Our favorite time in Napa Valley is in early Spring during the middle of the week; everything is green, bud break has already occurred, the grapes are leafing
out, the summer crowds have not yet hit, and as a result there is less traffic and
the weather is usually decent. It doesn't get much better in the valley than
driving the Silverado Trail during warm early Spring days. Parts of late Fall after the harvest can also be a good time to visit
as it is
less crowded than summer and there are less time constraints on the wineries. Winter sees rain, the amounts can vary quite a bit
from year to year and there are usually some periods of decent weather with
temperatures in the low 60's during the day.
Harvest itself is a fun and
absolutely crazy time to be in the valley (especially if you are in the
industry). There is an air of excitement in the Napa area that you can only
have during harvest time; loaded trucks with bins of grapes are flying down
the roads to winery facilities, barrels and
tanks are constantly moving around, walk
into a wine lab and smell the unmistakable odor of yeast, enology &
viticulture consultants find that their cell phones are invariably an extension
of their head, and around the wineries, you can smell the awesome sweet
smell of grapes and fermenting juice. Yea!
If we were to pick a wine that Napa Valley is known for it would be Cabernet
Sauvignon. With over 700 wineries/producers visited to date, we've enjoyed some stellar
Napa cabs along the way! While we do not sell wine directly on this website, you
California & other International wines here. You of course will find many wineries that make Chardonnay
& Sauvignon Blanc. Merlot is common, and as you reach the southern end of the Napa Valley which is
a cooler climate you will find Pinot wineries. These are just the more
common varietals - there are Napa wineries making much less known wines and
growing and using different varietals besides the "mainstream" ones.
TTB's latest update there are 655 winery permits
within Napa County ranging from the large tourist type wineries to the
smaller family and really small boutique wineries to those not open to
the public. Some have physical winery facilities, many do not and custom
crush. We have personally visited, tasted, or toured with all of the
commercial Napa Wine producers listed
on this site. (600+ to date out of 880+ on
One of the luxuries of living in Napa Valley is having all of these
great wineries in your backyard.
Tasting in the Napa Valley really
varies in price because often there are multiple options. Most
wineries charge admission for their tours and or tastes and
generally range from $5 to $75 per person.
In our opinion, research Napa wineries ahead of time &
several appointments at the non touristy Napa wineries. This
gets you off the "beaten path" & provides a more
personal feel to your tasting.
- General Wine Tasting
(often $10-20 per person - 3-5 wines tasted) - appointments may
or may not be required. A Wine glass is sometimes included -
but somewhat rare.
- Reserve Room Tasting
(contain wines made in lower quantities, higher priced and
are more valued - a wine glass sometimes included)
- Tour combined with
tasting (typical tours by themselves often run 60-90
- Sit down Wine and food
Pairings - often are several hours
- Wine Seminar (May
include food Pairings, often includes taste and smell tests)
- Additional Winery
Attractions (Trams, Galleries, Sculptures, Architecture, Paintings
If you look at total numbers,
the majority of commercial wine producers in the Napa Valley are private. By this we
mean they typically do not see visitors for tastings at all as their sales may come entirely
from their mailing list or select
distribution such as restaurants or wine shops. We clearly label these wineries as "private" in our
descriptions, leave them off the maps and do not include their
physical addresses in the write-ups. By the end of this project,
we will have visited with most of these wineries.
Private Tasting Tip - If you are a
serious wine enthusiast, are
familiar with a specific wine and want to get more information
or try for a tasting,
it doesn't hurt to call the winery even if the actual winery is listed as
private. Other factors that also help are previous purchase
history or being a member of a wineries' mailing list.
