Napa Valley Earthquake Update

As you have no doubt heard that this past Sunday, in the wee hours of the morning, Napa and the whole wine country underwent the rough & tumble experience of a 6.0 magnitude earthquake. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for everyone, it will certainly make a great story for our grandchildren!

We are touched and very grateful that so many guests, partners and friends have reached out with concern about our employees and our business. We are happy to report that all of the Platypus family is safe and our operation was not significantly affected by any earthquake damage.

While we were very lucky, the cleanup for some of our partners may take a bit longer. We support them in their efforts to get back in the business of caring for the Valley visitors.

The media coverage has been significant and the question continues to be raised: ”Will Napa Valley ever be able to recover from this?” Of course we will, and we assure you that we and the vast majority of this region are OPEN FOR BUSINESS!

We offered limited tours last Sunday. By Monday we were back at 100% with all tours running in Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and Northern Sonoma. We’re excited for a busy Labor Day holiday weekend and can’t wait to share all of our stories with you. It’s a beautiful time to be here and predictions are that we’re going to have an amazing wine harvest!

Thank you again for your thoughtfulness! We urge you to continue with any plans you may have to visit. If you didn’t have plans… well now is a great time to start looking for that hotel promotion!

If you have any questions regarding a tour, please feel free to reach out to us at 707-253-2723 or email us at


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BottleRock Napa Valley Festival Starts Today

BottleRock Napa Valley is back! Come to Napa May 30 – June 1 for the second annual live music, food, wine, and beer festival featuring over 60 bands on four stages. This year’s three-day festival starts today and includes some of the most well-known artists in alternative rock, pop, hip hop, and country music including: The Cure, Heart, Barenaked Ladies, Third Eye blind, LL Cool J, Weezer, and Outkast. And, of course, some of Napa’s best food offerings, dozens of top wineries and plenty of beer on tap.

Single Day Tickets, VIP and Platinum Passes are still available from the BottleRock Napa Valley website.


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The Ins and Outs of Wine Glasses

Have you ever noticed during your wine travels that different wine glasses are used for different types of wines? Have you ever asked yourself why this is done? There are many reasons why and I’m going to explain them to you now.

Diagram of the different parts of the standard wine glass

Diagram of the different parts of the standard wine glass

There are many types of wine glasses and they each have a slightly different shape depending upon the varietal of wine poured into them. All wine glasses are shaped in a way that will help direct the wine to the part of your mouth where its flavor and aroma will be most appreciated and enjoyed by the taster.

The bowl of the wine glass is designed to be tapered upward with a slightly narrower opening at the top than the bottom. The reason for this is that the shape helps to capture and distribute the wine’s aroma toward your mouth and nose.

There are three things a person will do when tasting a wine. First, they look at the wine for its color and opacity. Next they smell the wine because our sense of smell is critical in properly analyzing the glass of wine. And finally, you taste the wine. Was it sweet, sour or bitter? How was the wine’s acidity? Was it well balanced?

Examples of the different shapes of wine glasses and the kinds of wine they should hold

Examples of the different shapes of wine glasses and the kinds of wine they should hold

Our focus here is on how the shape of the glass helps the taster to enjoy the “nose” of the wine (aka: the smell) and its taste. The nose of the wine gives a good impression of your wine’s aroma. As you place your nose down into the glass and inhale through your nose it provides certain impressions of the wine such as: do you smell oak, berries, flowers, vanilla or citrus? Furthermore, the wine’s nose is an excellent indicator of its quality and other unique characteristics.

As with most wine glasses, the bowl must be large enough to swirl your wine because swirling your wine really does serve a very important purpose: it opens it up to more air allowing its aromas to be released.

A red wine glass bowl will be fuller and rounder with a larger opening to allow you to dip your nose into the glass to partake of its aroma. The flavors of red wine demand a glass with a larger surface area so the wine comes into contact with as much air as possible for the sake of allowing the tannin molecules to attach to one another thus mellowing the wine.

