Wine Relief For Houston

Wine Relief For Houston

Since Friday I have been glued to my T.V. watching the devastation taking place in Texas.  On one hand my heart is heavy at the thought of so many of our friends and fellow Americans suffering and losing so much, on the other hand my heart is full watching people work together and help one another.  The Texas spirit has managed to make something so very awful become so very beautiful.

People from all over the USA and the world have helped grow our business, and we are eternally grateful to all of you who have chosen Small Lot Wine Tours.  But if you are in Napa or Sonoma, you owe a deep debt of gratitude to Texans.  Our little company has had doors opened and access to wineries we didn’t have before due to some very generous Texans.  These doors that have opened has helped us improve the quality of our tours and the wineries we visit so that all our customers can benefit.  The amount of wine that Texans buy from Napa and Sonoma wineries has literally kept many of them in business.  Everyone here in Wine Country wants to help our Texas friends.
We are a small business with a deep well of love, but with a shallow bank account.  We don’t have cash to give but we do have a service that can be used to raise money for Harvey’s victims.  Therefore during the month of September we are offering a Wine Relief Tour.  The Wine Relief Wine Tour take place in Napa or Sonoma and will give 15% of our earnings to an organization that directly helps Harvey’s victims.  We will visit wineries who have agreed to give a portion of their sales by our tour guests as well.  This creates two levels of giving just by taking a wine tour and buying some wine.
To book a Wine Relief Wine Tour  email tours@smalllotwinetours.net and indicate you want a Wine Relief Tour or call 707-501-7954.
God Bless Texas!

Flood Frustrations

Flooded vineyard Napa

Flooded Vineyard in Napa Valley CA

Someone recently asked me if I had Flood Frustrations. Being a Napa native, I don’t. Ever since the big flood of 1986 we have experienced 100 year floods about every 10 years. We Napans are pros at handling floods. Especially now with our 9 million dollar flood control project downtown.

Napa flood 1986

Napa flood, 1986

Perhaps the most frustrating part of all this rain is that is scares customers away. In 2014 and 2015 we had droves of people coming to wine country in January to take advantage of our drought driven sunny weather. I remember one group in particular from Minnesota. The girls all wore spaghetti strap dresses with sandals and raved about California weather. Inside I was screaming, “THIS IS NOT GOOD WEATHER!!” Our depleted reservoirs proved my point. But this year, 2017, this is GOOD January weather. Lots of rain speckled with cold hard frosts in between. This fills our lakes, builds our snow backs, and it also kills fleas.

Napa flood gates

Napa flood gates

I get that the thought of going into a vineyard in the middle of flood worthy rains doesn’t sound wonderful. Nor does traveling down the Trail and getting hit by a mud slide. But wine is not only found in vineyards and down country roads. There is a LOT of really good wines in downtown Napa and with our brand new flood gates, you can safely bet that you won’t be caught in any floods.

Here are my top picks for cozy downtown Napa tasting rooms:

  • Wines on First
    1463 First Street, Napa, CA
    Wines On First

    Wines On First

    Wines on First is a co-op in downtown Napa right across the street from Andaz and sharing a courtyard with Oenotri Restaurant. The tasting flights are in the $25 range (depending on the flight you choose). For an extra $10 you can get a cheese plate to share. If you are really hungry you can order lunch from Oentri and they will delver to the tasting room. We are especially fond of Jean Edwards. The 2013 Cab is amazing!
  • The Wine Thief
    708 1st Street, Napa, CA
    The Wine Thief

    The Wine Thief

    For years the guys behind the labels of G Cellars, and Solamente, have been like gypsies, doing tastings wherever they could. But a couple of years ago Garrett Ahnfeldt and his business partner, Andy Renda, were able to find a home when they opened Wine Thief. They invited some of their friends like Jason Moore of Modus Operandi to join them. This young and hip tasting room is located on the east side of downtown near the Oxbow Market.

