If you have been wine tasting in Napa Valley, you’ve probably hit some blockbuster locations -- tourist hot spots that offer attractions but serve elementary tastings. Maybe you have visited some of our 10 Best Napa Valley Wineries to Visit, or built your own itinerary. Either way, you probably know by now that, despite its modest geographical reach, Napa is a really big place.
Don’t be overwhelmed! Its size is all the more reason to dig a little deeper into Napa’s many offerings. Seek out tastings that enhance your wine expertise in California’s most prestigious growing region. You’ve had fun kicking back on a pretty deck with a porch pounder, but it’s time to check out serious wine-lover wineries. Bear in mind, a more challenging tasting experience comes at a price. Tasting fees range from $25-75 but you’re paying for great wine, not subsidizing a mogul’s chateau.
The geekiest way to drink wine in Napa, once you’ve gotten your bearings, is to seek out winemakers who don’t have a tasting room. Small producers that put all of their energy into production often have the most special wine. But emailing a winemaker for a private tasting is advanced-level drinking. We've made it simpler for you to find the smaller wineries with exceptional wine! Use this as a starting point for a deeper exploration of Napa.
Before heading out to the wineries, consider buying a Priority Wine Pass. This can save you 50% on tasting fees and provides a concierge service for planning your day. Learn more here.
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Want to go organic while you’re visiting Napa? Try Ehlers Estate, north of St. Helena. The current owners, Jean and Sylviane Leducq, updated the historical charm of the place and the potential for Bordeaux grapes when they bought it. Taste in the stone barn, built in 1886 by Bernard Ehlers, and enjoy the shade of the olive grove he planted as the perfect way to shrug off the summer heat. This is a great destination for early risers -- Ehlers offers a 9:30 am tour and barrel sample tasting. Reservation recommended, $35 tasting fee.
If you’re diving into serious Napa reds, you’ll want to get to know Pritchard Hill. This area, on the eastern edge of Napa, boasts vineyards rising between 800 and 2,000 feet elevation. At David Arthur Vineyards, the same family that planted vines in 1978 manages this estate operation today. The tasting fee is steep but it gets you an intimate walk through the winery’s superb cabernet sauvignons, as well as meritage, chardonnay, and rosé. Friendly staff provide an unpretentious learning environment and the grounds give way to sweeping valley views. By appointment only, $75 tasting fee.
Just north of Yountville, Miner Family Winery offers a wide range of varietals to sample from vineyards distributed throughout some of California’s best wine-growing regions. They began as a custom crush outfit, before owner Dave Miner started his own label in 1996. Sourcing fruit from nine different vineyards allows them room to explore a spectrum of styles, and it allows you to taste through a full portfolio of California wine. Saddle up at the bar for a taste of Napa Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Mendocino or the Sierra Foothills. No reservation required for parties of six or fewer, $25 tasting fee.
Casa Nuestra (No longer offers public tastings)
You won’t find a gaudy estate or enchanted cave at Casa Nuestra. This unpretentious, family-owned winery produces only 2,000 cases a year and has done so since it began in 1979. One of the early residents of the area, Casa Nuestra prides itself on good growing practices and sustainable, traditional winemaking. Try the Tinto Classico, chenin blanc, and meritage.
Down-to-earth staff give you a window into Napa wine country before international acclaim put the region on the world wine map. Don’t leave without saying hi to the herd of goats. No reservation required.
On the tippy top of Howell Mountain, northeast of St. Helena, CADE Winery stands as a testament to modern Napa Valley. The architecture of the winery is sleek, using concrete and 98% renewable materials, and the contemporary patio incorporates an infinity water feature overlooking a view of the valley floor. The winemakers cite the unique cool morning temperatures and hot afternoon sun on the hillside for their unique terroir. By appointment only, $40 tasting fee.
Also situated on Howell Mountain, Ladera Vineyards offers a more historical look at Napa’s first sub-appellation. The three-story stone winery building was completed in 1886, and the Stotesbery family finished restoring it in 2005. At 1,600-1,800 feet, Ladera’s vines are untouched by the marine layer that settles on the Napa Valley floor. This is a home of big, but fairly-priced cabernet sauvignon. Arrive hydrated and ready to turn your teeth purple. By appointment only, $30 tasting fee.
Have ever wanted to wander onto the page of a Sunset Magazine spread? Turnbull is the place to pretend. The immaculately-kept landscaping, vintage pickup truck, and canine welcome wagon are only a few of the elements that make you feel at home. Small production cabernet sauvignon is what the place is known for, but a taste of the cabernet franc rosé in this elegant setting is what you’ll want more of when you leave. Gallery tasting room is no reservation required, $30 tasting fee.
The Madrigals were one of the first Mexican families in the upper Napa Valley, arriving on the scene in the 1930s to work vineyards, apple and walnut orchards. Chris Madrigal is among the third generation of the Madrigal family and produced his first petite sirah in 1995. Today, the Madrigal Family Winery produces just under 10,000 cases including three cabernet sauvignons, petite sirah and tempranillo. Friendly staff is personable and patient. Appointment recommended, $25 tasting fee.
When you visit Corison Winery in St. Helena, the Library cabernet sauvignon tasting is the thing to do. Cathy Corison’s winemaking experience precedes her -- she made her first vintage of Corison Cabernet in 1987. Tour the Kronos Vineyard to get a firsthand look at the level of care this family operation puts into the entire process, from growth to glass. Cabernet sauvignon reigns but a cabernet franc and Gewurztraminer are worth a taste. By appointment only, $55 tasting fee.
There are plenty of reasons to get to know Rutherford, an AVA within Napa Valley. Frog’s Leap is a solid entry point to the area’s features, with a special emphasis on sustainable growing methods. Frog’s Leap has been farming organically since 1988 on non-irrigated vines. While their cabernet sauvignon is a great reflection of the area’s terroir, explore a broader picture with a taste of their zinfandel and merlot. The cellar tasting is approachable and fun, but you have the option of reserving a private tasting as well. By appointment only, $20-25 tasting fee.
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