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The Napa Valley wineries with the best views.
When you're planning a trip out to Napa Valley, there are more than a handful of wineries to choose from — in fact, there are about 400 wineries with tasting rooms to choose from. There's plenty to consider when planning your winery visits: how many wines to taste, the tours, the food. But while we plan out which wineries to visit in Napa Valley, there's one factor that's often forgotten but shouldn't be ignored: the view.
Click here for the Napa Valley's Best Wineries with a View Slideshow
After all, what's a day in wine country without gorgeous, panoramic views of vineyards, rolling hills, and blue skies? What makes Napa Valley (and its wines) so special is that often the wineries and vineyards are located at an elevation, giving you the most drool-worthy scenes of wine country you can find in the country.
We've handpicked some of our favorite Napa Valley wineries that aren't just recognized for their wines (though that certainly helps). As with Sterling Vineyard's aerial tram to get to the vineyard, or Chappellet Winery's views of Hennessy Lake, these wineries offer the ambiance that every wine-tasting experience should have. Click ahead to find our picks for Napa's best views to take in with a glass of wine in hand — and start daydreaming of that next wine getaway, stat.
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Sonoma Winery Recipes
St Francis Vineyards and Winery
The St. Francis Vineyards and Winery are in the Sonoma Valley, at the northern end of Highway 12. The winery has an executive chef and has a wonderful array of recipes and wines to match. Here are some favorites.
Jordan Winery is in the Alexander Valley on Highway 128, a few miles from Healdsburg. Jordan is most famous for its Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Chardonnay is exquisite as well. Jordan also has a chef and these are a few of their great recipes.
Merry Edwards Winery and Vineyards
Merry Edwards Winery is in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the main grapes of this AVA. Merry Edwards is one of the great winemakers of our time. Last year, Merry Edwards sold her winery to the Roederer Family of Champagne fame.
Rodney Strong Vineyards
We started visiting the Rodney Strong winery way back in the early 1970’s. There were not that many wineries in the Russian River Valley in that era. The winery produces an extensive amount of wines. The Rodney Strong wines found in supermarket shelves are always a good wine buy. Check out these recipes from Rodney Strong.
Kendall Jackson is one of the most recognizable labels at supermarkets and wine shops. The main winery is in Santa Rosa on Fulton Road. The tasting room is lush and the gardens amazing. Kendall Jackson owns several other wineries in California. Here are a few top Kendall Jackson culinary delights.
Ferrari Carano Vineyards
The Ferrari Carano winery is one of Dry Creek Valley’s most notable destinations. Tourists love the tasting room and the fabulous gardens. It really is a special place. One of the most popular wines by Ferrari Carano is the Fumé Blanc. It is one of the biggest sellers in fine supermarkets and shops. Here is a sample of recipes from owner Rhonda’s Kitchen.
Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery
Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery are on Westside Road, a five-minute drive from downtown Healdsburg. The winery is in Dry Creek Valley, but a short distance to the west is the Russian River Valley. Mill Creek is a cute little winery with a working watermill. The winery is a great spot for a picnic lunch. The wines are delicious and so are these recipes.
Kunde Family Winery
Kunde is one of the oldest family-owned wineries in California. Kunde is in the Sonoma Valley region, on Highway 12. There are many activities for the tourist at the winery. A cave tour and hike to the top of a steep vineyard hill are among the highlights.
Stay safe in your home and cook some of these fantastic meals with your family. Practice your food and wine pairing skills. Let us know what you try!
Top 25 Wineries
Going wine tasting is one of the great Bay Area pastimes. Visiting a winery here is a chance to experience so many of the features that make this region special: the land’s natural beauty, a rich tradition of artisanal craftsmanship and a deep, abiding love for eating and drinking deliciously.
Best of all, world-class wines are now made in all corners of the Bay Area — not just in the famous appellations of Napa and Sonoma counties, but also on mountains overlooking Silicon Valley and in former military bases in the East Bay. Today’s Wine Country consists not only of palatial estates overlooking vineyards but also sleek tasting bars in downtown squares, industrial warehouses and, increasingly, sidewalks and parking lots, as urban wineries adapt to the needs of the COVID-19 era.
Top 25 Wineries to Visit
Ashes & Diamonds Winery
The winery that’s trying to bring some midcentury cool back to Napa.
Tasting fee: $75
A peaceful retreat for single-vineyard wines in a downtown Sonoma cottage.
Napa Guide: Wineries—Tastings to Remember
Tasting rooms were once places for guests simply to sample a winery's latest releases and purchase a few bottles as souvenirs. But times have changed. As Napa Valley tourism has evolved, many tasting rooms are offering something beyond wine: memorable experiences.
The best of these increasingly personalized visits tell the story of the winery in compelling detail, often in beautiful settings that showcase impressive artwork and architecture. Tours are in-depth and custom-designed. Tastings typically last an hour or more, and they are often guided, seated and relaxed.
Don't be intimidated by the fact that most wineries require appointments: As Napa Valley's popularity has grown, so have the crowds, and reservations help wineries maintain a comfortable ebb and flow of customers.
Set appointments also give visitors the chance to make the most of their time. When you call to book a visit, you may get quizzed on what kinds of wines you like or what your expectations are, all in an effort to further personalize your visit. Even if a winery doesn't require reservations, it's always best to phone ahead. Hours of operation can change with the season, and wineries are always adjusting their offerings to improve customers' experiences.
The listings below describe 18 of the most exceptional wineries to visit in Napa Valley today. Some are new destinations we're excited about, others original pioneers that have been refreshed or reimagined. But all go deep on education and hospitality.
ATELIER BY JCB TASTING SALON
From the outside, Atelier by JCB Tasting Salon is an unassuming edifice in downtown Yountville. But inside you'll find a sensualist's delight, replete with crystal, red velvet, gold and leopard-print accents. Its vintner-owner, Jean-Charles Boisset, spared no expense in the design, offering gilded mirrors on the ceilings, interactive digital tables that give information about the wines available for tasting, and display cases of Baccarat glassware for sale.
Flights from the JCB collection are served four or five wines at a time, including pours from bottlings such as the JCB Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley No. 1 ($200) and The Surrealist Napa Valley ($350), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
Alongside the Tasting Salon, beyond glass doors with handles that look as if they came from the Palace of Versailles, is an equally ambitious epicurean boutique. There's an expansive cheese and charcuterie selection, as well as hundreds of items imported from around the world, including mustard, caviar, confections and teas.
CASTELLO DI AMOROSA
Castello di Amorosa is an unlikely spectacle: a replica of a Tuscan castle rising from a hillside in Napa Valley. Nevertheless, the guest experience here is far from hokey. Founder Dario Sattui's fascination with medieval Italy means that the 100,000-square-foot, 13th century–style building is full of authentic details, from the handwrought ironwork to the imported bricks. There are more than 100 rooms on eight levels, and the grounds are complete with a moat, guard towers, courtyard drawbridge, "torture chamber" and chapel.
The wines can be outstanding, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet-based blends, such as Il Barone and the super Tuscan–inspired La Castellana, a mix of Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese. There is plenty to see with the basic admission fee, which comes with a tasting of five wines. But guided tours (starting at $40) will give you access to rooms otherwise off-limits and a sampling of some of the more premium wines. You can upgrade all the way to the "Ultimate" $20,000 (per couple) full-day package that includes a theatrical welcome, a key to the castle, a photographer to follow you around and document your visit and an overnight stay at the nearby Solage Resort.
Covert Estate is aptly named. Invisible from the road and nestled into a Coombsville hillside, the entire facility is underground. The tasting room decor pays homage to the region's farmland history, blending pastoral touches, including buffalo hides and barn wood, with industrial and elemental features such as walls embossed with zinc and glass caissons holding sample soils. A twisting metal chandelier with a large chunk of obsidian as its centerpiece provides dramatic contrast to the bucolic backdrop.
Covert is also a good reason to check out Napa Valley's newest AVA, Coombsville. Just a few minutes from downtown Napa, this rural neighborhood is home to impressive talent such as Favia and Arrow & Branch. Covert is a collaboration between the Nicholson, Nestor and Fayard families. Julien Fayard is winemaker and managing proprietor his own brand, Azur, as well as wines from the Nicholson family brand, Nicholson Jones, can be sampled along with the Covert wines.
