Steve Hunter: Platypus Tour Guide Shares Hidden Treasures of the Napa Valley

Posted on November 27, 2013
Guide: STEVE (3rd from left)
Guide: STEVE (3rd from left)

Each week I hope to share a “hidden treasure” from the Napa Valley with you.  The topics will include  wine discoveries that I have found intriguing.  The focus will be on small wineries in the lesser known locations.  I feel some of the best wine comes from the small producers, where tiny case production of maybe only 200 cases per year can allow the winemaker to have much higher standards (sometimes literally hand sorting every single grape!), as opposed to the mass production of the larger wineries.  It is easy to find out about the large Napa Valley wineries that advertise themselves heavily.  This blog will focus on the more obscure wineries that have great wine and amazing stories regarding the people involved in them.

To start this series, it might be helpful to share a little biography regarding the author.  I am employed as a wine tour guide in my fourth year with Platypus Wine Tours, located in Napa, California.  Before this wine tour employment, I had a background of over 30 years in the real estate profession,  selling new homes for large regional and national home builders.  I have lived in the wine country of both Napa and Sonoma for over 30 years.

I had a very productive career in the new home sales field, and thought I would retire with that as my only profession.  However, the recession (depression?) absolutely devastated the new home building in Northern California.  I observed a steady progression of personnel layoffs  and bankruptcies of home builders take place all around me.  I was not having any fun, and the future for home building looked bleak.  I knew a major change was necessary, so I became a Platypus Wine Tour Guide.

While living in the Napa/Sonoma wine country for all those years, my wife and I had all our relatives living on the East Coast, in Central Florida.  The various relatives from Florida would visit us once a year or so, and I would really go all out to show them a grand time here.  When they arrived here, I took them all over the wine country, SF, Tahoe, Yosemite, Carmel, and many other places to share the amazing beauty, wonderful food and wine of Northern California with them.   Many times after my tours with my relatives in this region, my relatives would remark “Steve, you should be a tour guide!”   I just chuckled when they would say that, but I think some of those comments must have resonated with me.  I had enjoyed discovering great wine, food and travel for many years, while living in the wine country all that time.  You are simply immersed in the topics of wine and food every day while living here.  Our local little newspaper, The Napa Register, discusses the topics of wine and food as by far the biggest portion of the paper every single day.  All around Napa are wine and food events, which take place constantly.

I asked myself what my interests were for the last working chapter of my life, and the answers were easy:  wine, food, and travel.  I was thrilled to discover the job opportunity with Platypus Tours, and there were many appealing attributes associated with this company.  Platypus is small, local and family owned by a delightful couple, Don and Kathy Rickard.  The company focus is on what they call “join-in” tours, where typically 6 to 14 people are picked up from their various hotels in the morning, and these guests are from all over the world, not knowing each other in advance.  The idea is to tour four small Napa or Sonoma wineries each day, with lunch and snacks included, for a bargain price of only $99 per person.  The tour guide makes appointments anywhere he desires to take the group each day.  I loved the empowerment the company gave to the tour guides to select each winery location….(that meant I was forced to use my days off to taste wine and discover new wineries in the name of “research!”)  The company encouraged each tour guide to become experts on the wine and history of the wine country, and share it with the guests on the tours each day.   Here was my chance to share my love and knowledge of wine, food and travel with interesting people every day, and my “office” would be a stunning outdoor vista of vineyards and natural beauty.

Now you know a little about my background, and the real fun can begin each week, where I share with you hidden treasures from the Napa Valley!


Steve Hunter – Platypus Tour Guide

Next week:  St. Clair Brown Winery!