Many of the "big" Napa
tourist Wineries are located along the "wine strip" on
Highway 29/128. These are typically large production
wineries and tasting appointments are not usually
necessary. Often wineries will have something that sets
them apart from the rest of the "crowd". In our
descriptions we try to note anything at a winery that is
special or sets that particular winery apart from the
others whether its the type of wines or something else.
nearest town to each winery is
listed with the "address" in our descriptions;
often the wineries are *not* within the actual
town. Many walk in and some appointment only wineries have Wine
Clubs. For a shipment fee you are sent bottles of their
wines - often of wines that are not released to the
general public. Wine club membership typically qualifies
you for other benefits (members only dinners, free or
discount tours & tastes etc). Picnics are not usually
allowed at many of the wineries although check specific
websites for details. Of the wineries that will see
visitors, we estimate about 2/3 of these offer tastes and or
tours which require an appointment - however there are
many that have
walk in tasting rooms open
to the public (also note that if a winery
has few customers - typically winter weekdays - some
"appointment only" wineries honor the "10 second
Wineries that offer tours are often
minutes in length. You will want to factor in a break
for lunch. Our recommendation is
2 wineries before lunch and 1-2 after. Napa Valley
Wineries typically open around 10am and close between 4pm and 5pm. All wineries
reviewed in this project are listed in
All phone numbers provided are 707 area code. For
St. Helena Highway is highway 128/29 and runs along the
west side of Napa Valley. The Silverado Trail runs the
length of most of the east side of Napa Valley.
Complimentary wine tasting is available at a handful of walk-in
wineries. Some wineries will waive the tasting fee with wine purchases. A handful of appointment only wineries have free tasting, however their production is usually
small and their livelihood in part depends on direct purchases of wine. Most people who visit small wineries realize this,
are wine enthusiasts
(or are with someone who is), and will often end up making a
If a winery tells you they are among only a few family owned wineries in Napa
Valley, that is not true. Sure there are a number of large corporate owned
wineries who do own a lot of acreage but there are many small and not so small family owned wineries in Napa Valley.
The vast majority of Napa wineries by numbers are still
private or family owned.
There is no "the best" winery or wine in Napa. The one thing we have
learned on this project is the types of wines you like
are the most important criteria of all. However, after
personally tasting at 700+ unique active wine
producers in Napa County I have amassed
some of my own favorites based on the criteria below.
If wineries produce a
sweet wine such as a Muscat, Port or Late Harvest they often tell you that
most people enjoy their particular sweet wine because its not syrupy. Not all
wineries in the Napa Valley make dessert wines - in fact you can do a lot of
tasting and never see it on the tasting menu. There are a select
few wineries specializing in "sweet" wines.
Winery employees who are typically from "large wineries" open to
the public by walk-in often visit other similar wineries and
drop off what are called Tasting Cards. These cards often will
give one either complementary tasting or two for the price of
one tasting. Sometimes the receiving winery requires the
signature and or name of the person who gave you the tasting
card. The tasting cards may flow more easily after purchases of
wine. It is a good idea to ask tasting room staff for other
winery recommendations & also inquire if they have tasting
cards for their recommended
Ten second appointments
(Appointment drop-ins) - many
wineries in order to satisfy county requirements for their
permits have to be by appointment only
and there are reasons why the county has these tasting limits. Of these
"appointment only" wineries, some will accept the "10 second
appointment" *if* they are not busy and do not have a gated driveway.
if you drop by and if they are not busy typically they will take you in for a
tasting and you may need to sign their "appointment book". Often these wineries
are located on the Napa Valley floor and have good signage in front of their
winery. The smaller wineries in the surrounding
hills are generally stricter about needing prior appointments and you
need to make the appointment ahead of time. Technically any appointment only
winery needs to have you call in from offsite to make an appointment. In any case, you should call
ahead if you know a winery has an appointment only policy.
Some wineries have daily scheduled tours - typically these are
held at the larger wineries. Not all wineries have tours. Most of the time you need to
pre-arrange tours ahead of time, especially with the smaller wineries. Tours
typically will visit caves (if on site), fermentation tanks and may include a
walk through of the vineyards. Tastings may occur during the actual tour, or
there may be a formal sit down tasting at the end.
Yes there can be bad traffic in Napa Valley
but this really depends on the time of day, time of year, specific location and
whether it is a weekend or not. In our experience, the main valley artery of
Highway 29 & 29/128 - especially the "wine strip" from about Yountville to St.
