almost always suitable (dry and warm), there are few days of the year when an outdoor concert isn’t enjoyable. In addition to art and music, a Napa tour ought to include at least one stop at a local theater. Napa has two retro theaters, an opera house, and the Napa Valley Ballet.
The ‘Other-Than-Wine’ Side of Napa Valley
Just like Las Vegas is more than casinos and New York is more than shopping, Napa is much more than the premier wine producing region of North America. There are many thriving industries here, and you’ll want to include at least a few non-wine-related stops when you come for your Napa wine tour. For example, hot air ballooning is popular, and gives you the absolute best vantage point to see the seemingly endless spread of vineyards here. Napa also hosts a considerable craft beer industry, as well as groves of olive trees and several producers of olive oil. It’s home to an impressive set of Michelin-star chefs and restaurants, and boasts a few of the finest farmers’ markets this side of the Mississippi. For the outdoor buffs, there are abundant local, state, and national parks for biking, hiking, horse riding, camping, picnicking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife observation, and simply enjoying the abundance of Northern California’s natural wonders. Don’t leave the area without getting an up-close look at some Redwood and Sequoia trees. They’re the stuff magic is made of.
So, whether you’re coming from the agricultural hub of the Midwest and Deep South, or the city life of New England, you’ll fit right in on a Napa wine tour. Let’s get started planning yours today!