So little time, so many wineries! With over 400 and counting stellar wine producers in Napa Valley alone, how on Earth are you going to decide who gets your tasting time and your wine buck? While you’re going to want to call on the wineries responsible for the bottles populating your cellar (or kitchen counter)– here are a dozen extra-special winery tours that are guaranteed to be worth your attention. I can personally vouch for all of these as I’ve fluttered around the valley for years.
#1 CADE Winery
CADE majestically rules over Napa from atop Howell Mountain where it boasts the distinction of being Napa Valley’s first LEED Gold-certified organic winery. The state-of-the-art, sustainable facility offers several by-appointment-only tours for visitors. The ($40 per person) one-hour Current Release Tasting showcases pours of the winery’s Sauvignon Blanc and all three of their coveted Cabernet Sauvignons. For a few dollars more you’ll enjoy a tour around the stately facility and the wines caves, while $195 per person nets you all this and a three-course lunch provided by Meadowood Resort perfectly paired with the CADE lineup.
#2 Castello di Amorosa
Romantic Medieval castle lovers must book a visit to this massive, authentically constructed, 13th century Tuscan beauty just south of Calistoga. No reservations are required for the General Admission tour options that give you self-guided, roaming access to the Castello. Pair your tour with either a 5-wine premium ($25) or 6-wine reserve tasting ($35) in the main tasting room. Savor handmade Belgian chocolates with your wine for a measley $5.00 more, or add a cheese or charcuterie snack to your reserve tasting in the Il Passito Wine Club Room for an additional $15 per plate. Yes, please!
This winery is a bit off the beaten path but well worth every moment of the long and winding road drive, thanks to Chappellet’s sweeping views from atop St. Helena’s Pritchard Hill. Tour the winery, stroll the hillside vineyards, and sample limited-production, world-class wines. Based on scads of online reviews, many visitors find Chappellet to be the highlight of their Napa visit. Prices range from $35 to $75, so book up early.
Fairly priced, warm, relaxed, and intimate, Failla’s Silverado Trail restored farmhouse hosts a 45-minute tasting of four wines for $20. Buy two bottles — one tasting fee is waived. If the weather cooperates, you’ll sit outside at a long picnic table under graceful trees drinking it all in. Spend a few more minutes and another $10 for a five-wine tasting accompanied by a walking tour of the property and the 15,000-square foot cave. The wine educators are passionate, patient, and very knowledgeable. And the Pinots rock.
#5 Hall Rutherford
Splurge on Hall’s 90-minute Appellation Exploration for $125. It will be worth every penny. Promise. After a tour of the gorgeous vineyard and some gawking at the impressive modern art collection, take your seat under a chandelier with hundreds of Swarovski crystals hanging in the shape of grape vine roots. While seated at the massive mahogany table with inlaid white onyx, you’ll taste from the stellar portfolio of this prolific producer that boasts over 140 wines rated 90 points and above. The educational experience will clearly demonstrate to your palate what a critical impact soil, climate, and elevation have on the grape’s end product. You’ll sample several 100 percent varietal wines from Hall’s numerous sub-appellation vineyards within the Napa Valley.
#6 Hendry Ranch
Wine geeks want to show up at the 10am tour when winery owner George Hendry shares his passion with eager guests during an extensive in-depth educational tour and tasting. After discussing his property’s history, his farming philosophy, “and the science and economics of grape growing and winemaking,” Hendry walks guest through a sensory evaluation and tasting seminar of at least seven current release wines. He offers food pairing guidance, and he even waives the $75 fee with an equivalent purchase. Must attend!
#7 Robert Mondavi
Robert Mondavi was a visionary pioneer in a multitude of ways, including one of the first Napa winemakers to offer tours and tastings. The winery currently provides several unique opportunities for visitors on a walk-in basis: a family-friendly walking tour, a 90-minute tour and tasting guided by a Mandarin Chinese speaking educator, and a wine tasting basics course for just $20. Pull the car over as you pass by. It’s Mondavi, for heaven’s sake!
#8 Schramsberg Vineyards
Book your cave tour at Calistoga’s Schramsberg far in advance, and be prepared to gush about your experience among the riddling racks. The groups are kept to an intimate 12-person maximum, and the educational components that detail the techniques and history of sparkling wine are superior. At any given time, as many as 2.7 million bottles are fermenting away in the 34,000-square-foot Schramsberg caves. For $60 you’ll walk away with a comprehensive understanding of the classic method of producing sparkling wine and a belly full of numerous Schramsberg Vineyards and Davies Vineyards wines.
#9 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Founded in 1970 and sporting a distinguished reputation as a Napa Valley first-growth estate, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is also the proud owner of a brand new $7 million visitors’ center. The 6,000-square-foot FAY Outlook & Visitor Center lies east of the Silverado Trail. Guests can wander in and enjoy the renowned winery’s estate Cabernets set against the gorgeous backdrop of their historic vineyards. More formal cave tours and tasting flights are available by reservation if guests wish to partake of this winery’s highly collected estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignons.
You can book a reservation at the uber colorful, whimsical, and circus-like Sip Shoppe for a half hour, $25 flight of wines, or you can splurge on the far more intimate $65 Salon. You and seven other guests are seated around an elegant wooden table in an artfully appointed room where a skilled salonnière (keeper of the Salon), regales you with wine stories and grape insights. You’ll wash down your Swanson wine with premium chocolates, caviar, and cheeses. Heavenly bliss.
#11 Whetstone Wine Cellars
Whetstone is a gorgeous 1885 French-style chateau nestled in groves of ancient oak and cedar trees on two acres at the base of Atlas Peak Road. Hamden W. McIntyre, the creative genius behind other Napa landmark buildings — including Inglenook, Trefethen, Greystone, and Chateau Montelena — designed the imposing facility. Drop by for a relaxing glass of wine on the verdant grounds, or book one of the seated Tasting Salon options. For $150 per couple, you could totally wow your beloved with a gourmet picnic lunch served on the winery lawn, accompanied by a bottle of Whetstone’s finest.
#12 William Hill Estate Winery
One of the few Napa wineries that allow you to bring your own food and picnic on their beautiful grounds, William Hill Estate also offers a self-guided winery tour with peaceful views of the southern Napa Valley’s rolling hills. The fees in the appointment-only tasting room on the Silverado Trail range from $15 to $25, so if you’re looking for some of the best views in the region with an accommodating and laid-back staff, grab some deli and a blanket and head to the Hill.
Additional references aside from my own experiences: