Five great pairings of Napa Valley golf and Napa Valley wine

If you’re a golfer, why not combine two pleasures, Napa Valley wine and Napa Valley golf? Here are five ideas from our travels for perfect pairings.

Image of Napa Valley wine and golf courseYou are in the wine country of Northern California to enjoy the scenery, sample and buy world-class wines and even learn a thing or two about winemaking.  Of course, you want to play some golf.

We’ve organized these five Napa Valley golf course and winery visits to complement each other in terms of style, location, price and even sense of history. Consider each one a day outing, or combine them all in a magical week.

Silverado Resort and Jarvis Estate (Napa)

Image of Silverado Golf Resort

Photo by Keith Rosenthal

You came here for some flash and you’re not going to be disappointed on this spectacular golf and wine day.

First hit the links early at Silverado and prepare for battle on the tight but fair layout. In Troon management-style, plenty of attendants will greet you and help you about the place, where you have to be a member or resort guest to play either course.

The North Course, home of the Safeway Open PGA tournament, is a true parkland course that winds between the oak trees, with perfectly manicured tee boxes, fairways and greens and some rolling contours. Co-owner Johnny Miller’s 2011 remodel added bunkering, and once in them, those forward tees start to feel a lot longer than their 5,200 yards.

Have a drink either on the tasteful patio or in the dramatic bar and then head up Highway 121 through 4 miles of winding, hilly roads until you get to the Shangri-La of wineries, Jarvis Estate. You’ll have to make an appointment and pay $80 a person but there’s plenty of wow factor as you walk past the water gardens to the entrance of the cave complex that is home to Jarvis.

Winemaker Alex Castillo was our charming guide through the 45,000-sq-ft cave complex, replete with its own waterfall to ensure the right humidity for aging, and Cuvee Gallery, a collection of one dozen massive oak vessels assembled in the cave by French coopers. The small bottling area includes space for hand-waxing bottles from crock pots full of red wax. Finally you reach the tasting room, where six glasses await each guest, and the fun begins.

We learned about the big and buttery Finch Hollow Chardonnay 2013 ($115); Cabernet Franc 2011 ($95); 2012 Merlot ($95), my personal favorite Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2010 ($140), and more. There’s an element of fun involved if you still haven’t finished all your tastings: Just pour them into one glass and make your own blend, albeit a rare one.

–Keith DuBay

Aetna Springs Golf Course and Pope Valley Winery (Aetna Springs)

Image of Napa Valley golf, Aetna SpringsThis day will contrast with your splashy, expensive resort experiences. You’ll meet a lot of nice, down-to-earth people who really want you to relax and enjoy yourself.

There’s no flash at Aetna Springs as you drive through bucolic Pope Valley and up to the clubhouse and little nine-hole golf course. Forget the circular bag drop and uniformed attendant with a name badge. There’s a small parking lot where they leave some carts for guests. Grab one and drive it up to the large, new clubhouse. You’ll encounter the friendly face and manner of Steve or Joel. Given the current vibe of the place, its opulence – it has the only elevator around and small but luxurious locker rooms and main rooms – is incongruent because the owners had planned an upscale private club with a new 18-hole course and estates. That’s on hold and so deal-hunters can find golf with cart going for as low as $30.

The course on the historic property – non-native folks have trekked up here from San Francisco for the healing hot springs since the 1800s – was built in 1893 and reworked by Tom Doak in 2007. The layout plays jumbled and confused as several holes share fairways or cross each other but overall is good in terms of condition, shot values and quality tiered greens. Short hitters have a choice: 2,041 from the greens, 2,369 from the reds.

After your quiet, fun round at secluded Aetna Springs, drive a few miles down the road to equally laid-back Pope Valley Winery. That’s ten bucks for some decent pours of subtle yet interesting wine built by winemaker David Eakle, and you get your money back if you buy a bottle of wine.

There’s nothing harsh or brash about Pope Valley or its wines. You won’t see fancy paintings or statues or million-dollar tasting rooms with a team of 50 wait staffers. The head greeter is Gus the lumbering Labrador. They do tours and offer packages, but we skipped those and concentrated on the wine. We bought a bottle ($20) of the butterscotchy 2014 Chenin Blanc and enjoyed the tasty Sangioveses, Cabs and Merlots.

–Keith DuBay

EDITOR’S NOTE: Alas, as of January 2018, Aetna Springs no longer was operating at a golf course. Word was that the property may eventually be developed for housing.

Eagle Vines Golf Club and Jamieson Ranch Vineyards (American Canyon)

Image of Eagle Vines, Napa Valley golf courseFor this golf course and vineyard pairing, we’re going group. Eagle Vines Golf Club and Jamieson Ranch Vineyards are just a couple miles apart, a competent, no-mistake choice for your corporate or gal-pal outing.

For swing oil purposes, start at Jamieson Ranch, known formerly as Riata. The relatively new indoor-outdoor tasting space is big enough for a large group. The wine is good, too, both white and reds.
Our favorites – no skimpy pours for your $20 and $35 tastings — were the 2012 JRV Single Vineyard Cabernet ($65), which reminded our hostess and wine educator, Kara Sweet, of her grandpa’s sweet tobacco pipe with a marvelous dusty finish, and the 2013 Estate Viognier ($40).

Enjoy the expansive bay views from the covered outdoor deck, which has portable heaters for winter. Go on Friday-Sunday noon-4 p.m. and pet the miniature therapy horses that mingle with guests in the tasting room. Really.

