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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Visiting Napa? Ideas on where to go

There's a question that gets asked a lot by visitors--which wineries should I visit?

There are hundreds of choices in Napa Valley and next door in Sonoma County. Yeah, this is a Sonoma blog, more or less, but Napa is right over the hill and everybody has to go to Napa at least once.

First, it depends on when you are visiting as some times it can be really busy. This means pretty much all summer plus early autumn weekends. Most importantly is why you are visiting. I'll cover a couple scenarios: (1) don't know much about wine and want to "experience" Napa, (2) know something about wine, but want to learn more about the local wines.

There are zillions of other choices besides the few below. I'd suggest using this list as one data-point in deciding where to visit. Only one listed here requires an appointment; all are open daily.

(1) For the first-time visitor who doesn't mind a little Disneyland with their trip. After all, Napa Valley is called "Disneyland for adults." Note that all of these places are popular and therefore very crowded on Saturday afternoons (and many other times).

History, great old buildings, good tour. You'll get a much better tasting experience in their reserve room.

Reservations required, but easy enough to get with lots of tasting options. Good place to learn about wine tasting.

Castello di Amorosa
An amazing re-creation of a medieval Italian castle. Don't ask what it's doing in Napa, just take the tour.

Persia in Napa. If Napa can have a medieval Italian castle then why not a Persian temple?

Domaine Carneros
Founded by a French Champagne house and modeled after a chateau from the Champagne district. Sip will overlooking the Carneros wine growing area.

Where the modern Napa Valley began. Good tour.

It's a tram ride up to a Moorish castle-looking winery.

Yes, Italy, Persia, Spain and France are all represented here. Told you it was a little bit like Disneyland.

Castello di Amorosa
No, you don't have to scale the wall to get in --
there's a drawbridge

(2) For the visitor looking for good wines in an interesting setting.

The architecture, the views, and the wines are all impressive.

Iconic Napa winery offers tastings of current and older wines plus tours by appt.

Chateau Montelena
It was their Chardonnay at the Judgement in Paris that helped put California wines on the world stage. The grounds are worth the trip, too.

A famous Napa Cabernet house in the "old days" (1970s & 80s). People still talk about their 1974 Martha's Vineyard Cab. Actually, people still try to sell this wine--for a couple thousand dollars a bottle.

Mumm Napa
Great sparkling wines, great setting.

Pine Ridge
They've been making good wines for a good long time. Vineyard and production facility tours.

It's all about Port. This is the funkiest little tasting room you'll see all day.

St. Supery
Beautiful winery and wines.

Outdoor, seated tasting at Mumm
Image from

Don't like crowds?

Going to wineries that require reservations is one way to avoid the hoards of visitors. Some of these might be a little intimidating for folks that aren't really into wine and maybe can't afford the prices many of the smaller wineries charge. A couple places I can recommend are:
Schramsberg - Scheduled tours and sitdown tastings throughout the day. Call to get on one. Best California sparkling wine I've had.
Storybook Mountain - A short, friendly tour of a family-run winery then a tasting in their cave of some of the best Zinfandel around.

Another way to avoid the crowds is to get off the valley floor and into the surrounding hills. This area is home to wineries such as CADE, Hess, Howell Mtn, Mt. Veeder, Pride, and Smith-Madrone. Some require an appt.


Anyone you ask will have a different opinion of where you should visit. These aren't necessarily my favs, but places I believe will suit the first or second time visitor. Have fun and when you're ready come over to Sonoma County for a more laid back (and less expensive) experience.

Hope to see you soon!