What Wineries to Visit in Napa County

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: Readers and friends regularly ask when traveling to California’s wine country, what wineries should I make a point to visit?

Not a bad question. There are lots of dull wineries not worth your time — or your (sometimes expensive) tasting fees. There are also many hidden gems worth seeking out but which don’t make much of an impression in the big guidebooks you’ll find.

So, with that in mind, here are my (completely subjective) picks for Napa’s best and most interesting wineries to visit.

Oh, and please note — though I’ve spent countless days in the wine country, I haven’t been to every winery (there are hundreds), and many of Napa’s best wineries don’t operate visitor centers open to the public. I’m avoiding to some extent wineries that require reservations to visit; I know how wine country touring goes. I’m also including Carneros here, which is between Sonoma and Napa but usually “on the way” from San Francisco.

How to find all these places? If you don’t have a map, grab a copy of “Wine Country This Week,” a free magazine available at many wineries in the area. Their maps are stellar and cover the whole of California’s winegrowing regions.

Drinkhacker’s Top Napa Valley Wineries Worth Visiting (in alphabetical order)

Artesa – Postmodern facility built into a hillside in Carneros.

Beaulieu (BV) – Go straight to the reserve room, which is in its own building.

Casa Nuestra – Call ahead and ask to feed the goats.

Chateau Montelena – A piece of Napa history.

Clos du Val – Humble, solid wines.

Corison

Darioush – The most ostentatious winery — built with imported stone — in all of Napa.

Domaine Carneros – Midway between Sonoma and Napa, this classic French chateau offers fine pinots, sparklers, and cheese pairings.

Flora Springs

Folio Winemakers’ Studio – Carneros tasting room with several smaller labels, many of which are very good. Vintage tractor out front.

Freemark Abbey

Heitz – A Napa classic.

Joseph Phelps

Luna Vineyards

Opus One – Second-most ostentatious winery in the county. A landmark.

Pine Ridge – Always something interesting being poured.

Prager Port Works – Fortify your liver first.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – Expensive tasting fee, but usually worth it.

V. Sattui – More for the deli (which is amazing) than the wine, though some good stuff is often being poured.

Vintners Collective – Another multi-label wine room, in an ancient building surviving in downtown Napa.

Got your own top Napa picks? Add them in the comments!

Coming tomorrow: Top Sonoma Wineries to Visit.

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13 Responses to What Wineries to Visit in Napa County

  1. Thanks so much for this! Ryan and I have been patiently waiting for this post! We’re on the deck searching for new places to go for our 3rd visit – so this was very timely. We’d like to add a view to the list:

    Jarvis – Cave and very cool
    Peju – Our all-time favorite for zin, and everything they make
    Frog’s Leap – The experience is in the tour
    Caymus – Divine and nice tasting experience
    Duckhorn – Fabulous tasting room, and always great quality

  2. I think your list of most-ostentatious wineries needs to be shifted down one position to make room for http://www.castellodiamorosa.com/ – there is nothing else like it in Napa (or anywhere else in this country), and it’s actually amazingly well done. I am not a huge fan of their wines (through I prefer them to those produced by V. Sattui (same ownership, I believe). It’s worth a visit even for non-wine-drinkers.

  3. Lori – Yep, been to all of those, but at least 3 require reservations and, at least in the case of Caymus, can be hard to get. I figured I’d skip them. Jeremy – Have yet to visit Castello but have always been intrigued… need to go. Thanks all for the tips!

  4. Greg Jackson

    As usual, Chris, your insight is crisp, to the point, and totally relevant.

  5. Pingback: Drinkhacker.com » What Wineries to Visit in Sonoma County

  6. Pingback: What Wineries to Visit in Sonoma County | cocktailista.com

  7. Oh – I also hear good things about the Del Dotto cave tour… have yet to undertake it, though.

  8. If you love Cabernet Sauvignon, head to Silver Oak in Oakville to sample a fabulous Cab. They’re open daily except for Sundays.

    Art lovers should visit Hess Collection. They have great wines and a free modern art museum with some interesting exhibits.

  9. Another incredible winery to visit is Frank Family Vineyards, just north of St Helena. The winery is owned by Richard Frank (a really big name in Hollywood), and the tasting room – which used to be the only train station in the Napa Valley – is adorned with lots of pictures of various celebrities (my favorite is one of Sean Connery at a red carpet event holding a magnum of Frank cabernet). The wines themselves are some of the best I’ve ever sampled – I don’t consider myself much of a white drinker, but the chardonnay is simply incredible. They also have 2-3 different types of sparkling wines to sample. And as if there wasn’t already enough reason to visit, the tastings are free.

    http://www.frankfamilyvineyards.com/

  10. I second the recommendation for Castello. The wine was so-so but the winery was amazing and very authentic.

  11. Ashley Elizabeth

    I highly recommend Del Dotto’s tasting. They have two different locations – St. Helena and further south in Napa. The tour experience truly depends on the leader, I was lucky enough to have one of the Del Dotto family members whose passion (and heavy handed pouring!) really made the experience unique and educational. The atmosphere makes it different than any other winery I’ve visited – your tour winds through the caves lined with barrels, often you’ll taste up to 20 different wines. This may depend on your guide, but I particularly enjoyed tasting the same grape or blend aged in two entirely different barrels. One of my favorites for a great time.

  12. It sure would be great to see us on the list. We appreciate the comments in the response section. Cheers! Jim

  13. Katheryn Hung

    Great posting Chris! I am sold on the Del Dotto cave tour and Castello!!! Look forward to visiting some of the other ones you’ve recommended if time permits. Thanks so much;)

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