Now that everybody’s feeling good, it’s time for some golf at Eagle Vines, which winds between precious vineyards that sell for $300,000 an acre and up. General manager Mike Sterling told us Eagle books 350 groups per year.

Hopefully your gang is warmed up enough from the wine tasting, because the first hole is a par-5 bordered by ponds. The course is an amalgam of nine older holes and a newer front nine (with Johnny Miller’s stamp).

The course can play long from the back tees, but most will play either the member’s tees (6,670), whites (6,371) or reds, long for the average woman player at 5,587 yards. The most dramatic hole is the par-4 13, with a pinched fairway around a pond to an uphill green that has sloping tiers and is protected by bunkers left and right. The prettiest hole follows, the par-3 14th.

The vineyards play as a red hazard, but sneak a taste of the grapes if in season. Conditions of the tee boxes, fairways and greens are excellent, and the clubhouse is large, newer and adaptable for business groups.

Close to San Francisco and Oakland, this pairing adds up to a no-risk, high-pleasure group outing.

–Keith DuBay

Vintner’s Golf Club and Washington Street (Yountville)

Image of Vintner's 9, Napa Valley golfHere in the heart of Napa Valley, land holds more value for grapes than for golf. So there’s not an 18-hole championship course, and GottaGoGolf suggests there’s no need for one. A couple of hours at the Vintner’s Golf Club satisfies the golf jones and leaves time for other essential indulgences.

Don’t be fooled by the Vintner’s par of 34. Yardage choices range from 2,243 to 2,929, and water sneaks into play on five of the nine holes that wind up and down a gentle hillside below the Veterans Home. Vineyards surround the layout, and it’s impossible to forget that you’re in the middle of one of the wine capitals of the world.

Conditions are excellent and prices a bit high, at $25 for a weekday nine and $30 on the weekend, not including cart – but after 2 p.m. one can play unlimited golf for the same price.

PGA and Senior PGA Tour long hitter Bob Boldt redesigned the 1999 course in 2003 and remains on site to give lessons and go along on the wine-tour-and-golf package offered by the Vintner’s. The Lakeside Grill patio beckons for a leisurely, stomach-fortifying lunch.

Now, for the reason you’re playing only nine. Exchange the spikes for sneaks and embark on a “downtown” Yountville wine crawl.

Start at Priest-Ranch, where the decor is Western-chic decor, the vibe is cool, and comfy couches beckon. Now re-energize with the Wine Pairing ($45). Grenache Blanc pairs with Mt Tam Triple Cream, Syrah and aged Gouda while Coach Gun teams up with Vela Dry Jack. A wonderful finale of Petite Sirah coupled with Sea Salt Dark Chocolate completes the experience.

Mosey on down the street to Hill Family Estate, where Fender guitars, antique furniture and framed jerseys of professional sports athletes create an eclectic scene, and sip on the $20 bar tasting of whites, reds, blends and dessert selections.

End the day in style at the fashionable Hestan Vineyards Tasting Salon and Showroom just a few steps away. Stanley and Helen Cheng offer their winery’s limited production wines as well as Ruffoni Italian gourmet cookware from Stanley’s global company. Seating is limited but tasting at the upscale bar is a treat.

Nap time.

–Susan Fornoff and Cheryl Stotler

Chardonnay Golf Club and Cuvaison (Napa)

Image of Chardonnay, Napa Valley golf courseThe local rule you’ll want to know before you tee off at Chardonnay Golf Club: Vineyards are “environmentally sensitive areas,” to be played as lateral hazards by taking a drop on the course. In other words, golf doesn’t mix with grapes. Stay out of the vineyards to be successful at Chardonnay.

Originally a 36-hole public-private setup, Chardonnay now offers 18 holes on a semi-private plan, with members getting preferential rates and tee times. Practice facilities are exceptional, with a grass driving range, regularly scheduled schools, and spacious short game area.

Choose a friendly tee option among the five (shortest: 5,219), because the course features six par 5s. They are offset by six par 3s, but you won’t remember those when you are slogging through a 500-yard trek to a fast green with subtle breaks.

Do try to enjoy the views as you go. Miles of vineyards and a big skyline make for great wildlife and bird watching.

Once you’ve played Chardonnay, it seems logical to taste some. Fortunately, just a short chip shot from the course lies Carneros, the distinctive cool-climate appellation where the best Napa Valley and Sonoma Chardonnays are produced.

Where to play this 19th hole? For a leaderboard Chardonnay, head over to Cuvaison Estate Wines, across the road from Domaine Carneros up Duhig road.

A reservation is recommended to visit the small, modern tasting room with impressive architecture that features large glass doors with phenomenal views. Outdoor seated tastings are also offered on the hilltop patio surrounded by vineyards.

Cuvaison crafts three stunning Chardonnay wines: The 2012 Estate with pronounced stone fruit flavors is bright and refreshing and overdelivers at $25 a bottle. Elegant yet ample-bodied, the 2013 Kite Tail Chardonnay ($44) exemplifies the exceptional vintage and the 2013 ATS ($56) is complex and rich with a long, remarkable finish.

The Flight of Four wines is $20, or nosh on a trio of Estate Series wines expertly paired with artisanal cheeses for $35. Plan to linger awhile with the friendly staff and comfortable, relaxing surroundings.
Or, especially if you have a hole-in-one to celebrate with bubbly, add a stop at Domaine Carneros.

–Susan Fornoff and Cheryl Stotler

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