From vintage tractors in the refurbished barn to eclectic artwork, there are surprises around every corner at this property near Calistoga. Owner Mike Davis created an IT service management firm in the 1980s, then began a second career in 2011 when he purchased the historic Saviez Vineyards and launched this ambitious restoration. The winery, designed by architect Howard Backen, integrates warm woods with stone taken from the grounds. It features cutting-edge technology, including iPad-controlled fermentation tanks and a solar farm that provides 80 percent of the winery's power.
There are a variety of tasting experiences to choose from. Swinging couches on the balcony of the tasting room offer a relaxing perch to take in valley views while sipping wines paired with small bites. The showstopper is the Phase V barrel room, deep within the cave complex. Sealed by metal doors, the chamber is accessed James Bond–style, with an infrared palm scanner opening a door to reveal an inner sanctum with a glass-enclosed atrium.
Few combinations connote luxury more than sparkling wine and caviar. Domaine Carneros has coupled the two, pairing its bubblies with Tsar Nicoulai's American white sturgeon caviar from nearby Wilton, Calif.
Visitors can pair any of the Domaine Carneros tastings with three half-ounce portions of Tsar Nicoulai caviars, fleshed out by accompaniments including potato chips, toast points and crème fraîche, for $150. An extra $200 (and a reservation) will secure three rare offerings from Tsar Nicoulai, including its rarest product, the Crown Jewel, a buttery and rich caviar with gold and silver flecks that give the large beads a jeweled effect.
Those desiring an even more exclusive treat may opt for a table in the Sparkling Suite. Balcony doors open onto one of the most picturesque vistas in Carneros. Wines are paired with caviar, cheese and charcuterie, and guests depart with a keepsake bottle at the end of the tasting.
Far Niente is one of Napa Valley's oldest and most romantic estates, a stone winery originally built in 1885 that today is surrounded by meticulously maintained gardens. It's a fairytale setting for a story about how Oklahoma nurseryman Gil Nickel purchased the property in 1979 and spent years restoring it, ultimately building a loyal following for its Chardonnay and Cabernet. A visit includes a tour, a look at the 40,000 square feet of caves, and a sit-down tasting of both current-release and library wines, paired with cheese and capped off with a taste of the estate's sweet white wine, Dolce.
When you walk by the carriage house, take a peek at the Nickel family collection of vintage automobiles. Call ahead to book reserved seating in the gazebo by the estate's small lake.
With its large leaping rabbit sculpture visible from the highway, Hall's St. Helena tasting room is easily spotted. But the quieter Rutherford experience is tucked into the hills above Auberge du Soleil on the valley's east side.
This tour and tasting begins at the estate's Sacrashe Vineyard before progressing into the cellar and caves. The barrel-lined path is accented with reclaimed bricks from historic sites in Vienna, a nod to founder Kathryn Hall's former work as U.S. ambassador to Austria. At the end of one tunnel is the Chandelier Room, named for the stunning, sprawling chandelier-made of rootstock and decorated with shimmering Swarovski crystals-situated above a long cherrywood table. There, a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon is paired with small bites. For an additional fee, guests can enjoy the "Platinum Tasting," which includes wines from Hall's limited-production Platinum Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, comprising select barrels from some of the estate's best vineyards.
The legacy of Gustave Niebaum, ship captain turned Napa Valley pioneer, lives on at Inglenook. Francis Ford Coppola has restored the celebrated property, dating to 1887, and parlayed its heritage into educational and customizable experiences steeped in history. Tours and tastings are offered daily, but private experiences make for a more memorable outing. Library and barrel tastings, as well as blending sessions, are hosted in one of the many nooks of the original cellar, some containing dusty bottles dating to 1965, others decorated with plush couches and lounge chairs. All private visits conclude with a cheese plate or other food pairing.
