Since 1839, when George Calvert Yount planted the first vines in Napa Valley, vineyards have been an integral part of the landscape. In 1861, Charles Krug established the area’s first commercial winery, whose success prompted others to follow. By 1889, Krug’s operation had been joined by more than 140 others. Despite setbacks—insect infestation and Prohibition, for example—the industry flourished, and as early as 1948, the valley began welcoming tourists. Napa offers wines for every type of visitor, from serious oenophiles and collectors to neophytes, and many properties worth visiting, from the large well-known Domaine Chandon and Mondavi to boutique producers.
Napa Valley is filled with properties whose stunning architecture and décor enhance the wine-tasting experience. The crescent-shaped Quintessa winery is environmentally sensitive, fitting into a hillside and doing little to disrupt the landscape’s natural beauty. Merus resuscitated one of Napa’s “ghost wineries” — abandoned during Prohibition — with co-founder Erika Gotti’s Amsterdam-based UXUS design firm. The fully updated space features such elements as exposed beams, black granite, lacquered surfaces and beautiful light fixtures. Cade, an innovative and thoughtfully designed eco-winery, is LEED-certified and one of the greenest wineries in the country. Its striking contemporary design, with inviting rooms and an open terrace, honors its surroundings as well as the complexity of the wines.
Several wineries blend art and wine appreciation in memorable ways. The Fine Art Photography Gallery at Mumm Napa presents exciting photography exhibits. Hall (401 St. Helena Hwy, South St, St. Helena; 707-967-2626) founders Craig and Kathryn Hall are avid collectors, and their winery features works by such acclaimed artists as John Baldessari, Jim Campbell, Nick Cave and Jaume Plensa. Guests of Cliff Lede are invited to ramble through its sculpture garden and art gallery, which mounts rotating exhibitions. Donald Hess, founder of Hess winery (4411 Redwood Rd, Napa; 707-255-8584), has been acquiring works by such artists as Robert Motherwell and Anselm Kiefer since the 1960s, and part of his collection is on view in the museum connected with the vineyard; the majority is on loan to institutions around the world. The Artesa winery has a tradition of supporting the arts and since 1997 has had a permanent artist in residence whose works in a variety of media are exhibited there.
Napa’s viticultural roots run deep, and many of the original wineries still produce delicious vintages. Far Niente was founded in 1885 by John Benson, a forty-niner of the California Gold Rush and uncle of famed American painter Winslow Homer. Abandoned in 1919, the property was purchased in 1979 by Gil Nickel, who restored it, and now it is on the National Register of Historical Places. One of Napa’s oldest wineries, sparkling-wine specialist Schramsberg was founded in 1862 by Jacob Schram, whose Victorian mansion still sits on the property, amid bubbling springs and a frog pond. In 1871, the son-in-law of George Yount purchased a seventy-five-acre farm and named it Inglenook, a Scottish word meaning “cozy corner”; the property’s first grapes were planted that same year. The winery is now run by Francis Ford Coppola, who purchased acreage there in 1975. Founded by Lily Hitchcock Coit (after whom the famous Coit Tower, in San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill neighborhood, is named), Larkmead (1100 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga; 707-942-0167) was considered one of Napa Valley’s greatest wineries before Prohibition and still produces highly regarded award-winning wines. La Jota Winery (Howell Mountain, Napa; 707-948-2640) was established in 1898 by Frederick Hess, who built the facility out of volcanic ash rock quarried on the 327 acres property on Howell Mountain. Bernard Ehlers launched Ehlers Estate (3222 Ehlers Ln, St. Helena; 707-963-5972) in the late 1800s when planting new vines in a dying ten-acre vineyard he had bought. The stone barn he built in 1886 acts today as the winery building and tasting room.
Many wineries take full advantage of the valley’s natural splendor, providing visitors with breathtaking views. Located in a quiet canyon off Silverado Trail, Vine Cliff has a large outdoor seating area and outdoor gardens where guests can savor the sweeping panorama along with their tastings. Viader (1120 Deer Park Road, Deer Park; 707-963-3816) and Silverado (6121 Silverado Trail, Napa; 707-257-1770) both offer visitors beautiful vistas of the valley, the first from a terrace overlooking the estate, and the second from a stone deck atop a knoll. Round Pond (875 Rutherford Rd, Rutherford; 707-302-2575) has an outdoor terrace where guest can toast to the magnificent Mayacamas Mountains. Visitors to the Caves at Soda Canyon (2275 Soda Canyon Road, Napa; 707-861-8100), dug into a mountainside overlooking the Napa Valley on one side and Soda Canyon on the other, can enjoy their tasting while admiring the impressive construction feat along with stunning mountain views. The first winery to plant exclusively on high elevations, Chappellet (1581 Sage Canyon Rd, St. Helena; 707-286-4219) is located 1,200 feet up Pritchard Hill’s rocky slope, giving visitors stunning views of Lake Hennessy and parts of the valley.