    Today Wine Thief features a total of 9 vintners, many of them owned by people under 40 years old. Tastings range from $20 to $30 depending on what flight you choose. They can provide cheese and charcuterie if requested.

  • Ackerman Heritage House and Aviary
    608 Randolph Street, Napa, CA
    Ackerman Heritage House

    Ackerman Heritage House

    Although the Ackermans own a beautiful vineyard in the Coombsville AVA of Napa, the strict laws of Napa County prohibit them from seeing guests there. Lauren Ackerman didn’t want just a regular tasting room where she could send her guests so she bought a beautiful Victorian in downtown Napa and restored it. It was a long labor of love restoring this landmark property to its original glory. The 2014 earthquake was a major setback. But in 2016 The Aviary was officially opened in downtown Napa offering a unique one-of-a-kind experience. Lauren hopes her bold move will inspire other Napa vineyards to follow her lead and restore some of Napa’s most historic properties and make them available to the public via wine. Tastings at the Aviary are $65 per person.
  • Eleven Eleven
    620 Trancas Street, Napa, CA
    Eleven Eleven Wines

    Eleven Eleven Wines

    Even though Eleven Eleven is not downtown I had to include it on this list because it’s still located within the city limits and has a cool, swanky, urban vibe. The winery offers many cozy seating areas. They have super friendly staff and delicious wines. Eleven Eleven has been a favorite amongst our guests. Tastings at Eleven Eleven are $45 each.

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The Difference Between Napa and Sonoma

Sonoma winery road signsCall Small Lot Wine ToursIf you saw this title and thought this article would be a bashing session on Napa, you will be disappointed. I am a Napa native. I love Napa. I don’t believe you have to bash Napa in order to talk about why Sonoma is awesome. That’s like bashing the beach so you can point out how awesome the mountains are. That’s crazy. The beach and the mountains are totally different and yet equally wonderful. That’s what this article will focus on.

SONOMA IS BIGGER:

Map of Sonoma & Napa CountiesThe first way that Sonoma is different than Napa is that it’s about twice the size of Napa, and that’s only because East Napa has a bunch of land around Lake Berryessa that is hardly accessible. Sonoma starts in the Carneros reagion, goes all the way up to Cloverdale and stretches all the way west to the Pacific Ocean. Within Sonoma County you get mountains, valleys, redwood forest, rivers, and the coast. You can spend 2 hours driving and still be in Sonoma Country. People often make the mistake of thinking they can visit wineries in Sonoma Coast, Dry Creek, and Carneros all in one day. We also see people make a hotel reservation in Santa Rosa with dinner plans in Sonoma Town. They may look close on a map, but they aren’t that close.

SONOMA GROWS A WIDE VARIETY OF GRAPES

Wine bottles from Sonoma & NapaSonoma has more diversity in the grapes they grow. As we mentioned Sonoma is quite large. That means it has very diverse climates and soil types from one end to the other. Carneros, Russian River, and Sonoma Coast are the cooler climates so they are best known for pinot noir and chardonnay. However, one end of Russian River butts up against Dry Creek Valley, so that part of the Russian River area can grow zinfandel or even cabernet. The same goes for Carneros. I personally have always been a big fan of Carneros Merlot. But the Sonoma Coast region pretty much is just pinot noir and chardonnay. If you want a Napa-like cab Knights Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma Valley are for you. If you like Zinfandel and fruity cabs, you should spend the day in the dry creek valley. There is truly something for everyone in Sonoma County.