Charles Krug, founded in 1861, is the valley's oldest winery still in operation. However, its revamped tasting room is just three years old. What was formerly a huge cellar space has been transformed into one of Napa's largest tasting venues. The 5,000-square-foot tasting room, which once contained more than 170 10,000-gallon redwood tanks, is now the backdrop for seated tastings. Staves from the old redwood tanks have been refurbished as paneling, giving the space a warm and inviting atmosphere. A floor-to-ceiling glass partition provides views of the reserve barrel-aging cellar. Historic photographs and artifacts are displayed upstairs, including 19th-century wine presses and other winemaking paraphernalia.
Wine can be purchased by the glass or bottle to enjoy with snacks available at a salumi bar. A 90-minute tour takes in the cellar and a garden run by the neighboring Culinary Institute of America, as well as a themed tasting. Located just north of St. Helena on the 140-acre home ranch, the Krug tasting experience offers a step back in time but with all the modern conveniences. It's a peaceful setting amid massive oaks, complete with a large lawn open for picnicking.
Lokoya's tasting venue is located on a peaceful 77-acre property high on Spring Mountain, above St. Helena. Lokoya has tastefully renovated the gothic stone winery and its tasting room, formerly the quirky home of producer Terra Valentine, and now offers modern lounging areas both inside and outside, where visitors can soak in the views, enjoy some snacks and taste a selection of new releases and older vintages.
Lokoya was founded in 1995 by the Jackson Family wine group to specialize in expressions of appellation-specific Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the mountains around Napa Valley. Tailored tastings can be selected from the four appellations that winemaker Chris Carpenter taps to make his ultrapremium bottlings: Spring Mountain, Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain and Diamond Mountain.
With its majestic stone entryway and grassy berm rising out of the vineyards, Opus One is one of Oakville's most iconic winescapes. Co-founded by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux's Mouton-Rothschild, the winery, built in 1991, prides itself on hospitality and offers impressive guided tours. Guests start with a visit to the vineyard, then follow the winemaking process from picking to barreling, with a tasting of the newest release in the breathtaking grand chai. The "Double Vintage" tour offers a chance to compare two vintages of Opus One in the private library. End your visit with a trip to the roof to take in the view.
JOSEPH PHELPS VINEYARDS
Joseph Phelps Vineyards' Bordeaux-inspired red blend Insignia is recognized as one of Napa Valley's signature wines the 2002 was Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2005. The winery, founded in 1973, remains family-owned and focused on wines grown on its 375 acres of vineyards on eight sites around Napa Valley, overseen by winemaker Ashley Hepworth.
The history comes through on a visit to the recently renovated tasting room. The original winery's redwood exterior and distinctive trellis entryway remain intact. But inside, a chic, expansive space has been created, where large old casks add ambience to multiple tasting areas outfitted with comfy chairs. There's also a humidity- and temperature-controlled mini barrel room on view.
Phelps offers a comprehensive program of personalized and educational tasting experiences, including an Insignia blending seminar, a single-vineyard tasting, a wine-aroma challenge, a wine-and-cheese pairing and an Insignia vertical. Most visitors will be drawn to the terrace, which offers impressive views of the estate and one of the most stunning vistas in all of Napa.
Quintessa offers distinct tasting experiences in its private pavilions, which resemble glass tree houses. From this perch on top of Dragon's Hill, with views of the estate vineyards, Dragon's Lake and Rutherford, visitors can try barrel samples, library wines and a cheese and charcuterie plate. The estate tour, privately guided, features a comprehensive look at the vineyards, winery and caves, amid stunning architecture, and finishes with a sit-down tasting.
ROUND POND ESTATE
It's easy to spend the afternoon on the Round Pond terrace, drenched in sunshine, taking in the sweeping views of nearby vineyards, with a glass of wine in your hand. Gastronomes may opt for the "Il Pranzo" tasting, which takes guests through the gardens and olive groves before culminating in a family-style lunch prepared by the winery's estate chef. For the full Round Pond experience, splurge on the Signature Tour, a five-hour expedition that includes a look at the estate's vinegar-making operation, olive mill, gardens, beehives and barrel room, with plenty of sampling along the way before you settle down for lunch.