Not much can top a picnic at a winery—great food, spectacular views and, of course, delicious wine. Visitors to Rutherford Hill (200 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford; 707-963-1871), set on a lofty plateau above Napa Valley, can select from different wine packages the perfect compliment to the lunch they’ve packed. Charles Krug (2800 Main St, St. Helena; 707-967-2229), the oldest winery in the valley, makes its front and back lawns available for plein air snacking seven days a week. Family-owned since 1885, the V. Sattui winery has an Italian-style marketplace and artisanal deli on property where guests can purchase everything they need for a feast surrounded by the expansive lawns and gardens of the two-acre tree-shaded property. Visitors to the Frank Family Vineyards (1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga; 707-942-0859) can sit at the wooden tables set under giant elm trees just outside the tasting room and dip into their picnic baskets while gazing at the beautiful landscape. Clif Family Winery offers guests with the munchies both a Bruschetteris food truck and an outdoor garden patio with fabulous views on which to enjoy their purchases. Picknickers at the Clos du Val have their choice of venue—overlooking the vineyard or in the property’s olive grove—for an alfresco lunch surrounded by the most picturesque landscape in Napa Valley.
Many wineries offer more intimate private tours. These must be booked ahead of time but make visiting this region even more memorable. In 1973, Joseph Phelps planted vineyards and constructed a winery on a 600-acre ranch, harvesting grapes the next year that would become California’s first proprietary Bordeaux-style blend, Insignia. Today, Joseph Phelps Vineyards offers tailored private tastings by appointment. B Cellars blends using multiple vineyards to produce exceptional wine every season and blending complementary varietals to develop distinct flavors. The result is balanced and complex artisanal wines. Reservations are required for all tastings, which include pairings with dishes prepared in the on-site kitchen, from small plates to a two-hour multi-course meal, and some vintages not released to the public. At RH Yountville, a renovated manor house turned tasting room and “living gallery”— exhibiting handcrafted furnishings, design and art— guests can enjoy private tastings of limited-production boutique wines in one of three rooms or in the outdoor space. The property is also available for events.
Located on Howell Mountain, with panoramic views of Lake Hennessy, family-run Amizetta Vineyard (1099 Greenfield Road, St. Helena; 707-963-1460) has been creating world-class wines since its first commercial release, in 1984. Tours at the winery, frequently conducted by one of the owners, lead from the garden, through the winemaking facility, and into the caves. Tastings focus on the vineyard’s estate red wines, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon, which is made in small lots. All tastings are private and by appointment. Spring Mountain (2805 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena; 707-967-4188) creates limited-production wines, most prominently the award-winning Bordeaux blend, Elivette. The property contains a number of remarkable old structures, including Villa Miravalle, which was built in 1885 and which TV buffs will recognize as the home in Falcon Crest. All tastings, which range from simple to elaborate; require an appointment. Located on the grounds of a farmstead settled in the 1880s, Nickel & Nickel produces single-vineyard Napa Valley wines. Tours, by appointment only, include a visit to the John C. Sullenger House, named for the original owner, and a walk through the farmstead, barns and the underground barrel aging cellar. The space is also available for private food- and wine-tasting events. Occupying the old Inglewood Estate — a thirty-acre property at the base of the Mayacamas mountain range that was first planted with vines in 1881, making it one of Napa’s oldest vineyards, the recently opened Sinegal Winery (2125 Inglewood Ave., St. Helena; 707-244-1187) has nine organically farmed acres planted with such varietals as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Visits are by appointment only.
The rustic Casa Nuestra (3451 Silverado Trail North, St. Helena; 707-963-5783), meaning “our house,” welcomes the entire family, including children and well-behaved dogs. Frog's Leap offers special kid-friendly activities, as well as the chance to explore its spacious ground, which includes gardens and farm animals. A gondola takes guests 300 feet above the valley to the Sterling (1111 Dunaweal Ln, Calistoga; 800-726-6136), which offers self-guided tours, allowing more freedom of movement for families. Kids will love the full-size fortress, complete with moat and dungeon, at Castello di Amorosa (4045 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga; 707-967-6272), but tours of this winery, modeled after a medieval Italian castle, will be interesting for guests of all ages. Juice and coloring pages are available of kids in the Knight’s Hall tasting room.
If you find yourself in wine country with spare time but no reservations, fear not—a handful of wineries require no appointment:
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