SONOMA IS RICH IN HISTORY

The old Sonoma MissionSonoma has wonderful and important California history. In the town of Sonoma, right on the square, is Mission San Francisco Solano. The last mission built in California. Across the street from the mission are the Mexican Army barracks. Across the street from that is a monument of the Bear Flag Revolt, the small revolt that led to California becoming a state. If you keep going down the street you can visit General Vallejo’s home. For about $5 you can see everything and learn about our history.

old mature wine grape vinesNot only does Sonoma have California history, it is covered with important wine history. Buena Vista is the oldest winery in California established in 1857. Korbel was not far behind, popping up on the scene in 1882 to make champagne. But even more fascinating to me are the old vine vineyards you can see while driving all over Sonoma county. (Napa has them too, but not nearly as many as Sonoma). You can tell an old vine vineyard because the vines are individual bushes with big gnarly trunks and branches. Most of these are zinfandel. Most old vine zinfandel vineyards are actually field blends. Field blends are a mish mash of all types of grapes that are grown together, harvested together, and fermented together. Acorn Winery is a great place to visit and learn about field blends.

SONOMA HAS A RIVER, A COAST, AND A FOREST

Bodega Bay in Sonoma CountySonoma County has a long coastline and Bodega Bay. If you’ve had enough wine for the day and just want to relax at the beach you can go to Doran Beach. If you get hungry you can go to Spud’s Point for the best clam chowder ever. Many guests like to go to Armstrong Woods and see our wonderful redwood trees. Or if it’s summer and you want to float down the river there are many places where you can do that down the Russian River, including downtown Healdsburg.

Sonoma is a wonderful and diverse county and we always recommend that folks who visit Napa also spend a day or two in Sonoma. The experiences are NOT the same, though they are both wonderful and beautiful in their own way and both have the best wines made in California, maybe even the world!

Tips on Tipping while Tasting in Wine Country

TipsI am often asked by my guests if they should tip the winery host when they do a wine tasting. The answer is no longer a simple “no” like it was when I first started in this industry back in the 90’s.

My first tasting room job was at Franciscan Winery in 1998. My hourly wage was about $10 per hour. I made no commission on sales but I did receive bonuses on wine club sign ups. Tasting fees were $5 for the regular tasting and $10 for the reserve. The Mt. Veeder Reserve was about $50 per bottle and Quintessa, which was a part of the Franciscan Family at that time, was about $95 per bottle. The official policy at that time was NO TIPS ACCEPTED. We were told to discourage and refuse tips unless it became more awkward to refuse it than it was to just take it.

My next job was at Sutter Home doing hospitality (dinners and special events and inn keeping). I made about $14 per hour. At Sutter Home not only were we not supposed to accept tips but if one was left anyways we were to turn it over to our manager and they in turn would donate it to charity.

In 2008 I started working at Hartwell Vineyards. Our tasting fee was $25 per person ($45 for a tour). This was quite high at the time. I made $18 per hour plus commission. We officially did not solicit tips but when we received one, unexpectedly, it made our day. My co-worker (there were only 2 of us there), Jona, and I would pool our tips together and go to dinner. We only went to dinner once because tips were far and few between.

One day Jona and I visited Quintessa, which was now no longer a part of Franciscan. The bottle was now about $150 per bottle and tastings were about $75 per person. The guy doing our tour said he made a lot of money in tips. Jona and I looked at each other. Tips? It was strange to us that tips were even mentionable. The guy told us they were allowed to have tips. We also learned that it had become customary to tip at sparkling wine houses because they do table service.

Year by year the standard and expectation of tipping changes. It’s been 6 years since I worked in a tasting room so I asked my friends and colleagues who do tours and tastings for tasting rooms their expectations on tips. I received a lot of feedback. Those who are newer in the industry said they rely on tips to supplement their income. Those who were old school like me said it was not expected or customary. People who are consumers also gave me feedback. They said if they are expected to tip at a restaurant or bar why not at a tasting room? Others said that buying wine and paying the tasting fee should be enough. Then there was the question of how much to tip. Is 20% the standard? And 20% on what? The purchase or the tasting fee? Should wineries include tip lines? If so how would they split the tips up like they do in the restaurant industry? I spent a lot of time talking to a lot of people and these are the conclusions I came to regarding tipping at tastings:

* If you do a tasting and receive good service but do not buy wine, you should leave a tip.

* If you receive exceptional service from your winery host and want to make their day, leave a tip.