Shafer's wines include the iconic Hillside Select Cabernet, recognized as a Napa benchmark, and the Syrah blend Relentless, which was Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2012 for the 2008 vintage. Tasting the entire range is just one of the highlights of a visit to this secluded estate, tucked against the Palisades Mountains in the Stags Leap District, east of Yountville. The rocky slopes and rolling vineyards form a dramatic backdrop for the modern winery.
Visitors are greeted at the door by a bronze sculpture of Shafer's dog Tucker before convening on the front lawn to learn about the surrounding vineyards and history of the winery, founded by John Shafer in 1972.
The bright and airy tasting room offers sweeping views of the valley and features sliding glass walls that open onto the patio on warm days. The attentive staff caters to each group's needs while keeping the sit-down tasting casual and intimate. The experience concludes with sips of the winery's Cabernet dessert wine, paired with chocolates.
A visit to this rising Cabernet star offers a real taste of the wine-country lifestyle. Tucked at one end of a quiet neighborhood south of St. Helena, the serene property emanates Old World charm with its lush gardens and updated yellow Victorian home, built in the 1880s. Founder David Sinegal is the former CEO of Costco. He and his father, Jim, who founded the retail company, bought the historic Inglewood Estate in 2013, renovating the old stone winery and connecting it to an extensive wine cave in the hillside.
With glasses of Sauvignon Blanc in hand, guests are led on a walking tour of the grounds, taking in the organic garden and tranquil lake with its picturesque gazebo and rolling lawn. The sit-down tasting offers a chance to compare the winery's two Cabernets in the hip and cozy lounge.
Built in 1972, Sterling's brilliant white stucco winery, inspired by architecture from the Greek island of Mykonos, stands out against a bluff south of Calistoga. Founder Peter Newton had visitors in mind when he designed a gondola to transport guests up to the winery. The three-minute ride is fun and memorable for its stunning views.
Treasury Wine Estates acquired the property in 2016, and the new owners have given it a much-needed makeover. New hardwood floors throughout, warm and modern furnishings, Riedel glassware and culinary programs have all taken the experience up a notch. An app adds a digital overlay and augmented reality to the estate.
Guests are handed a glass of wine as they disembark from the tram, and there is an option for a self-guided tour, punctuated with wine and videos that explain the various stages of wine production. The many terraces provide panoramic views of the valley.
The newly renovated Trinchero tasting room mixes a speakeasy atmosphere with the feel of an archaeological exhibit—a decor of rich leather and brass elements includes a display of stuffed pheasants, a sculpture of a West African fertility god and an array of family photographs and heirlooms that remind visitors of the winery's history, dating to 1948.
A basic tasting includes four of Trinchero's estate-grown wines, but consider the many upgrades, specialized tastings and tours. "A Taste of terroir" is a horizontal tasting of single-vineyard Napa Cabs, while "The Art of Oak" shows the influence of different oak barrels on the same single-vineyard wine. There's even a rare opportunity to try future vintages, current releases and library vintages of the same two wines in the "Time in a Bottle" tasting. Tours give a more in-depth look at the 22-acre property, dotted with oak trees and offering striking views from the center of the valley.
IF YOU GO
• Always call ahead hours and offerings can change seasonally.
• Don't be discouraged by "appointment-only" policies. Appointments ensure that staff will be ready and available to take care of you, and by-appointment tours are often less crowded.
• Don't overdo it visiting three or four wineries is a full day, especially if you're taking tours.
• Leave enough time to drive from location to location. Consider that it takes about 45 minutes (longer with traffic) to drive from downtown Napa at the southern end of the valley to Calistoga in the north. Ask winery personnel how long to allow for a visit and how long it might take to get to your next appointment.
• To avoid the traffic on Highway 29, use the other north-south artery, Silverado Trail, which is less congested because it avoids towns and stoplights. There are plenty of streets that cross over between the two. Also be aware that left turns out of a winery's driveway onto the highway can be difficult when it's busy.
• To avoid crowds, get an early start. Another strategy is to visit on weekdays rather than weekends, and to avoid harvesttime.