Bordeaux wine glass

Bordeaux wine glass

For red wines, you may want both a Burgundy and a Bordeaux glass. A Bordeaux glass is taller, yet the bowl is not quite as large. It’s designed for full bodied, heavier red wines such as Cabernets and Merlots. The height of the glass allows the wine to proceed directly to the back of the mouth to maximize its flavor.

Burgundy wine glass

Burgundy wine glass

A Burgundy glass is for lighter, full bodied wines such as Pinot Noir which is my personal favorite. It’s not as tall, but the bowl is larger than that of a Bordeaux glass and it directs the wine to the tip of the tongue allowing you to taste its more delicate flavors.

White wine glass

White wine glass

A white wine glass bowl will have a more “U” shaped design and will be more upright allowing the aromas to be released while also maintaining a cooler temperature. For white wine you may also want to use two types of wine glasses. One could be used for younger, crisp whites while the other can be used more for more mature, fuller whites. The wine glass for younger whites has a slightly larger opening directing the wine to the tip and sides of the tongue to taste its sweetness. The glass for more mature whites will be straighter and taller to dispense the wine to the back and sides of the tongue to taste its bolder flavors.

Sparkling wine glass

Sparkling wine glass

A sparkling wine glass, or “flute,” on the other hand will be upright and much narrower to retain the carbonation and capture more of the flavor.




Dessert wine glass

Dessert wine glass

And finally, a dessert wine glass should be smaller to direct the wine to the back of the mouth so the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm the palate. Dessert wines generally have a higher alcohol content and the smaller glass will be perfect for a smaller serving.

So, now you know why there are so many different types of wine glasses and the reasons behind them. The next time you are out tasting wine, impress your friends by explaining why you are enjoying a particular wine in that certain wine glass. Go forth and taste wine with knowledge!

Written by tour guide Chris Largent

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Bud Break 2014

Yes, the 2014 growing season has begun and the beginning of the season starts with bud break. It can be seen all over Napa and Sonoma right now. What is bud break? Well, the yearly annual growth cycle of the grape starts in the spring and this is called bud break.

Vines at the beginning of bud break

Vines at the beginning of bud break

Here in Northern California, bud break usually begins sometime in March. After last season’s harvest was completed, the vines still had leaves and they continued to soak up the sun’s rays, preparing for winter by storing nutrients in the vines’ root stock. Then when we have our first frost, the vines go into their dormant state and the leaves fall off. Last year’s vine growth is all that is left on the vines at this point.

In January and February “bleeding” of the vine occurs, in which the vines are pruned of last year’s growth. The root system of the vine contains a low concentration of organic acids, minerals, sugars and hormones. The soil begins to warm and osmotic pressure forces water up from the roots, where it is expelled, or “bled,” from cuts on the vine created during the pruning process.

You can see the tiny buds on these vines!

You can see the tiny buds on these vines!

This prompts the vines to instinctually start bud break and, at this point, tiny buds on the vine start to swell and eventually shoots begin to grow from these buds. The buds are the small part of the vine that rest between the vine’s stem and the leaf stem. Inside, each bud contains three shoots. Eventually the shoots sprout tiny leaves that begin the process of producing energy to accelerate growth. In warm climates, after about four weeks, the growth of the shoots starts to rapidly accelerate with the shoots growing an average of about four inches per week!

So, while you are on your next Platypus tour go out into a vineyard and see for yourself the tiny little buds that will be made into 2014’s wine.

Written by tour guide Chris Largent

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Are you ready to BottleRock?

BottleRock Napa Valley is back! Come to Napa May 30 – June 1 for outstanding live music, great food, wine, beer and good times. This year’s BottleRock 2014 festival will feature over 45 bands on four stages, including The Cure, Heart, Barenaked Ladies, Third Eye blind, LL Cool J, Weezer, and Outkast. And, of course, some of Napa’s best food offerings, dozens of top wineries and plenty of beer on tap.

