With so many vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, choosing which to visit can be dizzying — and that’s before you begin to sample the wine. Not to worry! Our TCO Winery Guide will help you make the best use of your time and palette.
Please note: The red phone beside the entry indicates that you’ll need to call ahead to schedule an appointment.
The Domaine Carneros Château is modeled after the 18th Century Tattinger mansion.
You might forget that you’re in Napa while visiting Domaine Carneros. The Château is modeled after an 18th century mansion owned by the Tattinger family, who are also part owners of the property. Visitors may select full glasses or flights of sparkling wines that are served with cheese plates and caviar. The venue is slightly pricey, but the views from the terrace, especially when the weather is good, are priceless.
The Hess Collection features large-scale modern art.
Donald Hess has showcased his personal collection of museum-quality art at his winery. Large-scale works by modern artists like Francis Bacon, Robert Motherwell, Andy Goldsworthy, and Frank Stella are included.The simple limestone architecture and grounds are art-worthy as well. Savor the experience while sipping the excellent Cabernet Sauvignon produced at the vineyard.
Jarvis is known for its outstanding wines and the heritage of its winemaker, Dimitri Tchelistcheff, the son of Andre Tchelistcheff. The elder Tchelistcheff was one of the key figures in early California winemaking. He was especially regarded for his artistry in blending wines and expertise with French Oak barrel aging. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Petit Verdot continue to be highly-rated specialties at Jarvis.
Darioush Khaledi grew up in Iran’s Shiraz region, and used his heritage to design the winery -- an eye-catching blend of classic Persian architecture with contemporary elements. The wines are Bordeaux-style varietals, which are outstanding. Chardonnay, Viognier and Shiraz are also quite good.
Domaine Chandon and restaurant Étoile make for an unforgettable pairing.
Built by the famed French house Moêt Hennessy, Domaine Chandon provides a thorough emersion into the methode champenoise. Tours include bottling lines and riddling racks. Tasting menus are nicely arranged to provide samples for a wide range of preferences and budgets.
Complementing the sparkling beverages is the restaurant Étoile which provides luscious hors d’oeuvres as well as impressive four and six-course tasting menus. All can be enjoyed with a view of the dreamy winery gardens and wooded grounds.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards
If Pinot Noir is your preference, then make a point to sample Robert Sinskey. Tastings, which also include well-made Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, and Riesling, come paired with small plates, expertly selected by Maria Helm Sinskey, a chef and cookbook author. An extensive tour through the winery’s caves is available. But possibly even more appealing is the culinary tour, which includes local cheese and charcuterie served with the wines.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
One of the quintessential moments in California Wine Country history was provided courtesy of Stag’s Leap, during the acclaimed Paris Tasting of 1976. There, nine of the greatest French wine cognoscenti sampled both American and French wines. Imagine their horror when Voilá! the wines they preferred were from California.
Today, the 1973 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that bested all the French wines is on display in the Smithsonian -- a tribute to the moment when California wine made it to the big time. Stag’s Leap itself is still charming and unassuming. The tasting area is a single table set out among the barrels, a place dedicated to serious wine discussions. The mythical Cask 23 is still on hand, but don’t expect to sample the wine -- referred to, reverentially, as “liquid art.”
OAKVILLE & RUTHERFORD
One of the most innovative and prestigious wineries in the area. Click here to read a feature-length article on Far Niente founders, Gil and Beth Nickel.
Opus One - The most sought-after wine in the world.
Although both Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild have passed on, their history-making venture continues to thrive. Opus One, a Bordeaux blend, remains exceptional enough to justify the hefty price, and the wine continues to be the most sought after production in the world. The futuristic buildings on the property were designed by the firm that created San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid. Savor the single generous pour and fetching views from the rooftop terrace.
Robert Mondavi Winery
The late Robert Mondavi was one of the pivotal figures in California wine development. You can lean more about him and winemaking on a comprehensive 90-minute tour with a seated tasting. Or, you can skip the tour and simply enjoy the sampling. Reserve-room tastings are recommended for serious wine lovers.
