10 Great Napa Valley Wineries to Visit
Every year millions of wine lovers visit Napa Valley, making a plan of wineries to visit as you meander up Highway 29 through famous vineyard, wineries and small picturesque towns is nearly impossible. To really enjoy Napa Valley, you’ll need a plan and to make appointments a few weeks before you arrive. Here’s 10 wineries that are worth your time.
1) Robert Mondavi: So the name is certainly familiar as are the cheap entry level wines that can be found at most grocery stores and drug stores around the country. Even seasoned wine lovers though don’t know all of the background behind Mondavi. Robert had an ugly family split from his brother, mom and the rest of the Krug winery staff, only to start his own project a few blocks down the road.
While Mondavi is probably better known for inexpensive wines these days the winery owns part of the highly acclaimed To Kalon vineyard and their high end Cabernet Sauvignon still garners scores from critics well into the mid to upper 90 point range. Visit for a history lesson, as well as one of the best one hour tours in all of Napa Valley.
2)Alpha Omega: One of the newest wineries along the 29 in Napa Valley, Alpha Omega is a project backed by plenty of private investment and the feeling of the winery speaks to that. One of the most picturesque outside sitting environments in Napa, Alpha Omega earns a place on this list for their outdoor seating which faces highway 29 and the mountains beyond, as well as their award winning ERA Cabernet blend and the fact that their tasting room is open an hour later than the others situated along the highway.
3) Girard: No visit to Napa would be complete, without spending a few moments walking around Yountville. Best known as the home to the French Laundry and Boudin, Yountville is a walkable town about 6 blocks long, innodated with hotels, some of the best restaurants in America and a number of tasting rooms. Girard is among those and worth a look as you pass through the French Laundry demonstration garden.
4) Dos Lagos Vineyards: Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you owned a home and vineyard in Napa? Dos Lagos sits high on Atlas Peak, at least a half hour drive from the mountain floor. Owned by some of the nicest people in Napa, Dos Lagos (you’ll need an appointment) Dos Lagos produces a single wine in every vintage, a $100+ highly scored Cabernet from the fruit that is grown just outside their back patio.
5) Vermeil Wines: Yes, Vermeil wines is owned by the former football coach, but unlike so many other celebrity owned projects, they take their wine awfully seriously. Vermeil is located in the town of Calistoga, the upper part of Napa Valley. It’s worth a look and a short walk around, especially if you take the time to visit any of the natural hot springs that are abundant in the area. Calistoga itself is also a charming town.
6) Prime Cellars: Truly a startup winery, Prime Cellars is gathering a following for outstanding Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Ted Henry has set up shop so to speak in downtown Napa, which historically has seemed largely isolated from the wider wine industry.
Downtown is interesting and speaks to one thing that the locals will tell you, there’s been a large historical difference in money between those towns at the southern end of Napa Valley (downtown Napa among them) and those at the northern end. That’s changing through development and tourist dollars coming from the Bay Area, but Prime is among the best wineries that have set up shop in downtown Napa thus far.
7) Beringer Vineyards: Yes, the building looks like something out of France instead of California, but that’s exactly why the Beringer brothers originally purchased it.
Beringer is much like Mondavi, worth a visit for both it’s history, but also for the chance to sample of its high end offerings. Too often we assume that wineries which make entry level bottlings can’t do anything else, Beringer is another to refute that antiquated notion. The tour is quite fun as well.
8) Christian Brothers: Napa’s more history filled than most areas with only 100 years or so of history and Christian Brothers offers one of my favorite tours (it’s at Greystone, of the Culinary Institute of America). If you aren’t familiar with the “brand” Christian Brothers is a catholic order that runs a few thousand private high schools across the country.
Up until a few years ago, profits from the winery and distilling business were used to help support those educational efforts. While the brand has since been sold, the focus on charity and helping to better the human condition remains and is worth a visit.
9)Sterling: I always love something unique and Sterling offers an aerial gondola to get from the parking lot to the tasting room. Visit here for the views as you climb the hill, but stay for the wine and cheese pairings as well as the art museum housed on the top floor. This is truly what a high end Napa experience looks like.
10) Benessere: Benessere is worth a visit for a few reasons, but especially if you enjoy Sangiovese, that Italian grape that is only now starting to gain a following. It’s also an interesting spot because the winery is the original home to Charles Shaw, which is now the $2 Buck Chuck wine of lines at Trader Joe’s. The property produces outstanding Syrah and Sangiovese to this day and offers an intimate tasting environment.