* Tips are not expected but hugely appreciated.

* There is no standard of how much the tip should be so it’s completely up to you and what you can or cannot afford.

* You should feel no pressure or feel obligated to leave a tip since there is not yet an industry standard.

Look at it this way, tipping in wine country is what the whole concept of tipping is supposed to be, a way of saying “Hey, that was a great experience and I appreciate you.” It’s not like tipping servers who get paid a lower hourly wage because tips are considered the main portion of their salary. It’s kind of like when you go to a foreign country and tipping is not customary but the person serving you knows you are American and so they hope you might tip them. Then when you do you put a huge smile on their face and they tell all their friends. Well tipping in wine country is like that. So go ahead, make their day and leave a tip!

Who In Napa Eats at Applebees?

Applebees

This morning as I was doing the voyeurism thing on Facebook I came across this post: “I noticed that Napa actually allowed an Applebees and an IHOP into the south-end of town. My questions are: Who eats at those places when you’re in NAPA? A Mecca of great food and wine? And, why did the city of Napa allow places of the unwashed masses to exist in this town?#‎TheNapaStruggle‬ continues..

What followed was an onslaught of rude comments about the type of people who might go to Applebees rather than downtown Napa. Sometimes with all the glitz and the glamor people forget that at the end of the day Napa is just a normal town. The city of Napa is the engine that drives the entire valley. Napa is more affordable than Up Valley St Helena or Yountville. It’s where the vineyard worker, cellar rat, tasting room associate, busboy, server, chef, housekeeper, flower arranger, plumber, and other blue collar workers live. This is why there is so much traffic south bound on HWY 29 at 5:00, because everyone who works up valley lives in Napa proper.

So my husband and I decided to find out who indeed eats at Applebees in Napa. We went during happy hour and this is who we met.

MEET LARRY
LarryLarry was born and raised in Napa. He graduated from Napa High and went to school at the Napa JC. Larry is an electrician by trade but his passion is coaching football. He coached the Napa Saints when his kids were young and now volunteers at Justin Sienna High School.

We asked Larry why he comes to Applebees. He said that when he coached the Saint they would go to Applebees for meetings because of the team moms worked there. Over the years he became a regular. While he does enjoy going to some of the fine dining establishments in Napa, Applebees is where he goes every day for iced tea. Yes, that’s right, iced tea. He sits at the bar everyday with a big pitcher of iced tea and the occasional order of chicken wings, his favorite thing at Applebees. The price point, the friendly atmosphere, and his friends are what keeps this Napa native coming back to Applebees for the past 10+ years.

 

MEET ALAN AND KEVIN

Alan and KevinAlan and Kevin have been friends since they attended high school in Napa. Alan took a little hiatus from Napa but is now living in Napa and works in Banking. Kevin left just as Alan came back. They were at Applebees because Alan came back to town for a job interview. He’s hoping to move back home. They chose to come to Applebees because they wanted a cheep beer ($3.99) and a place where the game was on. Kevin also pointed out that the bar at Applebees is quite large. Their favorite appetizer is the chicken wings.

 

Meet Jill

JillJill, who has lived in Napa Valley for past 4 years, came to Applebees with her friend Jack (not pictured). They live Up Valley (Angwin) but had to come to Napa to run some errands. Jack was in his basketball shorts but was hungry and didn’t want fast food so Applebees was the perfect fit. The food is affordable, the restaurant is comfortable, the atmosphere friendly, and the basketball shorts went unnoticed until pointed out to me. Their favorite appetizer is the wonton chicken tacos. Funny enough, both Jack and Jill work in fine dining in Yountville.

 

Meet Jenny and Jay

Jenny and JayJenny and Jay come to Applebees every day for the happy hour. Jenny earns minimum wage as a cashier at an automotive store and Jay earns minimum wage working at Ace Hardware. They’ve had some bumps in the roads of their lives but are on the straight and narrow now. Applebees offers them a place to fit in, to have friends they call family, and a little bit of pleasure they can afford. While their jouney has not been easy Jay’s son just graduated from Washington State University with a degree in bio-chemistry. Their favorite thing is the Bacon Cheddar Potato Skins because they are delicious and only $1.99. Neither have ever been to the well known fine dining establishments. Both were born and raised in a Napa that had more prunes than grapes.

