California wine country is as beautiful and enchanting as everyone says. Each vineyard or winery has its own personal flare, unique product and atmosphere. There are hundreds to explore and discover, and sometimes doing research ahead of time will either help or hurt you. It’s never a bad thing to just drive down the Silverado Trail jumping from vineyard to vineyard.
There are a series of distinct sections of wine country, and we tried to hit as many as possible. Here’s a helpful list of all of the places we stopped, some key notes, and pricing. Generally speaking, Sonoma tends to be a bit more expensive then other vineyards further North in Napa, Yountville, or St. Helena. All are beautiful, serving delicious wine and invaluable information.
We went to a fair number of vineyards, but didn’t necessarily maximize the drinking experience. I opted to drive around to hit the best places instead of aimlessly walking from location to location. It’s just a matter of preference, but we hardly felt like we missed out on anything. The places we went to we loved, spent time soaking up the sun, while drinking really incredible wine. And of course, scheduled some ridiculously great meals in between.
*Ask your hotel’s concierge for recommendations for vineyards/wineries and if he/she has any complimentary tasting coupons or discount cards, this will save you a lot of money — huge shout out to our girl, Lisa at the Harvest Inn*
Known for their sparking wine, Domaine Carneros offers tours of their facilities and detailed explanations of how their wine is produced. It’s a great place if you are opting to do a single tour during your trip to wine country. It’s beautiful, but a bit more on the touristy side and one of the pricier vineyards. You do get to try their reserve sparking, along with a few of their Pinot Niors, so you will leave feeling like you tried plenty of varieties.
Cost: $30 for Tour/Tasting
Address: 1240 Duhig Rd, Napa, CA 94559
Our favorite winery of the entire trip. Scribe Winery is extremely small, marked only by a wooden sign along the main road in Sonoma.
It’s an extremely small tasting facility, yet their vineyard is expansive with a wide variety of grapes. Tastings are private here, so it feels extremely intimate as you grab a seat at one of their rustic picnic tables. The sommelier gives plenty of space, bringing varieties of wines and a plate of delicious snacks to enjoy with your wine. Don’t be shy to take a swing on the ropes hanging from the trees. Also, bring a blanket for more of a picnic feel.
Cost: $25 Private Tasting
Address:2300 Napa Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476
Alpha Omega Winery
Alpha Omega’s gorgeous outdoor seating is the main draw to this winery. The tastings are personal, seated at your own individual table with detailed explanations of their variety of whites and reds. This was the first vineyard where favorite Cabernet Sauvignon appeared on the tastings, since this type of wine is more prevalent further North. Their detailed explanations distinguish the smell and taste aspects of wine, as we learned it’s completely normal to smell and taste unusual things such as Ash, Leather and Wood. Who knew?
Cost: $25 for Tasting
Address: 1155 Mee Ln, Rutherford, CA 94574
Reservations: Not necessary (big groups should book in advance)
Markham Vineyards mixes their love for both art and wine into one amazing facility. During our visit, Markham celebrated the 45th Anniversary of the legendary Woodstock Music Festival. The walls of their in house art gallery were filled with Rolling Stone photographer, Baron Wolman’s beautiful black and white photographs of the concert. Wolman happened to be on site during our visit, adding to the experience.
Their wine is outstanding and the tasting at Markham is a wonderful experience. The sommelier clearly loved what he was doing, allowing us to taste his favorites off the regular tasting menu. They serve a wide variety of both red and white wines, including sweet white wines, which my sister loves. This was the only vineyard of the whole trip where we actually purchased (and shipped) wine back to New York. My sister fell in love with their Muscat Blanc, a slightly less sweet version of her beloved Moscato. I loved their Merlot, purchasing a bottle for myself, as well. The prices are extremely reasonable for the high quality of product.
Cost: $15 – $25 for Tasting
Address: 2812 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA 94574
Reservations: Not required
Bello Family Winery
Located right next to lunch hot spot Gott’s Roadside, Bello Family Winery gives off a “clubby” vibe. We ended up at this tasting room, which is not located on the property of their vineyard since they acquire their grapes from a variety of locations across California. The music is loud, and the youthful owner used high tech equipment to open the bottles of wine. While I’m all for technology, when in Napa, I would have preferred to enjoy a traditionally opened bottle of wine to get the full tasting experience. Bello was one of the least informative tastings, as well.
Cost: $15 for Tasting
Address: 929 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574
Reservations: Not Necessary
Long Meadow Ranch Winery
I’ll admit, after a full day of tastings, I was lured to Long Meadow Ranch by their Olive Oil tastings. However, if you come here, do not get the Olive Oil tasting unless you know what that means. Olive Oil tastings are not like the fun Fairway bread dipped in oils tastings. You drink the olive oil plain, like wine, and apparently the more it burns, the better it is. I’d prefer my olive oil with bread, thank you very much.
Wine tastings take place within their shop, selling a variety of candies, olive oils and souvenirs. While the wine is actually quite good, the two sommeliers seemed extremely distracted, as one shared her and her husband’s honeymoon adventures with another couple and the other kept disappearing. When it comes to service, Long Meadow Ranch definitely lacks.
Cost: $15 for Wine Tasting; $5 for Olive Oil Tasting
Address: 738 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574
Reservations: Not Required
We discovered Mumm Napa in the most surprising of ways. Driving down the Silverado Trail on Easter Sunday, we noticed cars filling their parking lot and made a split second decision to check out this vineyard. We are so glad we did. There are two tasting rooms at Mumm, one inside and one outside. They have a gorgeous patio to enjoy their refreshing sparkling wines looking out onto their plush property. Mumm specializes in sparkling wine, with a variety of tastings options available to guests. We decided to sample two different ones, the classic and their reserve, allowing us to try as many sparkling wines as possible. The waiter also brought over additional special reserve rose sparkling wine to add to our experience. It’s a wonderful, outdoor tasting.
Cost: $18 – $20 for Tasting
Address:8445 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Reservations: Not necessary
Hagafen Cellars is an extremely funky vineyard that attracts a really cool, hip crowd. If vineyards could be hipster, Hagafen would be the coolest kid in Bushwick. And as it turns out, this super awesome vineyard, showing off tons of elaborate metal artwork mixed with gorgeous and bright flowers, is actually a Kosher vineyard (the first one to open in California). Never in a million Passover or Rosh Hashana’s have I ever enjoyed kosher wine, but if we picked up a few cases of Hagafen, I might attend more kosher drinking events.
They offer three distinct tastings with five-six wines to try, the most we’d seen on any tasting list. To my sister’s delight, they have a tasting dedicated to sweet white wine. You grab your glass in the ‘library’ and then take a seat in the gorgeous gardens, playing games or checking out the funky art. It’s a really awesome vineyard, unlike anything else we experienced.
Cost: $15 – $20 for Tasting
Address: 4160 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Reservations: Not necessary
Van Der Heyden Vineyards
We pulled up to Van Der Heyden Vineyards, feeling like we had intruded on a family’s private property. It’s extremely low key, no glitz or glam here. A bunch of cool vintage trucks, motorcycles and wooden barrels filled with wine fill the property. They offer the least expensive tasting, and the wine was good, but nothing really blew us away.
Cost: $10 for Tasting
Address: 4057 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Reservations: Not necessary
When planning your trip to Napa, don’t be afraid to explore, you might end up finding some of your favorite vineyards that way. Everywhere offers something unique and special, with their own niche and expertise. Be sure to not overpay, most tastings should average around $15-20. And try one tour and then stick to tastings. You’ll gain knowledge by trying the wine. Have fun! Happy drinking. Cheers!