The Napa Valley is just 30 miles long and a handful of miles across. Yet, it’s so packed with attractions and distractions that it can be difficult to figure out where to begin. There are multiple ways to plan a visit depending on who’s going and for how long. Is it a quiet and reflective trip you seek, or a more broad, introductory experience? No matter your preference, we’ve got you covered with these destination recommendations.
These places are the proven, the blue chip, the tried-and-true. They live up to the hype, both in terms of quality wine and visitor experience.
One of Napa Valley’s founding wineries, Donn & Molly Chappellet were among the first to plant vineyards on the high-elevation hillsides of Pritchard Hill, founding the vineyard in 1967. All six of their children are involved with the vineyard. The organically farmed estate rewards with a quiet setting and views from 1,800 feet, across Lake Hennessey and beyond. Visitor options range from winery vineyards walks to more in-depth tastings. By appointment only; chappellet.com.
Home to Insignia, one of the valley’s most prestigious proprietary reds, the St. Helena hillside winery was originally built in 1974 and has recently been spectacularly redone. A good start is a Terrace Tasting, a personalized, seated tasting of the producer’s Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast wines. Deeper experiences offered throughout the year delve into topics like blending, single-vineyard wines and aromas. By appointment only; josephphelps.com.
Quintessa, nestled in the heart of Rutherford, makes just one wine, a classic from its estate, utilizing organic farming practices. It’s such a unique site of varying aspect and elevation that it must be seen to be understood. An estate tasting is one way, or you can go big and book the Quintessential Quintessa experience in one of the winery’s private pavilions that overlooks Dragon’s Hill. It provides a chance to dig into block-specific barrel samples and library wines. By appointment only; quintessa.com.
Tucked into a hillside pocket is Shafer, the Stags Leap District pioneer of Hillside Select. It invites visitors to take everything in slowly and intimately from its relaxed tasting room. Seated tastings take place at 10 am and 2 pm weekdays. Lasting 90 minutes, it’s an exploration of five wines and includes discussion on viticulture and winemaking. By appointment only; shafervineyards.com.
Family-run and certified organic, this gorgeous estate in the heart of St. Helena only allows a few visitors at a time to better showcase its home and gardens, property and elegant, ageworthy wines. Tours of the property and seated tastings of its Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon go in-depth in a comfortable setting. By appointment only; spottswoode.com.
Coming in Part Two
Wine and Food Pairing Experiences
Tasting Older Vintages, Rare Bottles
Word of Mouth Favorites
These spots could be called hipster or cult attractions. But mostly, they’re small wineries, producing a limited number of wines from meticulously farmed—and primarily estate—sites.
Surrounded by some of Andy Beckstoffer’s finest Cabernet vineyards under the Mayacamas Range, Anomaly is a coveted spot, gifting Winemaker Mark Porembski with gravelly-grown grapes able to impart grace and structure. Taste by appointment in the stone cellar from 10 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday; anomalyvineyards.com.
Mac Watson has revived a brand originally started by his late mother, Ann Macauley Watson, in the 1980s. The vineyard is based up a tiny road off the Silverado Trail in Calistoga, not far from where Winemaker Kirk Venge makes the wines. Highly allocated Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and a new Chardonnay are the stars. By appointment only; macauleyvineyard.com.
Historic Mayacamas has been tucked into the folds of Mount Veeder since 1889, and it offers the best chance to take in the panoramic wildness of the appellation and its wines. Reaching heights of 2,400 feet and spread across 475 acres, its Cabernet is defined by intensity and freshness in equal measure. By appointment only; mayacamas.com.
Built into the base of Mount George in Coombsville, up a windy road from Napa, Palmaz is a Bauhaus-inspired architectural gem dedicated to gravity-flow winemaking. Tours wind through several layers of an underground cave, followed by a seated tasting of five wines that includes the winery’s limited-edition Riesling, each paired with hors d’oeuvre. By appointment only; palmazvineyards.com.
Located off of the main highway in St. Helena, this producer employs a mother-son winemaking team devoted to estate-grown, Bordeaux-inspired reds, compelling whites and memorable Vin Clair. Visits include a stroll and sip through the property and winery, finished by a sit-down tasting in the salon. By appointment only; younginglewood.com.
Off the Beaten Track
As advertised, these wineries may take some time to find, but they offer opportunities to see the back roads, hidden curves and vistas of Napa, places that most visitors rarely go.
Antica Napa Valley
This 1,200-acre Atlas Peak estate is the Napa Valley home of the Antinori family, involved in winemaking in Tuscany and Umbria for 26 generations. They make Sauvignon Blanc and two Cabernets, as well as a small amount of other wines. Private tours and tastings are sit-down and in view of the surrounding mountains. Tours by appointment (up to 8 people) at 10am and 3pm, Monday to Friday and Saturdays during the summer; anticanapavalley.com.
Cain Vineyard & Winery
No more than four people at a time are welcomed up the windy Spring Mountain roads to visit Cain. Hiking shoes are encouraged for the steep, multi-aspected vineyard tour that brings the importance of mountain terroir to life. Cain Five is the signature wine, a blend of all five Bordeaux red varieties. By appointment only; cainfive.com.
The Hess Collection
At the base of Mount Veeder, Hess has it all, offering wonderful food, wine and art within its expansive location. Its small-block series wines are available only at the winery, along with a range of food-pairing experiences. Consider a tour and three-course lunch, or a wine and chocolate matchup. The Museum Walk is a guided tour of the Hess Collection Art Museum which also includes a tasting. Book ahead; hesscollection.com.
With a newly completed estate after a 20-year search for the right spot, Lokoya has always been about mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon. It produces four bottlings from four of the valley’s famous mountain appellations. Now it has a home 2,000 feet up on Spring Mountain, the former site of the historic 77-acre Yverdon estate and vineyard. Famed local architect Howard Backen designed the winery. By appointment only; lokoya.com.
Volker Eisele Family Estate
Hidden within the Chiles Valley on the eastern edge of the Napa Valley, Volker Eisele is a 60-acre estate that has been organically farmed since the 1970s. Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux reds make up most of the estate, with a smidgen of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Come for a quiet sit-down tasting with one of the Eiseles themselves. By appointment only; volkereiselefamilyestate.com.