• Be sure to pack water and provisions. Some attractions are many miles from a restaurant or deli, and you never know when you'll find a picnic spot to take advantage of. (But make sure to ask permission before you picnic.)
• Use the spit bucket, and ask if you can share a tasting in order to consume less wine (or try more options).
Calistoga, Napa (www.montelena.com): Chateau Montelena thrust itself onto the
world's stage in 1976 as its 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, crafted by winemaker Mike Grgich, took first place at the famed "Paris Tasting” beating France’s best white Burgundies. While their Chardonnay continues to be one of the most age-worthy Chardonnays produced in California, their Bordeaux style Cabernet Sauvignon now occupies the winery's focus these days. With its impressive old-world stone chateau, the unusual Chinese grounds with a lake, and the enchanting, if not small, greeting room, it certainly delivers a memorable wine tasting experience. Though the picnic grounds are reserved for Wine Club members only, visitors are welcome to meander around and take in the sites.
While their Chardonnay continues to be one of the most age-worthy Chardonnays produced in California, their Bordeaux style Cabernet Sauvignon now occupies the winery's focus these days.
The best wineries that you love to drink at home to go check out while you’re in town
Caymus Vineyards (Napa) – Great wines! Some of my favorite in Napa. And a absolute picturesque outdoor tasting area. I love their pinot noir and their chardonnay.
Cakebread Wines (Napa)
I love Cakebread’s chardonnay and cabernets, so tasting here is always great. It’s a quick tasting, and located right off of Highway 29, making it an easy stop in a busy wine tasting day. Also LOVE their patio – so beautiful in the summertime.
Rombauer– My go-to chardonnay. I always come home with at least a few bottles from here, and they don’t make it a week in San Francisco before they’re gone. Great spot for a casual, pop in tasting. Starting at $20 for a flight.
Trinchero Napa Valley– This beautiful estate’s tasting room is a great stop in Napa. Tastings start at $30 and their cabs are fab.
Joseph Phelps Winery (Napa) – You’ve probably heard of Joseph Phelps’ famed Insignia label – an insanely good cabernet sauvignon that is worth the trip to this winery alone. Add in a cozy lodge-like tasting room and a terrace like this? It’s a must do.
Twomey– located in Healdsburg and also in Calistoga, this is one of my go-to’s for a casual drop-in tasting in the valley. Their pinot’s are so good (they’re under the Silver Oak label) and I always end up walking out with a few bottles.
Where to have a glass of wine with a view in Napa Valley
Auberge Du Soleil – Ah, the Auberge. If I had all the money in the world, I would stay here every time I went to Napa. But with room rates a little out of my price range, I’ll settle for taking in a sunset glass of wine on their elegant patio overlooking the valley. Can’t beat this view.
Things to Know about Napa
Let&rsquos start with why Napa Valley is famous: really, really good wines. Napa Valley is ideally situated to make some of the world&rsquos best wines. The grapes get long hours of California sunshine to ripen, but the area quickly drops around 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night due to the cool Pacific Ocean&rsquos influence. The reliably cool, foggy mornings and evenings allow the grapes to retain acidity, which leads to more balance to the wines.
Mountains surround the valley on both sides: the Vaca Range to the East and the Mayacamas to the West. Within less than an hour&rsquos drive, soil types and microclimates vary widely, and between these two mountain ranges, wineries and vineyards are sprinkled throughout!
It takes less than an hour to get from one end of Napa Valley to the other, but the wineries&rsquo density could quickly fill up a week of wine tasting.
Most Napa tourists stick to Highway 29, which is lined by dozens of wineries (many of which you don&rsquot need typically a reservation to visit). Traffic can lurch on the weekends, but driving Highway 29 and stopping wherever tickles your fancy is the easiest way to visit Napa without much planning. Just be prepared for crowded tasting rooms and potentially slower service!
Napa vs. Napa Valley
Napa Valley is a 30-mile long stretch of valley, ringed by mountains, running from Carneros to Calistoga. The Napa Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) includes 16 distinct sub-regions and includes the towns of Carneros, Napa, St. Helena, Yountville, and Calistoga.
