[updated October 20, 2020] The one question we get asked the most is what wineries to visit in Napa Valley.
Visit Napa Valley. There’s not a single, nor even a handful of answers that we can give that will satisfy everyone. Napa Valley has over 500 wineries, each with its own distinct style, vibe, aesthetic and beauty. You can literally be shooting a rattlesnake in the mountains with an old-school Winemaker at noon while drinking some of the best Riesling you’ve ever had away from Germany. Then, at 2pm you can be standing in front of the largest collection of modern Art west of the Mississippi while drinking exceptional red wines.
Instead of giving an itinerary, we’re starting to catalog a list of wineries our team has personally visited and our quick honest feedback on each of them. This post is dynamic and will be updated frequently, so bookmark it! Thus, without further adieu – in no particular order.
Their name is synonymous with a style of Chardonnay that is sought after by many – oaky, buttery and velvety. The family history is deep rooted in food & wine. Their appreciation of food & wine stemmed from their great aunt Irma Rombauer who authored the internationally renowned cookbook, Joy of Cooking. The winery was established in 1980 and to this day is still owned by the family (3rd generation).
Look beyond their standard Chardonnay. We dig their Sauvignon Blanc ($20), mouthwatering with sharp acidity, mango and citrus that get the party started. Don’t sleep on Rombauer Merlot ($40)- dark fruits, nutty, deep and well balanced. If you have a penchant for Chardonnay, then take it up a notch and go for their limited production, Rombauer Home Ranch Chardonnay ($70) – it’s well worth it. https://www.rombauer.com/
Cliff Lede Vineyards may not carry the cachet of other Napa labels, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Founded in 2002 namesake Cliff Lede, a charismatic Canadian with a taste for Bordeaux, this 60-acre estate in the Stags Leap District benefits from the talents of winemaker David Abreu, a respected name in the valley. Lede also loves classic rock music, so he named each vineyard block after a favorite rock song or album: “My Generation” to “Dark Side of the Moon.” His superb Cabernets compare with Napa’s best. https://cliffledevineyards.com
This winery is the single best argument for making Pritchard Hill its own AVA. From a compact 15-acre vineyard at 1,400 feet with a stunning view down the valley, unforgiving red volcanic soils bring a strong sense of terroir to Ovid’s limited-production and highly prized vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Winemaker Austin Peterson ferments with native yeasts and bottles without fining or filtering. Pricey, but worth it — a quintessentially Napa experience! By appointment only. https://www.ovidnapavalley.com/
Pioneering San Francisco businessman Alfred Lovering Tubbs founded one of California’s oldest existing wineries in January of 1882 on 254 acres of rugged and undulating land just two miles north of Calistoga at the base of Mount Saint Helena, at the northern end of Napa Valley. Over the next century, the winery established itself as one of California’s — a claim made indisputable in 1976 at the legendary Judgement of Paris, when its 1973 Chardonnay bested its Gallic competitors. It’s one of the finest producers of Cabernet in the valley, and worth the visit for its picturesque grounds alone. https://montelena.com/
To get a sense of the laid back, yet forward thinking 2nd generation proprietor of Chateau Montelena Bo Barrett pick up a copy of Drive Through Napa.
Arguably producing the best Riesling in the valley. Brothers Stu & Charles Smith are a hoot. They’ve been doing this for decades, and are ardent stewards of the land. It’s a no frills, drinking in their barn while talking politics and history with the colorful brothers kind of tasting. Polished winemaking across the board. Tastings are appointment only, give yourself time heading up beautiful Spring Mountain. https://www.smithmadrone.com
Great wine starts in the vineyard. It’s a combination of respect for the land and purposefully creating a diverse ecosystem. Winemaker and Vintner Julie Johnson is a respected winemaker and pioneer of Napa Valley. Goats, chickens, Oak trees, pomegranate trees and other fruits, flowers and vegetables make up her diverse ecosystem in which the grapes are grown, fermented and bottled on site.
Favorites include the Petite Syrah (smooth as a saxaphone), Sauvignon Blanc (hints of mango!), a sophisticated Cabernet and the quirky Por Que Non (a Zinfandel blend). https://www.tressabores.com
Vintner, proprietor and charmer Jean-Charles Boisset is the P Diddy of wine! The man has an infectious zest for life, wine and business. Raymond Vineyards has one of the more eclectic and fun wine tasting experiences such as their Winemaker of the Day program where you blend your own wine! Aside from the glitz and fun, they are producing serious wine from their estate grapes which are farmed sustainably and biodynamically.
Personal favorites are their District Collection Cabernet (rich, dark and delicious), Small Lot Collection Petite Syrah (something special!) and Provencal style rosé under the John Legend LVE label. https://raymondvineyards.com/
Trefethen Family Vineyards
One of Napa’s most venerable labels for over 50 years. Their Chardonnay burst on the wine scene in the late 70s by winning Best Chardonnay in the world at the Paris Wine Olympics. Still family owned and operated, the wines are proudly made with what their estate gives them. Currently run by the 3rd generation Trefethen’s the wines an hospitality are fantastic.
Their Chardonnay is not a butter-bomb, it’s crisp, acidic aromatic and will age. Their Cabernet Franc is soft and pretty with structure and well integrated tannins. https://www.trefethen.com/
Opulent through and through. Stone columns and granite with immaculate grounds with a proprietor who loves music and art. Vintner Darioush Khaledi has created a masterpiece in architecture with a big nod of respect to his Persian culture. Hospitality is incredible, the wines are sublime.
Yes their Cabernets are delicious but try their Syrah – layers of spice and dark fruit with rich mouthfeel. https://www.darioush.com/
You’ve more than likely seen this label in a grocery store or restaurant wine list. Don’t be fooled to think this is a basic wine. Hess Collection has found a wonderful balance of wines across a range including estate driven, meticulously produced Cabernets worthy of collection like The Lion – a project between Hess’s winemaker Dave Guffy and iconic winemaker Celia Welch.
The family owned and operated vineyards are nestled in Mount Veeder which is an AVA (American Viticulture Area) known for having small berries with intense flavors. Wines for any level wine drinker, the largest collection of modern art west of the Mississippi, and beautiful gardens make Hess Collection a visit in Napa Valley. https://www.hesscollection.com/
Ashes & Diamond
The brand and wines are progressive, ironically going back to old school Napa wine making. Low alcohol, varietal driven, balanced wines being made by respected winemaker Steve Matthiasson. Though a new brand, owner and creative Kashy Khaledi is the son of Darious Khaledi.
The venue itself is mid-century modern, feels like you’re in Palm springs The tasting room is a lounge with ’90s hip hop in the background. https://ashesdiamonds.com/