The Chardonnay produced by Grgich Hills founder, Milijenko “Mike” Grgich was the winner at the famous Paris tasting of 1976.
Grigich Hills Estate
Croatian immigrant Milijenko “Mike” Grgich also participated in the famous “cork hear round the world” Paris Tasting of 1976. His 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was chosen over the other white wines in competition. Chardonnay continues to be a standout in the Grigich production, along with a refreshingly crisp Fumé Blanc, a rich and spicy Zinfandel, a Cabernet Sauvignon with tremendous depth and complexity.
Director Francis Ford Coppola's Inglenook Château.
Film director Francis Ford Coppola has restored the aging Inglenook Château to its former magnificence. Here you can sample Coppola’s high-end production, including his Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux-style blend. Numerous tours covering the history of the estate, geology and appropriate wine pairings are also available.
Beringer's beguiling tasting room.
Beringer is the oldest continuously operating property in Napa Valley, since 1876. That fact alone entitles it to a spot on our list. Also compelling, is Frederick Beringer’s Rhine House Mansion, one of the loveliest tasting rooms in the area, with grand art-nouveau detailing. Excellent tours are provided daily and the reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is splendid.
Frank Gehry served as the architect for beautifully designed Hall Winery.
Famous for their Frank Gehry designed Winery and museum-quality art, Hall Winery appeals on multiple levels. The 2008 Hall Cabernet was named #2 on
Terraces at Joseph Phelps overlook row and rows of carefully tended vineyards.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards
Dazzling views and some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the wine country are big draws at Joseph Phelps. Tastings are served on a large terrace overlooking a wide valley with rows and rows of carefully tended vines. In addition to the reds, the Phelps Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier are also outstanding.
Pride Mountain Vineyards
Some 2,100 feet high on the ridge of Mayacamas Mountains, the Pride Vineyards straddles both Napa and Sonoma counties. The wood-beamed tasting room contrasts considerably with many of the other more lavish wineries in the area. But Pride wines live up to their name and deliver superb Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
A small winery with really big flavors, Spottswoode produces an intense and superbly balanced Cabernet Sauvignon. The Sauvignon Blanc is also exceptional.
Castello di Amorosa is an impressive display of turrets, Medieval art, and a dungeon.
Castello di Amorosa Winery
For sheer spectacle, it’s almost impossible to top Daryl Sattui’s $30 million castle, with its turrets, moat, secret passageways, dungeon, and torture chamber -- with an actual iron maiden from Nuremberg, Germany. The wines are primarily Italian-style. with Pinot Grigio and “Super Tuscan” blends.
On Valentine’s Day in 1989, Jan Shrem presented his wife Mitsuko a small box that was filled with dirt. Click here to read more about the gift, the wine, and the remarkable collection of art at Clos Pegase.
Photo by Adrian Gregorutti
Kelly Fleming Wines
Acclaimed designer, Kelly Fleming, was the creator of interiors for Ruth’s Chris and P.F. Chang. For her winery operation, she’s fashioned spacious Provence-inspired buildings with limestone and red-clay roofs, stone fireplaces and outdoor pizza ovens. Somehow, she has also found time to produce two exceptional wines: Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Visitors can sample the wines and tour the property and caves.
Tramway ride up to Sterling Vineyards
The tramway ride up to the Sterling property is one of the more novel introductions to a proprietor's wine that you may ever experience. Visitors suffering from acrophobia can soothe their nerves with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc provided as they board the tram. Another glass of wine is served on arrival. A wine bar and decks with stunning views of Napa await at the top. The Sterling Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon goes beautifully with the scenery.
Dry Creek Vineyards
If you’re visiting the Wine Country during the warm months, you’ll appreciate Dry Creek, whose specialties are crisp and lively whites: Fumé Blanc and Chenin Blanc. The winery also boasts a very good Zinfandel. Plan to pack a lunch to take advantage of the beautiful picnic area.
