Napa and Sonoma are my happy places, and probably my favorite vacation spots in the whole world. I try and get there as frequently as I can, and love sharing out good finds. I sat down to write this post a couple of days ago, and at first it was going to be a guide on both areas. Then I realized I had to break it up to make it manageable. Also, there was no way I could cover food, where to stay, and other activities in one place.
So today I’m just going to focus on wineries in Napa, and recommend a few of my favorite wineries and winery experiences below. I’ll follow up with other posts focused on food, places to stay, and other things to see, soon. As well, I’ll do another post covering must-visit wineries in Sonoma (some of my favorites!)
Enjoy the gorgeous scenery below. If this makes you want to have a glass of wine in the morning, I’m sorry! (But it is Friday, after all…)
These are in no particular order.
Robert Sinskey is a classic stop with a wide variety of still wines, known for their organic reds. They have a farm-to table-experience there is very cool if you want to make lunch of it, which we have done. The Eat Drink RSV experience is worth the spend — this is a hosted table experience seated inside or outside on the terrace, where they pair wines for you alongside seasonal accompaniments made from their on-site gardens. Robert Sinskey’s wife, Maria, has wonderful recipes and her culinary presence is felt throughout the winery.
Alpha Omega is a newer winery than some, just over 10 years old, with a really nice variety of wines. But the scenery alone is worth the stop — just look at those fountains! This a wonderful place to relax for a bit outside, it feels like going to a fancy hotel for the day to drink wine in front of a gorgeous pool.
At Frog’s Leap, you walk through a beautiful house before heading to their wraparound porch or lovely garden for a tasting. It’s exactly the type of ambiance you hope for at a winery. The service always is welcoming and they do a great job of letting you know the philosophy behind their wine making and highlighting the characteristics of Rutherford. They have a great range of whites and reds (and a delicious rose!) that are reasonably priced. The seated tasting comes with a good little cheese plate.
Domaine Chandon is another one of my favorite spots. Established in 1973 by Moët et Chandon, by businessman John Wright and was the first French-owned sparkling wine producer in Napa Valley. They of course, are known for their delicious sparkling wines! This gorgeous food spread was snapped on their members’ patio. It’s beautiful there, with storybook views. Scenery, bubbles, yummy food, friendly hosts — can’t beat that!
Who doesn’t love bubbles?! Schramsberg is another sparkling producer with great wines. The tour and tasting here is a must-do — they will take you through the 125-year-old caves, introduce you to the classic method of producing sparkling wine, and end with a tasting. They also share their Davies wines, which offer some stills into the wine mix.
Sterling is another one that has beautiful wines but is absolutely worth going to for the experience. It’s at a very high altitude and you take an aerial tram car to get there, which has incredible views of the surrounding hills and valley. Once you are at the winery, the views from the roofdeck, pictured here, are even better — you can see out to the valley’s vineyards from all four sides.
Inglenook was founded by Gustave Niebaum in 1879 as one of the original Napa wineries. Many Hollywood legends were drawn to the winery in the 30’s and 40’s, and in in 1975, Francis Ford Coppola acquired the winery from the Niebaum family and spent considerable effort restoring it back to its elegant splendor. It has since been known by several names, (Niebaum-Coppola, Coppola and Rubicon) until he finally was able to get the Inglenook trademark. This winery is a must-see for its stunning grounds and the movie props and memorabilia inside that add such an interesting touch to the visit.
Hess is another winery I have visited several times and always enjoy and recommend. It’s beautifully landscaped, architecturally lovely, and you get the great bonus of having a contemporary art gallery alongside your tasting for an unforgettable experience! The gallery is the collection of Donald Hess and covers everyone from Andy Goldsworthy to Francis Bacon. This is definitely a visit with many extras!
Pride is pretty unique. It sits on top of Spring Mountain, which straddles Napa in the East and Sonoma in the west. It’s a real trek in the car to get up to the top, but when you get there, it’s worth it. There are beautiful, sweeping vistas of the valley and it is absolutely breathtaking. My tip would be save this stop for the end of your tour day when you have no where else to be, so you can really enjoy it.
10 Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock is in the Stag’s Leap District, some of the most coveted vineyard land in the world for Cabernet, so it’s no surprise that Chimney Rock is one of the premier cab producers in the area. The winery was modeled after South Africa’s Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in the country. The Cape-Dutch style of architecture is unusual for the Napa region and an interesting aspect to the winery. But the real star here is the wines—try and make it by for a taste of a cab that you’re sure to love!
Joseph Phelps is another classic stop. They produce many outstanding wines from a variety of grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. Their flagship blended wine, Insignia, remains the envy of many California winemakers. Their winery has a lovely terrace where you can have your tasting. The view from there is perfect and serene.
12 Opus One
I think everyone probably knows Opus One produces one wine per year, a Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and that it’s absolutely delicious and also absolutely expensive. This is an over-the-top tasting. It’s a bit of a pretentious and pricey setting although I think this winery is worth the visit. They may only produce one, but it’s a great one. The tasting is a luxurious, though somewhat formal wine experience. The estate is impressive, and the views from the upstairs terrace, to me, are the best part. I found the tour very informative and interesting. This is a winery to just sit back, relax and drink an outstanding glass of wine in the company of good friends.
Artesa, as you can see from the photos, is another stunning stop. The views over the valley are breathtaking — so are the art and fountains. The modern, minimalist architecture of Artesa blends harmoniously with the surrounding Carneros landscape, but up close its pool, fountains, and the large outdoor sculptures make a lasting impression. This is a great place to sip and simply appreciate the beauty of the area.
Some of my other wine-tasting trip tips:
- Map your routes. Choose to fill your days with locations close to one another. The pace on the roads is slow in Napa and it can take a while to get from one place to another. If you aren’t spending a ton of time traveling, you can make it to 4 or even 5 wineries in a day.
- Look into the food and pairing experiences. Sure the standard tastings are nice, but there are some really amazing food pairing experiences that you should try and take advantage of. If available, each winery has this information on their site. You will have to make reservations for all of these types of visits.
- Take a tour. I would recommend doing a full on tour at at least one vineyard, early on in your trip or in your day. They take a while and cost a little more but are really informative in terms of understanding the process of winemaking. You will appreciate what you are drinking so much more after you see what goes into it!
This was a tough list to narrow down to, as there are many more other wonderful places to visit in Napa. These are just a few I have been to that stood out for me. If you have any recommendations I should try on my next visit, please let me know!
xx — BB