It’s not often that I get to entertain my friends and family from back home, but when I do, taking my wine lovers to wine country is a must. I have a special selection of wineries that I love to take first time visitors to. I am sure that my list will grow over time, but I do believe that this is a great start. Of course, you may not (should not) be able to hit all of these spots in one day. Talking about wine tasting overload. The best thing to do is PLAN AHEAD. Know which wineries you want to visit and outline your travel accordingly. It is also very important to eat a hearty breakfast before you begin you tasting journey. Drink plenty of water before tasting and in between tastings to stay hydrated. To truly take in the full value of your experience, I recommend no more than three winery visits a day. And be sure to book a winery tour for at least one of those spots. It is also vitally important to check the websites for each winery to note the tasting fees. Most wineries in Napa Valley have a fee. And if you plan to visit any of the places on my list, also be prepared to buy something. You will without a doubt encounter more than one wine that you can’t leave the valley without.
Sterling Vineyards: A scenic view from atop a hill, Sterling Vineyards is always a first stop, must-do. I’m not sure if it is the delicious wine, the self-guided tour, or the tram ride up the hill to the winery, but I cannot resist this place being the first stop on the list when taking newbies out and about. Guests get really excited about the tram ride up the hill to the winery. And just in case you are not a fan of riding 300 feet in the air, the staff is more than happy to accommodate you in getting you up to the winery. However, you are going to miss out on a spectacular view.
Once at the winery, you are greeted by a wine educator and your first glass of wine. From there, the rest of your experience is at your pace. You can visit inside the winery, where you will learn a lot about the winemaking process, or stop by the gift shop. During your self-guided tour, you will also come across two spectacular terraces with amazing views of the valley. This is where you will also taste additional wines to enjoy. Each time I visit, I usually upgrade to the Silver Experience, which is a seated tasting in which you will enjoy premium selections from the winery.
1111 Dunaweal Lane Calistoga, CA 94515
St. Clement: I was always intrigued by the tiny, elegant house on the hill. I had passed by it many times, but never ventured into the quaint boutique winery. This lovely Victorian home presents a fantastic showcase of superb wines that are sure to treat your palate. At my first visit to this winery, I was completely amazed and satisfied from one glass to the next. The ambiance is serene. The wines are exceptional. The staff is amazing. What more could you ask for? You can walk in for a tasting in their cozy tasting room. however I recommend enjoying your wines in the seating area on the terrace. The views are absolutely spectacular, especially on a clear day.
St. Clement Vineyards
2867 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA 94574
V. Sattui: This was the very first winery I fell for on my first trip to Napa Valley. I was quite the novice on my first visit and my palate was not quite ready for most of the wines I had tasted that day. I passed over the first couple of wines to taste from the menu, explaining to the host what my day had been like. He then offered me some options to try that my palate might respond more favorably to. And it did!!
You really can’t go wrong with this place. Which would explain why it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the valley. You have everything you need all in one spot. V. Sattui has an enormous menu of fantastic Italian-styled wines. They don’t miss a thing. You will absolutely find something you will love forever. There is also an Italian deli that carries delicious meats and a wide variety of cheeses from all over the world. You will also find other tasty treats you won’t be able to pass up. Not to mention the gifts and knick knacks spread throughout the tasting room.
Outside you will find a large picnic area, equipped with tables. Or you can sit out on the grass to enjoy your wines and delectable items from the deli.
V. Sattui Winery
1111 White Lane (at Hwy 29)
St. Helena, CA 94574
Castello di Amarosa: A sister property of V. Sattui, Castello di Amarosa is the “Castle of the Valley”. You can’t miss this 13th century inspired Tuscan castle on your drive through Calistoga. An amazingly breathtaking piece of architecture, you will want to take advantage of the full experience here. For a moderate fee, you are free to roam on your own through two levels of the castle and enjoy a premium or reserve tasting in the Main Tasting Room. However, your best bet will be to enjoy the full castle tour, where you will learn all about the history of the winery and enjoy a private premium or reserve tasting. And if the absolutely amazing wines aren’t enough to suit the fancy of your experience, this place gives some of the best and most elaborate parties in the valley. Some of the most popular events include the Royal Hearts Valentine Gala (this weekend), Hot Havana Nights (my favorite event), and the Pagan Ball.
Castello di Amarosa
4045 Saint Helena Highway
Calistoga, CA 94515
Robert Mondavi: No trip to the valley is complete without a stop by Robert Mondavi Winery. Robert Mondavi has an enduring legacy for setting high standards of winemaking and being the reason such worldwide attention has been brought to Napa Valley wines over the years. If you have not read the story of his family’s legacy, The House of Mondavi, I am pleading with you to read this book. It is one of the most intriguing biographies I’ve read. Money, power, family and wine. What more could you ask for in literature? But beyond all of those things, it gives you a much deeper appreciation for the history of winemaking and the Mondavi family brands. So, visiting the winery itself it just icing on the cake. The winery has a plethora of wine tasting options for you to choose from that will allow you to absorb and enjoy every element of the experience. My favorite is the To Kalon tasting room. It makes for a very intimate setting to enjoy delicious reserve wines. But I also enjoy just taking my time with each tasting and walking the beautiful grounds. I also have to mention that the winery gives these amazing concerts called the Summer Concert Series. Some past performers have included Melissa Etheridge, Dave Koz, Martina McBride, Ziggy Marley, and the list goes on and on.
Robert Mondavi Winery
7801 Saint Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562