Helena, can be traffic clogged during certain times of the year (mid/late
spring, summer, early fall) and
especially summer weekends. Typically the worst traffic in Napa Valley is in and
around the city of Napa and near St. Helena - sometimes traffic is backed past the Dean & Deluca
shopping center from south of St. Helena driving northbound and it can take 20+ minutes just to
reach the main part of town. This normally takes just a few minutes. Traffic tends to thin out considerably once you
drive north of St. Helena although it can back up on the northbound side into
St. Helena and at the
Calistoga stop sign, typically during commute hours only.
One credo we've heard a number of times regarding Napa wine tasting is
to make only right turns. This is more relevant to Highway 29 rather
than the usually less crowded Silverado Trail. A portion of the "wine
strip" south of St. Helena has a center turn lane. We say use it and
make left turns if needed!
The other main artery in Napa Valley is the Silverado Trail located on the east
side of the valley. For the most part, the Silverado Trail and certainly other
small roads are not usually traffic clogged.
for the latest Highway 29 driving conditions.
Website Age Logins
This is based on customer honesty as you can easily
bypass this requirement. A very few number of wineries (typically large corporate owned ones) in
order to "satisfy" legal requirements have Age Logins on their websites. They
ask you to choose your age usually from drop down Day, Month & Year menus. If
you choose an age less than 21 the website refuses you entry. Some ask you to
choose the country you live in - they will deny access to their site if you
choose certain countries.
Cell Phones - should be turned off during tastings or set to vibrate - especially on tours and
during more intimate sit down tastings. If there is a call you absolutely have to take -
take it outside. The way we see it, if you choose to go wine tasting, leave the
cell phone in the car.
Dump Bucket (spitting, dumping) - All wineries we visited have a "dump"
bucket or some other type of container for pouring or spitting excess wine. It
is normal to pour or spit wine into these provided containers if you cannot
finish it. Wineries expect this and if you are not in the wine industry it can
take some time to get over the perceived "weirdness" of spitting wine.
Late for Appointments - this can happen even with the best
thought out plans. During the research for this project it
happened to us several times - you find yourself enjoying
your time at one winery and lose track of time - or you do not
allow yourself enough time between appointments. If you
are on an "appointment only" winery schedule always ask when making
your appointment for an approximate time estimate for the tasting and or
tour if there is one.
Try to schedule winery appointments at wineries that are located close
to each other. Napa Valley is not huge - but there are wineries spread
out all over and it can easily take up to an hour to drive between
wineries far apart from each other. Allow time ample time for lunch -
and note there are no restaurants along the entire Silverado Trail (with
the exception of a few nearby resorts and one store/deli). Napa Valley
restaurants are typically in or near the main towns along Highway 29.
Take all winery phone numbers with you.
If you find
yourself becoming late for an appointment - call at least 10-20 minutes
before the appointment time to appraise the winery of your situation &
Payment - with the small wineries, payment is typically made after you are done with your tasting in case you
decide to purchase some wine. However some of the larger and more crowded tasting rooms
will take payment for the tasting right up front - as its easier for them to
keep track of who is actually tasting.
Swirling - or what is known in Chemistry speak as "volatizing the esters" actually
"opens up the wine" - by swirling you expose more of the wine to air and you
will notice the aroma's become more noticeable and pronounced and will even
change over time. Introducing
oxygen to the wine can enhance the aromas and flavors. Grab the wine
glass by its long stem and move it in a counter or clockwise direction so that the wine swirls around the inside of the
glass for 5 to 10 seconds.
Tasting Notes - most wineries have what are
called Tasting Note sheets available upon request. These sheets typically list
the year of the wine, composition of the wine, sugar levels at harvest (o brix),
and actual notes about the aromas, flavor and characteristics of the wine.
Sometimes these sheets can be good reminders as it can be easy to forget the types
of wine you have tasted, especially if you are visiting multiple wineries.
Water - even if you aren't drinking much wine it is still easy to forget to
drink during your winery visits - bring bottled water. A number of
walk-in wineries also have bottled water on
site for purchase.
Maps - North Napa Valley
Central Napa Valley
South Napa Valley