Napa Valley is one of my favorite destinations in California. That’s partly because our son attended college in that area and I have many sweet memories about those years. But the main reason I love Napa Valley is because because of its fabulous wine tasting places.
Napa is one of the top wine regions in the United States. In contrast with the new developing Paso Robles, this region has been a wine producer for almost two hundred years.
Nestled between the rolling hills of the Mayacamas Mountains, Napa offers not only good wine tasting, but also charming landscapes and breathtaking views at every turn. Between famous wineries, fancy tasting rooms and first class restaurants, you’ll feel more pampered than you ever dreamed.
What Wineries to Visit in Napa Valley?
Napa is home to several hundred wineries. Some are open to the public, others are not. Planning a perfect wine trip and choosing which wineries to visit is an overwhelming task, even if you visited the area before. The wealth of options, the elegance of the tasting rooms, the art collections exposed in some of them, can make your head spin.
In the end, choosing which wineries to visit comes down to your preferences. Some people prefer the small boutique wineries, with a more informal atmosphere. Others are looking for a wineries that focus on specific wine stiles and varieties. But most folks traveling to Napa Valley simply want to have a good time and like to go wine tasting in lively venues like restaurants, or big tasting rooms.
There are several websites that pride themselves in their knowledge of this area and provide a pretty comprehensive list of wineries. In this post I’m going to talk about the wineries we visited during our trip to Napa, but please don’t limit your experience only to these.
Every day new wineries and wine tasting rooms appear in Napa Valley, so visiting as many as you can will help you discover many more interesting ones. That is the fun of wine tasting in Napa Valley!
Our Favorite Wineries and Wine Tasting Rooms in Napa Valley
Chimney Rock Winery
Chimney Rock is a world famous winery, recognized for its Tomahawk Cabernet Sauvignon. The setting is incredibly beautiful. The winery buildings have a very distinctive Cape Dutch architecture with gables and bright white stucco exteriors.
The tasting room is relatively small, featuring a large counter and a nice lounge area with a cozy and relaxed atmosphere.
The winery also features a very impressive barrel room and a state-of-the-art production facility where they produce the wine.
In 2016 when we visited the winery, the tasting fe was $35 for four wines. However, I’m sure the prices have changed, so for a more accurate quote you should visit their website.
Famous for its Bordeaux style and premium wines, Darioush Winery opened its doors in 2004. The winery has a very intriguing design, with faux columns, fountains and reflecting pools. Walking up to this winery is like walking onto a Hollywood set.
The owner is an Iranian born hobbyist winemaker who was actually trained as a civil engineer. His passion for fine wine transformed him from a wine collector into a wine producer.
The winery’s visitor center (that includes the tasting lounge) is a very interesting combination of Persian architecture and exotic furnishings. And in the spirit of the Persian culture, the hosts are very welcoming and hospitable, providing an enjoyable experience for their guests.
They specialize in a very wide range of wines, from Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay to the Viognier and Late Harvest Shahpar. The rare and extremely limited wine of Shahpar is made only when nature’s good fortune allows the grapes to be affected with Botrytis Cineria (Noble Rot).
Their wine tasting fee at the time of our visit was $40 for four wines or $18 for two. However, they wave the testing fee if you buy three bottles of wine. Today the wine tasting fee went up to is $65 and reservations are required. They also offer a special wine tasting by invitation only for $150/person.
Established in 1876, Beringer is California’s oldest winery. Frederick Beringer’s former residence is now the centerpiece of the winery, which is operated by his grandson, Mark Beringer. The Victorian style mansion with gables and turrets was built in 1884 by architect Albert Schroepfer. He sought to replicate the Beringer family’s home in Mainz-on-the Rhine, Germany.
The estate is a delight to visit. During the vineyard tour you’ll a lot about winemaking and hear some stories about the Beringer family. The wine tasting is seated on the beautiful wrap-around Veranda. They specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends.
