When conjuring up ideas for your next weekend warrior escapade, chances are that the Napa Valley isn’t one of the first places on your list. But with breathtaking hill country scenery, California sunshine, and a scattering of campgrounds, there seems to be opportunity for your average dirtbag in wine country.
But is the live-out-of-a-rental-car-and-comb-my-hair-with-a-tree-branch crowd really welcome here? Taylor and I were presented with the opportunity to explore, so we set off to find out.
Granted, I don’t know a thing about wine. I had never been to Napa Valley before and our trip was as last second as it gets. Not knowing what to expect, I packed my only button-down hiking shirt. That should be dressy enough.
We landed in Sacramento late Friday night and headed for the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. By midnight, by the glow of headlamp, we were zipping our grimy, airplane funky selves into our tent and sleeping bags and drifting off to the sound of a nearby river. So far, so good.
The sunrise woke us up in the morning and we caught our first daylight glimpse of the Napa Valley. Our campsite was incredibly clean and incredibly cozy. We were off to a good start.
It seemed only right that we spend our first day pretending to be winos, when we were at our least grimy (I really need to wash that sleeping bag). So with open minds and empty stomachs, we scrolled Yelp until we found a place that seemed to agree with our style. Boonfly Cafe was sure to satiate our bloody mary, eggs benedict, and artisan donut needs.
Upon arriving at the Boonfly, I immediately felt underdressed in my hiking ensemble. Taylor still had his long hair at the time, and our sleeping bag heads (much worse than bedhead) were promptly seated at the bar, away from the fancy-dressed Napa goers. That was cool with us! And the meal was perfect.
During brunch, Taylor and I discussed which wineries would need our tasting and immediately put Domaine Carneros at the top of the list. A mansion on the hill, literally, surrounded by even more hills of wine country. We didn’t know what we were doing. But here, the entrance was grand and the wine would surely be, the grapiest?
We parked and walked up the long stairway on a beautiful, bluebird day. Oddly, there were very few people sitting on the front porch, which was covered in unfilled tables and chairs. We visited the hostess desk and asked about the walk-up tastings, something mentioned popularly on Yelp. If we felt underdressed at the Boonfly, here, we might as well have been homeless. The hostess looked both of us over, from the mud splattered trail shoes (okay, so I didn’t pack heels) to the dreads that were beginning to roll together on my head thanks to the wind.
“I’m sorry, but we are booked solid for the day…”
“No, no,” I intended to clarify, “we just wanted to see a menu and do a walk-up tasting. No tours or anything.”
“No, I’m sorry. We are full today. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” We took a sideways glance again at the nearly empty balcony of tables and chairs. Domaine Carneros…definitely not Dirtbag Friendly.
Pride wounded and feeling a bit like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman trying to shop for new clothes, we left the premises of Domaine Carneros. We were sober and feeling a bit in over our heads. The rest of our midmorning was spent wandering around other midvalley wineries with moderate success, with only a few glances at our attire.
It wasn’t until we started getting hungry again that our trip took an epic, excellent turn.
“Oh my gosh…babe!” I exclaimed between sips of a buttery, white wine that I’ll never remember the name of, “Did you know that the Clif family had a winery?”
“Uhm, wow. Hmm, no I did not.” he responded, trying and failing to not sound too excited.
The Clif Family! The homegrown, “born on a bike” adventure seeking family who fueled nearly all of our weekend warrior escapades with their famous Clif Bars. Taylor’s response almost begged the question we’d been resisting to ask all day, “Do you think they’ll have beer..?”
And so, off we went, into what we soon would describe as the Dirtbag Mecca of Napa Valley. There she was, at 709 Main Street – Clif Family’s Velo Vino. It was everything I never expected from a Napa Valley winery and so much more. Bikes, food trucks, sample clif bars, friendly staff with awesome stories and quads of steel.
They spoke to us about wine in the only language we knew, beer. And while there was no beer on the premises (because I mean, c’mon) suddenly everything was a million times for fun. Suddenly, this wine tasted really freakin’ good! Suddenly, I really wished we had brought our bike shorts. We spent the rest of our evening here, eating bruschetta from the food truck, sipping wine that we understood and soaking in the sun on the garden patio.
When the sky began to darken, we thanked our Clif hosts and chased the sun west towards the coast. On the way, we stopped at the nearest grocery to wash the day’s experience down with beer.
Dirtbags, while sometimes observed with great perplexity, had a place in this fancy wino world.
We marked our Saturday as a success and with much relief, began planning our hiking routes for tomorrow. We found ourselves camp by the coast, pitched a tent and toasted the California sunset.