Wineries, Tastings & Tours
Always wanted to sip your favorite wine fresh from the barrel, right at the source? Taking a trip to the CA wine country but not sure where to start? These wineries are my go-to favorite spots in my home town of Napa Valley. There’s something in here for everyone – from high end appointment only tours and boutique cult cabs, to free tastings and gondola rides. After years of hosting friend and family visits, I’ve come up with an ideal (and realistic) itinerary for a few days of wine tasting – along with some crucial tips and tricks.
The city of Napa is on the south end of the valley. While it is the largest town in the area, you will find that most of the wineries and restaurants are in the smaller towns of Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Calistoga (listed from South to North). I grew up in the town of St. Helena, in the middle of the valley, which is a good central location when booking a hotel or planning to meet up with friends.
First and foremost: if you are planning on going to more than 1 tasting, get a car service. I can’t stress this enough – you’ll drink more wine than you think. Also, there are no cabs in the valley, so there really is no back up plan. So plan ahead and get a car / limo. Check out Royal Coach for good rates and great customer service. (707.642.3372)
Second: Plan ahead – most of the best spots will require you to have a reservation. Appointments book up quickly, especially during the summer and holidays.
Timing: At the most, plan on visiting 4 wineries a day. Tours and tastings take more time than expected, especially if you are getting a full tour of the property in addition to the tasting. Spend time enjoying the wine and relax while soaking up the beautiful views. Start your day off with a substantial breakfast and book your first tasting appointment around 10:30am. I like to visit 2 wineries before lunch (10:30am – 1:30pm) and another 2 wineries after lunch (3pm – 6pm).
Mix it up: Napa is known for it’s red wine, but don’t forget about white, rosé, and sparkling! I highly recommend starting your day out with lighter wines like whites and sparkling. There are several good reasons for this – red wine before noon can be hard on your stomach and head, and starting with lighter wines is better for your palate and will keep it fresh throughout the day. Save the heavy cult cabs for the end of the day, if possible.
My top suggestions for wineries:
(Bubbles!) Schramsberg’s sparkling is one of the best Napa has to offer. I like them so much I joined the wine club – which means free tastings! Start your day out here before lunch, no later than 11am. They will give a proper full tour of the winery, including the majestical wine caves. Their caves are the oldest in the valley – built by hand by the Chinese in the 1800’s. The tour and tasting will take a little over an hour. The winery is 10 min north of St. Helena. Call them ASAP to book an appointment. Tasting will be $50 – but worth it.
1400 Schramsberg Road
Calistoga, CA 94515
Administrative Offices: (800) 877-3623
Tour Reservations: (707) 942-4558
Sterling offers a variety of reds and whites, and you can choose from a few different tastings. They are located on the north end of the valley in Calistoga, just down the road from Schramsberg. Since they do not require an appointment, the winery is much more crowded and casual. The tasting fee is lower (general admission $28), but you won’t get as much of a personal touch and the tours are self guided. The views from this property are some of my favorite in the valley as it is located on the top of a hill right in the middle of the two mountain ranges (between Hwy 29 and the Silverado Trail) that frame the valley. When you arrive, you’ll take a gondola ride up to the top of the hill – yep, they make it fun with a tram!
1111 Dunaweal Lane
Calistoga, CA 94515
Open M-F 10:30am to 4:30pm
Open Sat-Sun 10am to 5pm
Without a doubt, one of the best red wines in CA. Viader is a small family owned winery, and you will most likely see at least one of the family members during your tasting. Viader became a household name when their 1997 Flagship Cabernet Blend, Viader, was rated #2 in the world by Wine Spectator magazine, receiving a 97 point rating. They have since expanded and have added Black Label and the DARE label. They are known for their outstanding Bordeaux style red wine blends. The tasting fee is $50 (waived if you buy wine) and tours/tastings are by appointment only. Each group is small and is given a lot of personal attention. Be ready to take a bunch of photos because the view from this property is tough to beat.
1120 Deer Park Road
Deer Park, California 94576
Phone: (707) 963-3816
Two words – Full Service. Del Dotto is a family run winery, with several locations. The Flagship and main location is in St. Helena (pictures below), called the Venetian Estate. You may not have heard of them because they don’t distribute their wines – meaning you can only buy directly from the winery and you won’t see them on restaurant wine lists. But not to worry, making the trek all the way into the winery is well worth it – you will be spoiled like a King. Tours are by appointment only and are $50, so book ahead. Once you arrive you will be gathered into small groups and given a personal tour through the Estate and wine caves, where you will do a barrel tasting. There’s a good chance you will see the owner, Dave Del Dotto, running around the caves, mingling with customers, sipping his favorite wines, and listening to Italian opera music. Del Dotto has hundreds of unique wines, and by the time you leave the caves and move on to tasting current releases (in bottles), your thirst will be quenched (read: heavy pours). Del Dotto has an in house chef at the Estate, and most days they serve fresh pizza straight out of the oven along with house cured meats and salamis.
Favorite Bottle: Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast Chinghiale)
1445 St. Helena Hwy South
St. Helena, CA 94574
Hours: 11am to 5pm 7 days a week
Open Every Day of the Year
Favorite Bottles: Caymus Special Selection (cab) & Belle Glos (pinot noir)