The admission price is $15 and includes a glass of wine from our curated menu. Brunch is offered only on Saturday mornings, for $75/person.
Round Pond Winery
The Round Pond is a Rutherford winery and farm that specializes in Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and artisan foods. Their wine testing lounge is located on the second floor, offering a very romantic atmosphere and panoramic views of the vineyards and the Mayacamas Mountains.
The estate includes 5 acres of vegetable gardens, 12 acres of olive orchards, and one of the only two olive mills in the region. They also offer an Olive Oil and Vinegar tasting, but we didn’t try that.
In addition to their casual tasting room they also have a beautiful terrace where you can sample their wines and charcuterie in the summer.
You can also take a guided tour of the estate’s olive mill to learn about oil production, the growing and the harvesting process. This is definitely a very unique and interesting winery that shouldn’t be missed if you happen to be Napa.
Their testing fee was very reasonable at the time of our visit in 2016 ($25/person – $45 with food samples). Today the wine tasting fee went up to $65/person and reservations are required.
Other Things to Try in Napa Valley Besides Wine Tasting
Besides its famous wineries, Napa Valley is also home to some the world’s greatest restaurants, like Thomas Keller’s Five-Star The French Laundry, in Yountville. The restaurant is so popular that it requires reservations two months in advance to the calendar date. No time to wait? No problem. There are plenty other less famous but equally good restaurants around.
Within 15 minutes of the French Laundry, there is the Four-Star Restaurant at Meadowood, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro and Michael Chiarello’s Bottega Restaurant.
Tips for Going Wine Tasting in Napa Valley
If you want to savor your wine tasting time in Napa Valley you shouldn’t schedule more than 3-4 wineries per day. We visited four wineries in one weekend.
Due to the Coronavirus restrictions, the wine tastings are now by appointment only, so you need to make a reservation before you go.
Wineries are also limiting large groups and are operating at reduced capacities, which actually make the Napa wine tasting experience will now feel more intimate than usual.
Thanks for the information about the different wineries in the famous Napa valley and what to expect there. I found this post very informative and experiential. The special tip about booking dinner at the famous restaurant The French Laundry will be quite helpful. Although I am on the same boat as you when it comes to prioritizing dinner to the extent of booking it weeks in advance. I’d rather go for the other 4-star restaurant u recommended. 🙂
I am not into wines but yet I love these experiential walk-through the whole process of making it. For a red wine lover, an invite to Napa is hard to resist and like you said above whether one like wines or not, a trip there is worth it. You sure made the best of it. I have done rum and beer tasting and more than the drinks, I enjoyed learning about the process.
The first time I heard about Napa Valley is from Sex and the City show (thanks Mr. Big!). And since I love wine, Napa Valley is one of my dream destination. Oh you gave me more enthusiasm to visit this valley when a good opportunity arise.
I would love to visit Napa Wine valley in Northern California due it charming location. Dutch style architecture of Chimney Rock would be my favorite. The Round Pond also looks interesting due to vegetable and olive gardens.
I am certainly no wine expert but even I have heard of Napa Valley ! We visited the French Alsace wine region with its white wine , so I understand it completely when you say to check out the list before going on the tour. As I am hopeless when it comes to wine, I read with interest on the 5-star restaurant you mentioned The French Laundry!
The Napa Valley has always been high on my list of things to do when next in the USA. I am a great fan of Sauvignon Blanc, but also enjoy reds. The Round Pond takes my fancy – great wines, reasonable cost plus food pairing and olive oil tasting. The cost of wine tasting seems higher in the Napa Valley than when we visited Finger Lakes last year.
I live by the UNESCO Lavaux vineyards in Switzerland but the Napa valley is on a whole other level! So many wineries ! Good for us that you have provide us with little insight of some of the many wineries! It strange, I don’t really drink wine but Napa sound like a beautiful place to be learning about wine! I am planning a trip to Califonia next year so I will add this to my list to visit in the US.
