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Expert Tips

 

10Best wineries and vineyards to sip and swirl in Napa Valley



Napa Valley is synonymous with great wine. More than 400 wineries call it home. One of the hardest parts about visiting is deciding where to go once you’re there. In Napa Valley, there are distinct microclimates and terrains that define the grapes that grow within their boundaries. These regions or appellations are called American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs. The Napa Valley was California’s first recognized AVA, but within it exists 16 additional AVAs, including well-known spots like Calistoga, Oakville, Yountville, Rutherford and St. Helena.

Hundreds of wineries are open to the public in Napa Valley. Some like Chateau Montelena are historic, while others like Raymond Vineyards have a modern feel. Some wineries offer one-of-a-kind views or off-road adventures, while others like Whitehall Lane Winery, offer cooking classes and distinctive food. And since 95% of Napa Valley wineries are family-owned, there’s a good chance you’ll hear some good stories along the way.

Large or small, wineries want you to enjoy yourself while you are there. While wine tasting is the primary reason you’re visiting, oftentimes it’s just one of many things you’ll experience at a winery. Every wine tasting is uniquely different, so plan on visiting several wineries during your time in the area. If you need some help deciding where to begin, the list below will get you started.

And be sure to save room in your suitcase for the new favorite bottles that will inevitably be making the trip home with you.


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Clif Family Tasting Room
Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann


Their energy bars are famous, but did you know the Clif Family also makes wine in Napa Valley? The Clif Family Tasting Room in St. Helena is a unique combination of wine, food and bicycling. That's right, bicycling. At Clif Family Tasting Room, you can taste small, production wines, for sale only at the tasting room and pair your favorite with a bite to eat from the Clif Family Bruschetteria Food Truck. If you're worried about indulging, you can burn off the calories cycling through Napa Valley. The Clif Family Tasting Room will help you plan a custom ride. They'll even take care of the bike rentals. You can spin in the morning and have a food and wine pairing waiting for you when you return.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: Wine, Northern Italian cuisine, specialty foods like nuts and olives oils and Clif energy bars. There's something for every Napa Valley visitor at Clif Family Tasting Room.

Dana's expert tip: Go with an empty stomach and have lunch at the Clif Family Bruschetteria food truck park at the curb next to the tasting room patio. The menu changes daily, using fresh ingredients from the certified organic Clif Family Farm and other local sources.

Read more about Clif Family Tasting Room →


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Rutherford
Mumm Napa
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Mumm Napa


Drinking something with bubbles can be a lifesaver for a palate headed toward wine tasting overload. Mumm Napa is one of just a handful of Napa Valley wineries that specializes in sparkling wine. Tastings are offered outside on the patio or indoors in the Tasting Salon. Both spaces provide scenic vineyard views. Visitors can taste sparkling wines by the flight or by the glass. Winery tours are also available. Reservations are strongly recommended. Best known for sparkling wine, Mumm Napa also makes a variety of still wines including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and even brandy. The winery and visitor center are located in Rutherford, on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: Mumm Napa uses traditional French wine making techniques to hand-craft sparkling wine. The winery provides a beautiful setting to taste and enjoy award winning wines.

Dana's expert tip: Grab a glass of sparkling wine and explore the Fine Art Photography Gallery.

Read more about Mumm Napa →


Whitehall Lane Winery
Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann


Whitehall Lane is a family-owned winery in Napa Valley's St. Helena. Founded by two brothers in the late 1970s, the winery gets its name from a road that borders the property. Now owned by the Leonardini family, Whitehall Lane farms more than 145 acres of Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley vineyards. The bright and cheerful tasting room is a nice spot to learn about wine without feeling intimidated. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, Whitehall Lane offers Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. If you like sweeter varieties, the winery also crafts a Belmuscato and a red dessert wine named Belforte.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: Whitehall Lane offers a variety of tours and tastings. Some require a reservation, but others don't, adding much needed flexibility to Napa Valley itineraries.

Dana's expert tip: If you plan ahead, you can make arrangements to picnic in Whitehall Lane's estate vineyard.

Read more about Whitehall Lane Winery →


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Jericho Canyon Vineyard
Photo courtesy of Jericho Canyon Vineyard


The Estate at Jericho Canyon Vineyard is anything but a typical Napa Valley winery. Home to the Bleecher Family, they've preserved 70 percent of the estate as wildlife habitat. A former cattle ranch, trees weren't removed to plant grapes, vineyards were planted around them, creating unique vineyard views in the process. Wine is made in the Bordeaux style, and hand-crafted in small lots. Seated tastings are designed around current releases of estate produced wines, and are by appointment only. Along with a tasting, all visits include a vineyard and cave tour. ATV tours are also available and are a great way to see more of the vineyard's hilly terrain.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: Once a cattle ranch, the vineyards at Jericho Canyon follow the contour of the land, creating stunning, off the beaten path Napa Valley views.

Dana's expert tip: Book an ATV tour in advance. It's a fabulous way to see the vineyard, learn more about how Jericho Canyon wines are made and hear some entertaining family stories.

