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Platypus Wine Tours: Far More Than a Designated Driver

It looks like we had a terrible time, doesn't it? Ha!

There are so many different ways to see Napa–private tours, bus tours, self-driving tours, bike tours–that I had a hard time deciding which method to use.  As a frequent solo traveler, the idea of a private tour didn’t really appeal to me, and as a responsible citizen, the idea of driving myself from wine tasting to wine tasting didn’t seem like a very good option either, if you catch my drift.  So, by process of elimination, I decided to go with a small group tour.  If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I was really looking at it as transportation more than anything.  Well, let me tell you–Platypus Tours was far more than a means of transportation.  

The view from our tasting table at Arger-Martucci. This is the life!

I’m going to get right to the point–I had an amazing day touring Napa with Platypus Tours.  It was the most fun, relaxing day I’ve had in recent memory.  Given that I’ve spent the past year making it my job to relax and have fun, that’s a pretty bold statement.  This is one instance where a company’s website lives up to its promises.  I chose Platypus because it billed itself as ‘the fun tour’ and I have to say–I had a hell of a lot of fun.

The tour bus arrived at our hotel–the Napa Valley Marriott–promptly at the time stated in the email confirmation.  I walked out and there it was, pulling up.  As it turned out, there were enough people signed up for the tour from this one hotel alone that they didn’t have to make any other stops–all eight of us were staying at the Marriott.

Which brings me to the ‘all eight of us’ part.  We were an odd combination of six youngish men and the two of us–two slightly-less-young women (the guys were in their 20s, ok?)  I was surprised by how small the group was; it was, of course, a pleasant surprise.  Our small number allowed for several things to happen.  One, we were all able to get to know each other, which most definitely led to the fun that was to come (though I’m sure the wine didn’t hurt either!)  And two, Bryan–our guide–was able to make the tour super-customized to our specific wants and tastes.  How customized was it?  Brian chose one of our stops–Prater Portworks–because one of the guys on the tour had the same last name as the family that makes Prager Port (oddly, that name is not Prager) and because port is, well, manly.  Finally, our experiences at each winery were very personal–we had time to ask questions one-on-one and really spend time talking to the owners of each facility.

The rustic charm of Prager Portworks.

We visited four wineries–Domanari, Arger-Martucci, Prater Portworks, and Domaine Chandon.  Each was amazing in its own way.  The Domanari tasting was bountiful and featured the most amazing thing I’ve ever tasted–a $120 bottle of port that I truly regret not purchasing.  The tasting at Arger-Martucci was given under a latticework awning on a poolside patio (on a beautiful sunny day in Napa–come one, it really doesn’t get better than that), and the Cabernet we tasted (and I purchased) was possibly the best thing I’d ever smelled in my life.  It made it all the way back to Pennsylvania with me, and I’m hoarding it like a dragon hoards jewels.  Prager was unique and funky, and a nice change of pace from all the wine we’d been drinking–plus I was super excited about trying more port after that better-than-sex port at Domanari.  And at our last stop at Domaine Chandon–chosen with a coin toss in the bus on the way there–we decided to forgo a tasting flight entirely and just chipped in $8 per person and purchased three bottles of sparkling wine to share, which we enjoyed at a picnic table on the lovely, sprawling grounds.  For the record, that was a really good idea–and a really great deal.

The entrance to Domaine Chandon. Yes the photo is crooked. It was the last stop of the day...

Of course, when you go on a Platypus tour, you might not visit any of these places.  That’s the great part–the thinking (and the driving and the packing of lunch) is done for you but with a bit of your input and your interests in mind.  And, as is evidenced by the last-stop-coin toss, the itinerary is subject to change at any time based on your whims and desires.

Sort-of-Budget Tip:  Buy the wine at the vineyards.  Yes, I realize this doesn’t sound like a budget tip, but you should note that most tastings are $10-$15, and those fees are typically waived if you purchase a bottle.  In this way, a $35 bottle of wine will only actually cost you $20 in additional money.  See how I justify purchasing wine?  And the justification just gets easier with each sip…  

I enjoyed this tour with my friend Nia who lives in San Francisco; it was not her first (or even fifth) time to the Napa area.  But it was her first organized tour, and the thing that stood out to her was how different it was from touring on your own.  When you just show up, she said, it’s a quick affair–you are poured a few tastings at an often-busy bar-type tasting table, and then you move on.  With Platypus Tours, the people expected us and set up a special tasting for the group, which more often than not included some history of the vineyard, the land, the family that owned it, and a tour of parts of the facility that we ordinarily wouldn’t have seen, like the barrel room at Dominari, where we got to taste directly from the barrels.

Have I mentioned that it was a great day?  Because it really, truly was.  I am confident that I made a good choice spending half of a short, two-day visit to Napa on a Platypus tour.

Disclaimer:  Platypus Wine Tours provided a complimentary tour in exchange for blog coverage of the experience.  Of course, all opinions are, as always, my own.  Trust me–we had a great time.  Check out my personal Facebook page for lots of mobile uploaded photos of how much fun we were having (and while you’re there, remember to ‘like’ The Suitcase Scholar!)  Additionally, I’d like to start thanking San Francisco Travel for helping put me in touch with Platypus–among many other organizations.  Thank you, San Francisco Travel!

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