Rochioli offers an especially refined Pinot Noir and a pretty picnicking area as an extra bonus.
Rochioli Vineyards & Winery
Located in the Russian River Valley, an area known for its alluring Pinot Noirs, Rochioli has taken full advantage of the terroir to produce a full bodied, remarkably silky Pinot.Their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are standouts as well.
Superb wines make Simi a "must-visit."
Whatever your schedule, make sure to include time for Simi. The wines there are truly something special. The Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are elegant and beautifully balanced. The Cabernet Sauvignon is lushly juicy, but still refined. Tours of the property are also well worthwhile. You can even make Simi a lunch option. Pizza Café serves New York style pies from brick ovens on Friday and Saturday.
Vérité wines received perfect 100 point scores from critic Robert Parker.
The wine world is still agog over critic Robert Parker’s seven 100-point scores for Vérité’s three blends: La Muse (Merlot), La Joie (Cabernet Sauvignon) and Le Désir (Cabernet Franc). No Sonoma County winery has received this many perfect scores. Winemaker Pierre Seillan spent two decades as Technical Director and Winemaker for seven Bordeaux châteaux before accepting the position with Vérité -- clearly a fortuitous decision.
Buena Vista is California's oldest winery.
Buena Vista Winery
You’re on hallowed ground at Buena Vista, site of the oldest California premium winery. Here, Count Agoston Haraszthy de Mokcsa, known as the Father of California Wine, began to cultivate the noble grapes of France in California soil. Buena Vista is a quick stroll from the center of the town of Sonoma.
Wine critics judge Gary Farrell's Pinot Noir to be one of California's best.
Major wine critics rate Gary Ferrell’s Pinot Noir as one of the best in California. Winemaker Theresa Heredia has previously spent time at Domaine de Montille in Burgundy and at Freestone winery. As an added bonus, the property has sweeping views of the Russian River Valley. Enjoy both the scenery and the wine from the tasting room terraces -- a treat for all senses.
Romantic Hanzell Vineyards were modeled after Burgundy's Clos de Vougeot.
The wine country’s most romantic locale might very well be Hanzell Vineyards. Located high on the mountain slopes of the Mayacamas Range overlooking Sonoma. The charming winery was modeled after Burgundy’s Clos de Vougeot. (Find out more about Clos de Vougeot in a previous issue of TCO.) Hanzell was also the first in California to barrel-ferment Chardonnay and to use French oak barrels for aging. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay continue to be outstanding. Both perfect for toasting the picturesque surroundings.
Martinelli Winery - Family-owned for four generations.
The Martinelli family have produced wines in the Russian River Valley for over 125 years on the steepest non-terraced vineyard in Sonoma -- so vertical in fact, that locals joked “only a jackass” would farm such a steep hillside. But, four generations of Martinellis later, Jackass Hill is now home to a prized Zinfandel as well as excellent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
Sonoma-Cutrer offers award-winning Chardonnay and world-class croquet.
Known primarily for its focus on Chardonnay, Sonoma-Cutrer uses Burgundian winemaking methods to produce fragrant, voluptuous wines that can be enjoyed now, but will age well. Tours of the property are offered every Thursday-Monday. Visitors can also take advantage of two world-class croquet courts that adjoin the terrace off the tasting rooms.
The Benziger Family Winery is a leader in organic, biodynamic wine cultivation.
Tours through the pretty, rambling property are informative and entertaining.
Benziger Family Winery
Learn about biodynamic wine cultivation in depth at Benziger. Tours are conducted via tram rides through the attractive, sprawling property. Guides discuss organic techniques, as well as microclimates, and matching grapes to specific terroir. Back at the tasting room, be sure to sample Benziger’s citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, blackberry/peppery Pinot Noir, and a beautiful Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon.
After all those wineries, you must be famished! Click here to find out about the many highly-rated restaurants in Napa.