Single Day Tickets and 3-Day Passes are on sale now from the BottleRock Napa Valley website.

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Vote for Platypus in the 2014 Bay Area A-List!

We’re delighted to announce we’ve been nominated again this year for CityVoter’s Bay Area A-List! According to their website, this contest features more than 7,000 local business competing to be named the best in their respective categories. The winner is determined by YOUR votes! When you have a couple minutes, please vote for us in the Best Wine Country Tour category and help us win the top spot this year!

Just sign up and vote here:

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From Napa Valley Register: “Tour company grows from dream to reality”

We recently got a nice write-up from local paper Napa Valley Register on the origins of our company in honor of our 10th anniversary. Check out the article here: Tour company grows from dream to reality. Text of the article below.

Platypus Wine Tours owner Don Rickard with wife, Kathy, and their companions (left to right) PJ, Roscoe and Gertie. Nicole Marino/BigShot in Wine Country photo

Platypus Wine Tours owner Don Rickard with wife, Kathy, and their companions (left to right) PJ, Roscoe and Gertie. Nicole Marino/BigShot in Wine Country photo

Platypus Wine Tours officially celebrated 10 years of service to the Napa and Sonoma valleys this past September, though owner Don Rickard said he had dreams about creating this touring company long before its launch.

Rickard’s inspiration to start Platypus came from a tour he took in Bruges, Belgium, in 1999. It was his first trip to Europe.

“It was magical,” recalled Rickard.

Though traveling alone, Rickard said he was surprised at how much fun he had. “I could do whatever struck me at the moment; people would strike up conversations with me all the time,” he said. “Since I was alone, I was approachable — travelers tend to be very social people.”

Which is how he heard about a little bus tour in Bruges called Quasimodo Tours.

Rickard admitted he wasn’t inclined to take a bus tour as this trip was supposed to be his great backpacking adventure. Nevertheless, several travelers Rickard met while on his travels emphatically recommended that tour. “I learned firsthand the persuasive power of a personal testimonial,” he said.

Reluctantly, Rickard purchased a ticket, took the tour and loved it. He said the entire experience was more than he could have asked for: a tour guide who not only owned his bus, but had back-door access to all of the places toured that day.

“He was more than just a guide, he was a true insider,” recalled Rickard.

Three years later, Rickard settled down in Napa Valley, and took on the position of general manager for a restaurant called Market in St. Helena. This job gave him the perfect opportunity to connect with guests who were visiting the area to taste wine. At the same time, Rickard was building treasured relationships with owners and employees of many local wineries, including top-notch winemakers, he said.

It was then that Rickard started thinking about that little tour in Bruges, and how well that venture might play out in the valley.

In September 2003, Rickard purchased a used bus on eBay. After procuring all of the necessary licensing and permits, he started driving. He said his primary focus was on taking folks to back-road wineries, where he believes guests will be privy to an experience like no other.

“Getting my tour business off the ground was tough at first, but I did my very best to knock the socks off of every person who was willing to tour with me,” Rickard said. “Eventually that elusive word-of-mouth referral network began to kick in, and our little tour business started to grow.”

Rickard admitted that the name “Platypus Wine Tours” might be a tad unusual for those who don’t know him. After all, his tours have no connection whatsoever to marsupials, Australia or anything remotely aquatic.

The answer might be surprising, but is rather quite simple. “First, I like that word. It’s short and sweet. It’s also informal and sort of playful, which are themes I have always sought to associate with my tours,” Rickard explained. “I didn’t want us to be confused with any other tour company.”

Today, Platypus conducts multiple tours each day in Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and the Russian River/Healdsburg area. The business runs like a well-oiled machine largely thanks to its culture, the business owner said.

“We are a family of tour guides and support staff who embrace the same philosophy: Find a way to live up to, and hopefully exceed, the expectations of every single tour guest, every single day,” Rickard said.

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