While we were there we also met a couple who had stopped in for a quick beer while their mom watched their 4 children. Both are Napa natives, one works in the wine industry. They love Applebees because it’s kid friendly and affordable. Another man we met was at Applebees because he lives up north towards Tahoe. He comes to Napa a few days at a time for work. He was having a beer at Applebees to kill time waiting for the traffic on HWY 80 toward Sacramento to die down a bit.

 

Wonton TacosWe looked around and saw many young families eating. By young we mean both the kids and the parents. We spoke with the staff and they said people like to come to Applebees with kids because it’s a kid friendly environment. It’s perfect for young families who want to go to a restaurant but can’t afford downtown prices.

Those of us who work in the wine industry love to support local restaurants and encourage our guests to eat at our favorite restaurants. But just our guests are eating at those fine dining establishments for their special occasion, one must remember that we also save those places for our special occasions. Our normal life is just like anyone else’s normal life in Small Town America. We shop at Target, drink Peet’s coffee, and when we want something casual and affordable we just might eat at Applebees.

 

Being A Wine Industry Insider

Camp Krug, circle of tents

Camp Krug


A while ago I was invited to write a couple of articles for a local online publication. Because it’s a well-known publication I was invited to attend “Camp Krug,” a marketing/PR glamping event for wine writers. I have to admit, I felt a little guilty for accepting because I’m not actually a “wine writer.” I’m a business owner that on occasion gets invited to write an article. I always accept because I see it as a marketing opportunity for my companies as well a way to support winemakers and wineries I genuinely like and respect.

Peter Mondavi Jr

Peter Mondavi Jr.

So I arrived at Charles Krug winery where I was greeted by Peter Mondavi Jr. himself. He was so unassuming that at first I thought he was another one of us “wine writers.” After we had all arrived and chosen our “Glamping” tent (which featured a full mattress, down comforter, leather chairs, and cow skin rug) we had a personal tour of the winery given by Mr. Mondavi and Krug’s winemaker, Stacy Clark. Based on the questions that the other wine writers asked during the tour, two things became apparent to me. First, most of these writers didn’t know much about wine or about Napa. One writer even asked Peter Mondavi Jr. how his dad was..which is shocking since Peter Mondavi Sr.’s passing made national headlines. Second, people asked questions to impress the other writers. Every question included a name drop or a reference to some free event they had attended or some article they had written. “I was in Italy last month for the International Food and Wine Ball…” I was thinking how I could include a question about the FREE parent teacher conference I attended but I didn’t think they would be impressed.

 

Tent interior at Camp KrugAfter the private tour of the Charles Krug winery we went to the Sauvignon Blanc vineyard where we drank S.B. in the very vineyard from which it is sourced. Winemaker Stacy Clark pointed out where the rootstock had been grafted. I pointed out that some of the baby grapes were in bloom. You would have thought that these wine experts didn’t know about grafting or what a wine grape in bloom looks like. Oh wait, they actually didn’t know about grafting or that grapes have flowers that bloom. Silly me, I would have thought that being a wine writer would mean you spent time in the vineyard since you kind of have to grow grapes in order to make wine.

Grape budNext was lunch. There was a beautiful table set on the lawn. Because it was a long table they had to use 2 tablecloths. In order to make it seamless there was the famous “fold.” Oh how I know that fold well. When I worked hospitality for Sutter Home the fold was a matter of pride for a lot of women who worked events. I remember doing the famous fold only to have one of my co-workers redo it saying, “I hope you don’t mind but I like my fold done like this…” Um..Okay. Whatever makes you happy. Folds in tablecloths don’t mean a lot to me but they mean a lot to many people who do events and it’s that attention to detail that makes the event elegant, beautiful, and successful.