I loved Napa although I haven’t been to this vineyard. It looks very upmarket and sophisticated! How lovely that they grow so much food there as well. A real treat!
I love Napa Valley too. It’s quite an outstanding place and the food and wine are absolutely fantastic. But so are the prices!
Jim ~ Reflections Enroute
$45 for wine tasting and food pairings? That is high, but I can do that. This seems like a great way to spend a day or two. Do you drink the wine when you taste, Anda, or swish and spit?
Hahaha, that’s a tricky question Jim, but I’ll be honest with you. I think it would be a waste to swish and spit this kind of wine. Besides, I’m not at the stage of sophistication.
I have been to Napa for wine tasting many years ago. It looks like much has changed (tasting fees, etc.) except, perhaps, for the great wines the region produces. I have heard of the French Laundry but I’m with you, 2 months for a reservation is a bit difficult to plan.
I guess the good old times of cheap wine tasting are gone, Rhonda. Nowadays even the small wineries in Paso Robles charge a lot for a sip of wine.
Jane @ Raincity Librarian
I haven’t visited Napa, though I have watched “Sideways”! 😉 We have a winery region in my province, and thankfully only a few of the higher-end wineries charge for tastings – most of them offer tastings for free. 🙂
I haven’t heard of free wine tasting so far, Jane. I’d love that, but it’s almost impossible to find that in California.
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
this one looks very luxurious:) #the weekly postcard
It’s been years since I have been tasting in Napa. I loved stumbling across small unknown wineries. But, alas, Jo does not drink , so it’s not very enjoyable for her.
I hear you, Arnie. These wineries can be very pricey too.
Love Napa! And I have not visited these wineries, so will add them to my list for next time. It is hard to fathom just how many there are and I agree the most you can really do in one day is 4, so it would take quite awhile to visit them all.
I love Napa! There are so many wineries to explore. We saw many boutique wineries in the three days we were in the region, but I will definitely go back someday to try more, and visit Sonoma as well. I agree with the commenters, the tasting fees are much higher than other wine regions, but they can get away with it because of the clout the Napa name carries. I usually buy wine, so it didn’t bother me so much, but it did take a toll on the wallet 🙂
Thank you for commenting. I’m hoping to return there too. It’s such a lovely place, with or without the wine tasting.
My first wine tasting trip to Napa I had no idea that we were suppose to just taste a little from the wine glass. I ended up drinking most of the wine until my friends noticed and said something to me. I don’t remember having to pay a fee to taste the wine. Thanks for sharing and linking up to #WeekendWanderlust.
Your visit to Napa must have been long time ago, Carmen. You have to pay a steep fee nowadays for wine tasting.
It looks like a lot of fun! I’d love to try some of the different wines there. I was a bit surprised at the wine tasting prices though as I’ve been on wine tours in the Niagara region here in Canada and I’ve never had to pay that much to try the wine. But, I would likely end up buying some of the wine anyway 🙂
Everybody is shocked about the high prices of the wine tasting in Napa Valley, Lauren.
Lyn - A Hole in my Shoe
That is a beautiful area but not sure I’d be happy with those prices for tasting. In the Swan Valley and Margaret River wine regions here in Western Australia tasting are not charged by majority and those that do it is only a few dollars, which same thing, gets taken off the price if you purchase a bottle. That aside it looks like a lovely area and I can see why it is one of your favourite destinations.
I agree with that, Lyn. Here in California they rip you off any way they can, especially in Napa Valley.
Looks like a lot of fun. I love going wine tasting! And Napa is a place I’d love to experience it someday. I’m off to NZ in a few weeks and have a full day Marlborough Wine Region tour which I can’t wait to do.
Goodness! Are all wine tastings that expensive? They are usually free in France!
They are not free anywhere in the States, unfortunately, but in other areas they run between $12-$15/person. They always wave the fee if you end up by buying some wine.