Napa Valley takes its name from the biggest city in the area, Napa, and the town of Napa was named after the Napa River which runs through it.
So, when most people say &ldquoNapa,&rdquo they&rsquore typically referring to ALL of those regions and towns throughout the Napa Valley &ndash not just Napa, the city!
I tend to default to a maxi dress for wine tasting. Just make sure to bring a warm layer &ndash it gets COLD at night!
What should I wear to Napa?
You don&rsquot need to dress to the nines on a visit to Napa, but you don&rsquot want to look like a schlub, either. Aim for &ldquowine country casual&rdquo &ndash kind of a cuter, frillier version of business casual. You&rsquoll fit right in wearing a sun hat (this is my favorite), cute sandals, and a dress.
Napa Valley is about 40 minutes east of Sonoma and the Pacific Ocean, and its daytime temperatures climb much higher than foggy Coastal California. Daytime &ndash especially in the summer &ndash can get to over 100 degrees, so wear something breathable and comfortable!
But if you&rsquoll be staying overnight or past sunset, bring warm layers. It&rsquos much colder during the night than it is during the day &ndash temperatures can plummet 20 degrees within hours.
I&rsquom from Chicago, so I thought I had thick blood for cold weather, but the Pacific breeze is natural and guaranteed after sundown! You&rsquoll be shivering in your sundress, so pack a change of clothes and a warm sweater for the evening.
What is the cost of tastings in Napa?
Wine tastings normally cost between $15-50. $30 is about an average price for a tasting, and yes, that&rsquos per person. Napa is pricey!
That said, you can usually get this fee waived by buying a bottle or two of wine. You can also sometimes find two-for-one tasting deal coupons by stopping by the Visitor&rsquos Center.
What is &ldquoPalate Fatigue&rdquo and how can I avoid it?
Palate Fatigue is what happens when you&rsquore tasting the same thing over and over again until you become unable to taste its nuances anymore &ndash or lose all appetite for the thing you&rsquore tasting. It&rsquos like the wine tasting equivalent of when you repeat or stare at a word until it loses all meaning. And when you&rsquore paying as much as you are for tastings in Napa, it also means you&rsquore probably not getting your money&rsquos worth.
A rule of thumb: Two tastings in a day is relaxed. Three is efficient. Four or more tastings is work.
You might be excited to visit all of your favorite wineries, but if you&rsquore doing more than four, be sure to plan a nap before dinner. When I&rsquom looking for new wine for Palate Club, I taste at four or five wineries a day. I&rsquom a wine professional with a decade of experience, and I still find that I have significant &ldquopalate fatigue&rdquo after three wineries.
What&rsquos that bucket for?
Most Napa tasting rooms will have buckets out on every counter (and if you&rsquore lucky, crackers or other neutral-tasting nibbles). These are called Spit Buckets or Dump Buckets (yes, even in the fanciest wineries, this is what it&rsquos called), and they&rsquore there for you to toss out the rest of your glass &ndash or even your mouthful of wine. And don&rsquot worry, it&rsquos not considered rude!
It may seem counterintuitive to pay for a taste of wine that you just dump out, but if you&rsquore a serious wine connoisseur, you&rsquoll find learn that there are some wines you just don&rsquot really like &ndash and you don&rsquot need another sip of. Spitting is also a great way to taste wine without going way over your limits, and it reduces palate fatigue, too.
Here&rsquos a sommelier secret to having your best day of wine tasting: you have to spit. When I visit wine country to find wines for Palate Club, I sometimes spend four hours on the road and taste 100s of wines in a day. If there is not a spit bucket, I ask for one to make sure that I get back to my hotel safely. It&rsquos not rude, and it&rsquos not wasting wine. Most winemakers appreciate it when you pace yourself to stay sober enough to enjoy the wines.
That said, if you have different plans for your weekend in Napa, no judgment!
What should I eat in Napa?
I typically practice intermittent fasting, but I always eat breakfast before wine tasting. Even if you&rsquore spitting, you&rsquoll get worn down quickly without food. Plan time for lunch and bring snacks in the car.