Besides the fold I immediately noticed the flower arrangements. One was a long rectangular shaped box holding bright and happy sunflowers with tomatoes. The other was square box holding artichokes, rosemary, and some other greenery. They even used the artichoke plant leaves, which I thought was quite creative. I noticed the catering gal fussing with each arrangement. Watching her fuss over these arrangements brought me back to my event days. I remember Susan Smith telling me, “Go and pluck off every wilted or discolored flower petal. This is like Disneyland. Everything has to be perfect.”

Artichoke arrangementAs I ate my lunch, loving being served instead of doing the serving, and just enjoying the food, wine, flowers, and tablecloth that were set for me I was filled with gratitude. I had worked these events for so long but never had I had the chance to be the beneficiary of all the details and planning such an event required. I also knew that the perfection and seamlessness of this meal was not meant to impress me or anyone else. This was a result of what I call “old school Napa hospitality” where everything is done hoping that it makes the guests happy. The fold in the table is there so that the two tables put together seems like one big table so that everyone feels they are part of one cohesive unit rather than feeling separated. Everything is done so that the guest doesn’t have to worry, want, or really do anything for themselves. This is why I love hospitality and why I’ve been involved with it for 20 years.

We ended the night with S’Mores around the campfire. Hershey’s and Honey Maid were not invited. Instead they had handmade marshmallows and cookies and Wood House chocolate bars. Wood House is a high end chocolatier in St. Helena. It’s not inexpensive and it shows CK’s commitment to supporting local businesses and products as well as making sure their guests had the very best.

One of the writers came up to me and told me that she wanted to get to know me because I actually know my “shit.” I told her it’s because I’m actually not a wine writer. I actually work in and own businesses connected to the wine industry. She too had been in the wine industry for many years before she started writing about wine. None of the other wine writers had a background in wine. To be honest I left feeling a little confused. Why do wineries create these experiences for people who don’t know anything about wine, hospitality, or even basic wine history (One of the writers literally asked when Robert Mondavi and Charles Krug met and how they were involved with the tasting of Paris)? Perhaps even more perplexing is why do publications want wine writers who don’t know anything about wine? Unless the blog or articles are supposed to be about someone just discovering wine, shouldn’t the wine writers be wine professionals? Do you really want someone writing about Charles Krug meeting Robert Mondavi and collaborating for the Tasting of Paris? Seems risky for the publication if you ask me. There are plenty of people in the wine industry who write quite well, better than me in fact. I read their stuff all the time. They are funny, entertaining, and honestly, they know their “Shit.”

I really think a better marketing tactic might be to roll out the red carpet for people who are directly involved with consumers or to the paying consumer themselves. Find someone who will appreciate the attention to detail, the winery’s place in history, and feel gratitude for all they are about to experience and be gifted. If you are going to fly people to Italy and Paris for a food and wine experience, find someone who is super excited and giddy to do so, not someone who feels that they are owed such extravagant trips because they have a Twitter account and an Instagram. That’s my take on it anyways.

Krug CollageIn the meantime, we’ll try to find a place where Charles Krug and its history and tasting experiences fit into Small Lot Wine Tours. It may not be as important as me sending out a couple of tweets and posting a couple of pictures on Instagram, but it’s the least I can do.

 

Being Broke Vs. Being Cheap

Wine tasting in Napa Valley CA

Wine tasting

Early last year I received a tour request from a gal in Sacramento. She explained that her and a bunch of girls were coming to Napa to celebrate a 30th birthday and would I please provide them with some hotel suggestions. I gave them the standard list of the Andaz, Westin, Hilton Garden Inn, Marriott, and Best Western Ivy. She wrote back and said they were looking for cheap hotels but never mind, they found one. The next email asked what the tasting fees were like and they would like to splurge on one place. I wrote back and told them the average is about $25 per person for walk in tasting rooms and some great “splurges” would be Inglenook, Del Dotto, and Schramsberg and then I provided a price. Her response was, “WOW! I didn’t know it would be so expensive, are there any places with free tastings?” Feeling snarky and irritated I replied, “Sure, Sutter Home” to which her response was, “We Love Sutter Home!!”

