Once you take a trip to the wineries in Napa Valley, your life will never be the same – and you’ll want to return time and time again. Having just gotten back from Napa Valley, that’s exactly how I feel – as I immersed myself in the Napa lifestyle, complete with great food and fine wine, of course. But Napa is not all about the food and wine, it’s about the people, too. Their passion for the industry, their laid-back vibe, their welcoming demeanor – all make for an unforgettable experience.
While the trips to wine country and the wineries in Napa Valley are fantastic, the planning part can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. How do you narrow your itinerary down from 400+ wineries? – because I know that you want to visit them all. Do you visit the large well-known wineries or opt for the boutique ones? How many should you visit in one day? And, transportation? We suggest getting a driver.
Where do you get started? Well, I turned to my colleague, Monty Preiser, proprietor of Shadowbox Wines – and the publisher of the Preiser Key to Napa Valley (basically the go-to guidebook on where to go in Napa). For you, we’ve put together some of our favorites that you need to add to your itinerary.
Top 5 Wineries in Napa Valley
Eleven Eleven Winery
620 Trancas St Napa, CA. 707.738.0386
Vintner Tastings: $45
Our first stop of the day was with Shadowbox Cellars. They offer tastings at Eleven Eleven Winery (their production facility), by appointment only – and at the Vintner’s Collective in downtown Napa. We went with the former and met with Proprietor Justin Preiser who had us set up outside overlooking the vineyards. For a morning tasting, this was perfect — and even more so when he poured us a glass of the 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir that had both great acidity and notes of watermelon. Our tasting included a tutored tasting of 5 wines in total and ended with a tasting of the 2013 Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon, one of my favorites of the trip. These wines are small production wines – only 750 are produced during each vintage – and are made with love by winemaker Jason Moore. If you’re looking to impress, Shadowbox should be at the top of your list.
849 Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena, CA; 707.963.6946
Private Winery Tour & Tasting: $55
For an all-encompassing experience, head to Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena. This historical family-owned winery had their first vintage crush in 1974 and continues to produce elegant wines with deep roots in Napa Valley. While time has passed and Raymond Vineyards is now part of the Boisset Collection, Jean Charles Boisset keeps with the family’s traditions, while continuing to elevate the brand. Raymond Vineyards is a self-sustaining farm, it uses organic and Biodynamic farming practices; offers educational opportunities – from the corridor of senses to offering a ‘Be a Winemaker for a Day’ experience; and adds a bit of Jean Charles Boisset’s eccentric tastes to the mix. For our tasting, we were greeted with a glass of rosé, enjoyed a tour of the property – both inside and out, did a private tasting of four reds and were treated to a few extra surprises.
Del Dotto Cave & Barrel Tasting
Del Dotto Estate Winery & Caves
1445 St. Helena Hwy. S, St. Helena; 707.963.2134
Del Dotto Cave & Barrel Tasting:$75
Whether it’s because of the disco ball spinning in the entrance, the stunning wines being poured or the beautiful, marble-lined structure; there’s always a party going on at Del Dotto. So, come prepared for your visit to get a little wild. (The winery is nicknamed Del Blotto for a reason.)
While there are a variety of tastings being offered at Del Dotto, we highly suggest the barrel tasting, which is the one that we experienced. Our tour and tasting included a glass of Piazza del Dotto 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, a mini-history lesson, an art walk through the lobby area (the renowned artist, Carlo Marchiori, has decorated the interior with gorgeous murals) and then the caves and barrel tastings, where we tasted a variety of red wines from the barrels.
The unique aspect of these tastings is that they’re not quite ready to be bottled. Therefore, they will be shipped to you when they’re ready – meaning a surprise at your doorstep when you least expect it. To finish off a glorious afternoon, we enjoyed some cheese, charcuterie, honey and house made pizza (they just happen to have French Laundry-trained chefs).
1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga; 707.942.0859
Today’s Tasting: $40 featuring hand-crafted wines of elegance
The Elevated Experience: $85 featuring a flight of winery-exclusive wines paired with artisanal cheese and charcuterie.
A trip to Frank Family Vineyards is like a step back in time, as the tasting room is housed in the original yellow Craftsman house. You can visit just for the tasting or can picnic right on the property. On our visit, we walked through the house and sat on the outdoor back patio — and found instant love in their sparkling wines. Not only do they make an outstanding Blanc de Blanc, but their Rouge Sparkling Wine is one to bring home and its beaming with notes of strawberries and cherries.
While the sparkling wines were a highlight on our visit, Frank Family offers an outstanding portfolio of small-batch, single-vineyard wines, ranging from 300 cases to 3,000 — and are often lauded for both their Cabernet and Pinot Noirs.
1461 First St., Napa; 707.947.3010
Sitting south of Stag’s Leap and just west of Atlas Peak, lies Ellman Family Vineyard – owned by Boca Raton-based brothers Neil and Lance Ellman. While we weren’t able to visit the vineyard, we did stop at their newly opened tasting room in Napa where we were greeted by Adriana Chinsky, the director of sales – and someone I’ve shared multiple glasses of wine with.
The Ellman Family team likes to keep their business in the family. Not only do they work together in the company, but many of the wines (mostly Cabernet Sauvignons) are named after family members. We were particularly fond of the 2014 Jemma, named after Neil’s wife, made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Beckstoffer Georges III and Stagecoach Vineyards.
The tasting took place in a relaxed, off-site setting and included a tasting of five wines. Tastings do need to be scheduled in advance and can be made by calling 707.947.3010 Ext. 1.