You&rsquoll want carbs, healthy fats, nutrients, and lots of water. I like to pack nuts, fruit, baguette, and plenty of water in a reusable water bottle. You can grab a sandwich off Highway-29 at Oakville Grocery, just north of the Opus One winery, and bring it along with you.
I also included my favorite restaurants in Napa at the end of this post because if there&rsquos one thing Napa does amazingly well other than wine, it&rsquos food!
Grapes turning colors during veraison time in the Napa Valley. &ldquoVeraison&rdquo season is when the grapes change colors!
History of Napa
Napa Valley started its viticultural journey with Spanish missionaries in the 1770s. At the time, Palomino Negro was the dominant grape, nicknamed &ldquoMission&rdquo due to its cultivators. Commercial planting wasn&rsquot a thing until the early 1880s when the Mexican government released control of viticulture from the church (remember when California belonged to Mexico?).
European influence rushed in after 1849 when settlers flooded the area searching for gold, bringing their preferred grapes and viticulture methods with them. In 1861, Charles Krug founded what is now Napa&rsquos oldest commercial winery. Beringer, Schramsberg, and Inglenook followed suit until the area faced devastating decline due to phylloxera, an insect pest of grapevines, and Prohibition.
It was decades before Napa Valley could recover from Prohibition, as only &ldquosacrament wineries,&rdquo or wineries that made wine for church, were permitted to operate during that time.
It wouldn&rsquot be until the 1960s when trailblazer Robert Mondavi galvanized winemakers and wine lovers around the world to discover Napa&rsquos underutilized potential. Arguably, it was Mondavi that built Napa&rsquos reputation for fine wine.
But it was the dramatic Judgment of Paris in 1976, when Stag&rsquos Leap and Chateau Montelena shockingly defeated first-growth Bordeaux and Burgundy in a blind-tasting competition, that positioned Napa as the New World&rsquos most famous fine wine region. At the time, even wine professionals outside of France weren&rsquot taken seriously, so when California stole the show, it was a huge upset.
The movie Bottle Shock dives into the dramatic story, and the day that put Napa officially on the map forever!
Enjoy intimate wine tastings, expansive outdoor spaces, and behind-the-scenes private tours of wine cellars and caves. Plus, 95% of our wineries are family-owned and operated, which means nearly every spot will feel like home.
With hundreds of wineries to explore, each with its own unique style, setting and history, planning your Napa Valley wine tasting excursion may seem overwhelming. But whether you are visiting just for fun or to delve into that library collection and stock the cellar, there is an experience and price point for everyone.
Take a look at the directory below to find the right wineries for your getaway.
With hundreds of wineries and miles of the valley to explore, we want you to know there's no wrong way to enjoy Napa Valley
Can I wear jeans to a winery?
Yes! Jeans are acceptable year-round – we call it wine country casual (for women — sundresses, blouses and skirts, nice jeans, wedges, sandals, etc. for men – golf shirts, khaki pants, nice jeans, dressier shorts, stylish sneakers, boat shoes, etc.).
A more upscale winery might call for darker denim, and be sure to dress in layers as many winery experiences take place outdoors and tours often take guests through wine caves and chilled cellar areas.
First of all: Wine should be enjoyed, so don't overthink it &ndash have fun and drink what you like.
If you want to taste like a professional:
- LOOK at the color and clarity
- SWIRL to release the aromas
- SNIFF to prepare your palate
- SIP and enjoy the complexities
- Spit into a "dump bucket" if you don't want to get inebriated.
What are the best wineries to visit in Napa Valley?
There are more than 375 wineries open for tastings and 90 urban tasting rooms in Napa Valley — so which one is right for you? The good news: Napa Valley has a wine experience for everyone who visits. Now for the tricky part. Not sure which of these picturesque destinations is your jam? Not certain which spot is for you? Let us help.
We&aposve compiled six distinct visitor personalities and paired them up with a handful of local wineries that suit each one best.
Are there any wineries that offer free tastings?
No, however, there are wine tasting options that are budget-friendly, and some wineries will waive tasting fees if you purchase wine during your visit.
Map of the Most Beautiful Napa Valley Wineries
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Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.
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