Feeling humbled by her response and ashamed of my snotty attitude I planned their budget conscious day: Artesa, where I had 2 for 1 coupons, Heitz (Free tastings) and Sutter Home. They made their own lunch and would eat in the car.

I picked up the girls at the hotel and we commenced our day. They had told me they planned to have me for 6 hours. As the day progressed and the wine loosened their lips I began to learn their stories. One was going through a devastating divorce. She was unemployed and had moved back in with her dad. The other had a husband deployed in the military and she was caring for their 3 kids. It became very evident that each penny spent on this trip was a huge sacrifice.

At the end of the day, I was handed an envelope with cash. On the outside of the envelope were handwritten notes about the anticipated expenses of the day and what each gal owed. There was a check mark by each girl’s name; I’m assuming the check mark happened as each girl paid. I could see my total for the driver, $250 for 6 hours. I counted the money and that’s exactly what I received, $250 for 6 hours. No tip.

Anyone who knows me knows that cheap people are my pet peeve. I can’t stand people who don’t care how insulting they are to me as long as they get a deal. People who try to constantly “get over” are people who are promptly placed in my “Customers I Don’t Want Back” file. I can’t stand the couple who wears their designer this and designer that and talks about their trip to Tuscany, Paris, and Timbuktu, but can’t buy one stinking bottle from a winemaker who took 1.5 hours out of his/her day to give them that one on one experience they begged for. Or the person who when I tell them my total at the end of the day which reflects the price and agreement made prior, tries to get me to give them a discount just because. Or the referral who had no problem paying for expensive tastings at Nickel and Nickel and Opus, but at the end of the tour threatened to tell the people who gave the referral that we were terrible unless we gave them a discount. Those people I can’t stand and I don’t want as customers.

Kids, Ft. Meyers, FL, 1999

Ft. Meyers, FL, 1999

But these girls? Not a problem. They weren’t being cheap, they were being broke. And as someone who spent a lot of years as a single mom and has a couple of divorces under her belt, I can completely understand. I know what it’s like to try to go on a little vacation and have to sweat over every penny spent from the coffee in the morning to the gas I have to put in my car to get home.   As a matter of fact, I remember a private boat I hired in Florida about 17 years ago to go look at dolphins. I totally didn’t even think to tip the guy. I had scrimped and saved just to pay for the charter. I had to work extra hours to have enough money to pay for the dolphin fish (Mahi Mahi) sandwiches on Cabbage Key. The kids weren’t allowed to order any drinks or desserts because that would break the budget. My stress at trying to give my kids a great vacation totally made me forget to give a gratuity to a boat captain that gave us an unforgettable experience.

We of course want and depend on tips. But when one is not given, or is rather low, it’s not the action that matters to me, it’s the attitude behind it. We have great compassion on people who are on a budget but still want to experience Napa. And guess what? We want you to experience Napa too. Napa will never be cheap, but we will certainly help you find the places that will be easiest on your wallet. What we don’t want is to for our time and expertise to be disrespected just so someone can save a dollar.

Grand Opening

Selfie of wine tour clientsWelcome to the New Small Lot Wine Tours website. This is our very first blog. When you think about it, this blog is sort of like our grand opening. This is our party. As someone who has planned a party or two in my lifetime I like themes. So for the past month or so I’ve been racking my brain to find a theme that is worthy of being the GRAND OPENING for Small Lot Wine Tours. I thought about talking about wine tasting faux pas, or funny winemakers, or maybe just some of the crazy stuff that hospitality staff does and says to our guests. As I thought about each of these subjects and my experiences over the last five years of business I kept coming back to one subject, YOU. That’s right, all of you who visit our website, book tours, write reviews (even the bad one), are what have shaped and made Small Lot Wine Tours. YOU are what has enabled us to earn enough money to pay for our new website. Without YOU there is no Small Lot Wine Tours.