Read more about Jericho Canyon Vineyard →


Grgich Hills Estate
Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh


Miljenko "Mike" Grgich earned world-wide recognition, and put Napa Valley on the winemaking map, when the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay he crafted won the 1976 Paris Tasting, beating some of France's best wines. Grgich then partnered with Austin Hills and his sister, Mary Lee Strebl, from the Hills Bros. Coffee family, to create Grgich Hills Estate. The winery offers an assortment of tour and tasting options. No reservations are needed in the main tasting room for the Napa Valley Flight, which includes a flight of five wines. The winery also crafts a dessert wine called "Violetta," in honor of Grgich's daughter, Violet. Grgich Hills Estate vineyards are all certified organic. The winery made the switch to solar power in 2006.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: Grgich Hills Estate is an iconic Napa Valley winery, known for consistently crafting award-winning wine.

Dana's expert tip: Don't leave without tasting the Chardonnay. Traveling parents will be happy to know Grgich Hills Estate is a family-friendly winery.

Read more about Grgich Hills Estate →


Raymond Vineyards
Photo courtesy of Raymond Vineyards


If you like surprises, you'll love Raymond Vineyards. Vibrant, colorful and modern, Raymond Vineyards does wine tasting with a twist. Glitzy by Napa Valley wine country standards, there are a number of rooms visitors can taste in when visiting the winery. The Crystal Cellar focuses on decanting wine. Unlike any other working winemaking cellar in Napa Valley, it boasts a collection of historical crystal decanters from Baccarat. Decked head to toe with red velvet, the Red Room is a by appointment only lounge with bottle service. Half a dozen themed rooms give visitors a variety of tasting possibilities. Raymond Vineyards is glamorous, and it knows it.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: Raymond Vineyards screams fun. Tasting here is an experience that uses and entertains all of your senses.

Dana's expert tip: Be sure to explore the Theater of Nature. At two acres, it's the largest educational exhibition on Biodynamic farming and winemaking in Napa Valley.

Read more about Raymond Vineyards →


Hess Collection Winery
Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann


The Hess Collection dates back to the late 1970s when Donald Hess bought 900 acres on Mount Veeder. In 1989 the winery opened to the public. But it's never been just about wine. The Hess Collection Winery includes a 13,000 square feet gallery to showcase Hess' personal contemporary art collection. Hess began collecting art in 1966; the Museum is open to the public free of charge. From ATV excursions to wine blending and wine and cheese pairings, there's a variety of unique experiences for guests to choose from. Reservations are required for many of the offerings, however, walk-ins are welcome to take part in the Current Release Tasting at the standing tasting bar when there is availability.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: The Hess Collection offers panoramic mountain vineyard views, renowned wines, and a world-class private art collection all in one location.

Brooke's expert tip: Don't be in a rush to arrive. The trip from downtown Napa along Redwood Road is worthy of taking your time and enjoying the view.

Read more about Hess Collection Winery →


Castello di Amorosa
Photo courtesy of Castello di Amorosa, Jim Sullivan


Castello di Amorosa knows how to make a big first impression. Set in Calistoga, the winery calls a 13th-century medieval Tuscan-style castle home. It took 15 years to build the 121,000 square foot castle in Napa Valley. The Castello has 107 rooms, 95 of which are devoted to winemaking. It also has all the extras you'd expect from a castle, like a moat, drawbridge, church and torture chamber. Dragons and stone gargoyles guard many dark corners. The winery produces hand-crafted Italian style wines, exclusively available at the Castello or on its website. An assortment of guided tours and tastings are available. Reservations are recommended, but not required.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: Where else can you taste wine in California in a 13th century Tuscan castle?

Dana's expert tip: If you have a sweet tooth, don't leave without tasting the Castello's sea salt chocolate.

Read more about Castello di Amorosa →


Chateau Montelena Winery
Photo courtesy of Chateau Montelena


Chateau Montelena shocked the wine world when it won big at the Paris Tasting in 1976. Beating the French competition, California's Napa Valley became a recognizable name. Built into the hillside in 1888, the Chateau is made of stone, which provides natural insulation against outside heat or cold. (Some of the walls are an amazing twelve feet thick.) Along with walk-in bar tastings, there are a number of experiences you can take part in when visiting the property. Reservations are required for the Vineyard Tour and Tasting offered during the summer months. It's also worth planning ahead to secure a spot in a Library Tasting. It includes vintages not easily available otherwise.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: Chateau Montelena offers a spectacular setting to learn about Napa Valley wine history, and drop-in visitors are welcome at the A Taste of Montelena experience.

Dana's expert tip: Wear comfortable shoes on the Estate Tour and Tasting. There's a lot of ground to cover, with wine in hand.

Read more about Chateau Montelena Winery →


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Rutherford
Inglenook
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Inglenook


A Scottish expression meaning "cozy corner," the first grapevines were planted at Inglenook in 1871. Thanks to the vision of a Finnish sea captain, the eye-catching Chateau was added to the property in 1887. Inglenook is best known for producing Cabernet Sauvignon from its estate on Napa Valley's Rutherford Bench. In 1994, Inglenook's estate vineyards were among the first in Napa Valley to be certified organic. There are a number of tasting experiences to choose from; the Inglenook Experience includes a walking tour of the estate and a seated tasting paired with a selection of artisan cheeses. Advance reservations are strongly recommended.

Recommended for Wineries and Vineyards because: Inglenook is an important part of Napa Valley's history, that also happens to be stunning.

Brooke's expert tip: You can also visit Inglenook on a tour with the Napa Valley Wine Train, another Napa Valley must-do!

Read more about Inglenook →


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Meet Dana Rebmann

Dana Rebmann moved from San Francisco to Wine Country in search of sunshine. Amazing wine and food was a delightful bonus.

A former television producer for NBC News, Dana is a regular...  More About Dana

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