Hi, guys! I’ve so enjoyed taking you all with me on my trip through Northern California over the last several weeks. This week, you’ll learn how to visit Napa Valley wineries and make the most out of every minute. I’ll also reveal my favorite places that I visited on my trip–one of which is among the most beautiful wineries in Napa Valley. Ready? Let’s get going!
How to Visit Napa Valley Wineries: My Tips
Make Tasting Reservations Several Days Ahead
For a long time, it was free to visit Napa Valley wineries, and you could just walk in at any time. However, after too many visitors took advantage of this practice, most wineries began to charge tasting fees and require reservations. The most important advice I can offer on how to visit Napa Valley wineries and make the most of your trip is to come up with a well-researched itinerary before you head out. Schedule tastings with the wineries at the top of your list, and decide how much you want to spend. Unfortunately, you can’t plan to show up at a bunch of wineries unannounced; and they do charge for tastings and tours, although some cost far more than others.
Decide How Many Wineries You Want to Visit
Your plan for how to visit Napa Valley wineries on your trip should depend solely on your vision of your Napa experience. Would you rather explore fewer wineries more deeply, selecting the right variety carefully; or visit as many as you can while you’re there? You can choose a cluster of wineries that are close to each other, since traveling between them will be fast and easy. Alternatively, you can research the most beautiful Napa Valley wineries and schedule just a few reservations to give you more time to spend wandering the grounds.
P.S. In researching this post, I found an incredibly helpful search tool for Napa Valley wineries that allows you to filter by reservation requirements, wine types, and other characteristics (like “picnic area” and “dog-friendly!”). I can’t even express how much I wish that I had found this before my trip–so use it well, and make a toast in my honor once you’ve found your ideal winery!
Decide How Touristy is Too Touristy for You
Some Napa Valley wineries are far more touristy than others–the more famous the name, the more people naturally flock to it. In deciding how to visit Napa Valley wineries on your trip, keep in mind that some people are willing to put up with crowds to get the full Napa tourist experience; while others would be far happier at smaller boutique wineries that can give a more personalized experience. Read Yelp reviews and wineries’ websites to get a clear picture of what your experience will be like.
Make Sure They Produce the Wine Varieties You Like
Different Napa Valley wineries are famous for different kinds of wine. If you’re a white wine drinker, like I am, you should know that most California wineries are famous for their red wines. There are wineries that specialize in sparkling wine, however, such as Mumm and Korbel; and some wineries do produce both red and white wines. In laying out a game plan on how to visit Napa Valley wineries on your trip, do your research to make sure that you’re not disappointed by the wineries’ offerings once you get there.
Choosing Between Napa vs. Sonoma
Napa County is one of two California counties famous for its wine; the other is Sonoma County. When you’re deciding whether to visit Napa vs. Sonoma, you should know that one county isn’t better than the other–it’s all about personal preference. What it comes down to is that Napa County focuses more on wine tourism, while Sonoma County focuses more on wine production. More wine is actually produced in Sonoma than in Napa, but you might find that there’s more to do as a tourist in Napa than there is in Sonoma. The two counties are right next door to each other, however; so if you’re visiting for several days, you can definitely hit up towns and wineries across both counties to get the full experience.
Where to Stay in Napa Valley
When you’re deciding where to stay in Napa Valley, I recommend making a list of the Napa Valley points of interest you’d most like to visit, then deciding which town is the most convenient for you. We decided that we wanted to stay in downtown Napa, which had the most restaurants and activities, since it’s the county seat. Here are photos of the Airbnb in downtown Napa where we stayed (and which I’d highly recommend).
The Best Napa Valley Wineries: My Picks
#1: Chappellet Winery
In choosing how to visit Napa Valley wineries on my trip, my foremost goal was to see breathtaking scenery. My second goal was to find a winery that really cared about its customers and their experience. Third, I was really hoping to find a winery that made both red and white wine, since I just can’t seem to convince my palette to love red wine. I found all three at Chappellet Winery, which has been run by the Chappellet family since 1967–the first winery to grow its grapes solely at Napa Valley’s highest elevations.
Chappellet Winery was my first choice to visit, since it’s among the most beautiful wineries in Napa Valley. I was so disappointed to find that they were fully booked on the day that we’d be there. After visiting a couple of other places, we decided to make the drive up to Chappellet Winery to snap a few pictures before we headed back to San Francisco. We made it up Pritchard Hill–a steep drive with alternating views of the forest, the mountains, the vineyards, and Lake Hennessey. The drive alone was worth it, but Chappellet Winery’s vineyards were the icing on the cake. I mean, you can see the pictures–isn’t it crazy how beautiful this place is?!
We took our time taking pictures, but I wanted to at least say hello before we headed back to the city. We ventured into Chappellet Winery’s main building and were greeted so warmly, then offered a complimentary tasting since we’d already driven all the way up there. This really meant the world to us–it was so far beyond what we were expecting. Of course, we ended up shipping a few bottles home. The sweet Chappellet family and their gorgeous winery were one of the best parts of our whole California adventure. If you’ve been searching for the most beautiful wineries in Napa Valley, be sure to add Chappellet Winery to your list!
The Best Napa Valley Wineries: My Picks
What’s unique about Ma(i)sonry is that they’re not a winery–they allow boutique wineries, too small to have their own tasting rooms, to reach new customers in their gorgeous space. Ma(i)sonry is located in the heart of Yountville in an ivy-covered stone house that was built in 1904, restored in 2008, then filled with modern furniture and art. You’re seated at one of a number of highly Instagrammable communal spaces, then wine is brought for you to taste based on your individual taste and price range. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in figuring out how to visit Napa Valley wineries and really make the most of your time, Ma(i)sonry is the perfect way to sample many wineries’ offerings, tailored to your preferences–all while sitting in a picture-worthy setting.
We were all happy with the wines that we were brought, except one glass that my friend thought had the distinct flavor of geraniums. The winemaker happened to be there, and he dropped by to taste it for himself. He was astonished at my friend’s description, because apparently, “geranium” is a highly specific descriptor that sommeliers use for wine that’s gone bad–and that’s exactly what he picked up on, too! We were all very proud of her sophisticated palette, and happy to get to chat with a number of interesting wine experts while we sipped the lesser-known wines that they’d chosen specially for us.
The Best Napa Valley Wineries: My Picks
#3: The Stags Leap District
The Stags Leap District is 1 of 16 sub-regions (known as American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs) within Napa Valley. It contains 20 wineries, many of which are among the most beautiful wineries in Napa Valley. One winery in the Stags Leap District (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars) produced the first Californian wine to receive worldwide acclaim in the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine tasting. If you’re staying in Napa or Yountville, it’s easy to drive through the Stags Leap District, since all of the wineries are clustered along the Silverado Trail–one of two major roads in the area. It’s a gorgeous drive–we stopped at Chimney Rock Winery just to take photos of the vineyards, rolling hills, and Mission-style architecture. In deciding how to visit Napa Valley wineries on your trip, you might find it easiest to head to an area that’s rich in options like the Stags Leap District.
Which wineries were your favorites? Are you planning a trip to Napa Valley, or have you already been? I’d love to hear what you think–leave me a comment!
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