I am often asked about our craziest guests. Truthfully, most our guests are really cool and nice people. Many of you come back year after year. Many of you text me every now and then to talk about wine or to check in with me after the earthquake or to find out how the kids are. Over the past 5 years we’ve shared momentous occasions with our guests: proposals, anniversaries, engagements, honeymoons, job promotions, college graduation, and getting away from the kids. We’ve laughed and cried with our guests. We’ve shared many stories: happy, painful, political, musical, philosophical, funny and serious. During our day of sharing the small space that is the inside of a car we had the honor of learning about your kids, parents, pets, hometown, dreams, hopes, job, and of course, wine experience. In turn you’ve listened to our stories about parents, kids, hopes, dreams, job, dog, and our love of wine. More often than not by the end of the day we feel our relationship with our guests is that of friends more than business. As I’ve gone over my notes, pictures, and calendar from the past 5 years my heart is filled with great memories, love and gratitude.

The past 5 years have been an awesome ride. What a blessing it is that our job is to share our home with all of you. Each time we take guests on a tour or drive them to their favorite wineries, we are reminded of the beauty and wonder that is Napa and Sonoma. We don’t take it for granted. How fun is it that we get to convert beer drinkers to wine drinkers, white wine drinkers to red wine drinkers, and cheap wine drinkers to quality wine drinkers? What an honor it is to introduce you to the winemakers, winery owners, and entertaining and funny hospitality professionals that make up the fabric of this wonderful industry. But most of all, it’s awesome that your vacation is our job which sort of makes our job a vacation.

We look forward to the next 5 years. With this launch of our new website we plan on tweaking a few things so we can serve you better. We hope to see you all out here again and thank you for being a part of the Small Lot Wine Tours story.

 

The entire day was more than I could have asked for

Small Lot Wine Tours continues to be a fantastic asset to the Napa Valley! On a recent trip out to Napa, I called up Becky who hooked me up with another AMAZING tour of the Coombsville appellation region of the valley – a newer appellation that I had absolutely no experience and knew nothing about! No worries though, because the wines we tried were excellent! A little bit of background info – we are into the bigger, bold cabs – and it was super cool to be able to be shown wines that blew our expectations out of the water from a region neither of us had heard of!

Our driver, Brad was also the bomb diggity and showed us a great time!!! I would try and request him if you are looking to have a killer time and to learn some interesting side facts about the part of the valley you are visiting!

If you are looking to be shown some awesome hidden gems within the Napa area, I would tell you to waste no time in calling Becky and scheduling a tour with her super cool company, Small Lot Wine Tours!!! If you read my older review, know that her company has only gotten more awesome and really provides an excellent value and experience! Thanks again for showing us a fantastic time! Most definitely until next time!

— Tyler S., Denver, Co.

My wish was for a fun filled Christmas Eve birthday…

I contacted Becky because I was familiar with her vast knowledge with boutique wineries and quality wine. I trusted her judegement when it came to arranging a mystery tour. My guests and I all live in the Napa Valley we are familiar with many wineries and I’m a past employee of RMW.

We had a very delightful day. Our first stop was to Clif in St. Helena. They have yummy wines and food pairngs in the form of gourmet nuts and dried fruits. This was great fun. Our host was absolutely adorable and a delight.

Then we went to PB Hein Vineyards up n the St. Helena hills. We so enjoyed the hospitality of his family, wine and truffles. It was Christmas eve and he makes the most deicious gourmet truffles for his family and friends. We were all in wine and truffle heaven. He adores Becky and even asked her to return to celebrate Christmas at his home with his family.

Becky has a genuine hospitality nature. She surprised me by her choices. I’d definately hire her to take us on further tours.

— Tracy T., Napa, Ca.