Wine Enthusiast Magazine, May 2023
With over 500 wineries producing some of the world’s most exquisite bottles, Napa Valley can be difficult to narrow down. From sun-kissed vineyards to the deep-rooted winemaking history, you want to make the most of the vast region. But whether it’s your first visit or you’re a Napa regular, the best way to experience the Valley is with recommendations from the local wine experts themselves. Here, we break down the best Napa Valley wineries worth a visit and where to stay nearby based on suggestions from those who are really in the weeds of wine.
Mayacamas Vineyards, a historic stone winery that dates back to 1889, is high on the south face of Mount Veeder. The winery is known for the age-ability of its single-varietal, estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery also uses old winemaking methods, like redwood tanks, according to Sarah Bray, the associate director of wine education at Napa Valley luxury resort, Meadowood Estate.
“These wines have tremendous verve and tannins, which lend themselves to great aging,” Bray says. “I admire the structure of these wines as much as the views of the San Pablo Bay. From their Hunter’s Point tasting area on the property, you can see to San Francisco on a clear day.” Though the remote estate and tasting room can be challenging to reach through curvy uphill roads—the effort pays off. The estate, the indoor and outdoor tasting spaces, and the spectacular views are well worth the visit. Or visit their Napa tasting room (although you’ll miss out on the vineyard and winery tours). Reservations are required at both locations.
Where to Eat: Drop in at local favorite, Bistro Jeanty, to refuel between tastings or to cap off a day of samplings. This quaint gourmet bistro serves classical French fare, like coq au vin, escargot, and steak frites, in a casual but elegant, lively space.
Where to Stay: With cabanas, loungers, a rooftop pool, and a poolside bar, it’s no surprise that Hotel Yountville was awarded the hotel with the best pool in Napa Valley by Forbes. Another bonus: the spa is perfect for some post-wine relaxation, facials, massages, and more.
Schramsberg Vineyards boasts that every presidential administration since Nixon has served their sparkling wine at official state functions. There’s a lot of history around Schramsberg Vineyards, which carries the name of Jacob Schram, a German immigrant who bought the Diamond Mountain vineyard in 1862. His Victorian mansion, where the winery is now located, was even declared a historical monument in 1957.
Today, Schramsberg owns some of the best cool climate vineyard sites in Northern California—in Sonoma, Napa, Marin, and Mendocino counties—where they grow the fruit used in their highly acclaimed sparkling wines.
“These are the best bubbles in the valley [made by the traditional method], and the winery has a spectacular cave,” says Angelina Mondavi, owner of A. Mondavi Consulting. “I feel like I can taste and smell the cave in my flute when drinking. Absolute heaven.” Winery experiences include private and custom tastings and cave tours. All tasting experiences are by appointment only.
Where to Eat: Brasswood Bar + Kitchen is more than a Cali-Italian restaurant on a wine estate—it’s a tasting room, bottle shop, vineyard, bakery, and underground cave system (which you can tour). Choose inside seating in comfy leather booths or outdoor patio dining with fireplaces and fountains to enjoy all Brasswood offers.
Where to Stay: In addition to a super serene vibe, Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection takes full advantage of Calistoga’s spa-and-hot-springs reputation and boasts a bathhouse with geothermal pools, a hydrotherapy circuit, and mud baths. In 2021, Solage received the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Award.
Strategically positioned along Highway 29, the main road through Napa Valley, Alpha Omega is a standout winery. With its iconic pool with jetting water fountains and outdoor patio for sipping wine, it’s a stunning space to take in.
“I have them to thank for my preference for the Atlas Peak AVA within Napa,” says Nathan Davies, general manager for Napa Valley’s Wine Train, a vintage train, gourmet restaurant, and wine-tasting transport from Napa to St. Helena. “When you are blessed to taste nine single vineyard Cabernets from nine AVAs by the same winemaker in the same vintage, you get to taste the essence of what makes up a great wine and where it came from.” Tasting experiences include the referenced Single Vineyard tasting plus Signature, Curated, Private, and Group tastings with prior reservations.
Davies admires the winemaking, too, “[Alpha Omega has] an excellent cold fermentation wine-making style that cools the tannins when you are forced to drink the wine young,” he says.
Where to Eat: The town of Rutherford is tiny and is known mainly for its wineries, the “Rutherford dust” which characterizes the Rutherford AVA, and the Rutherford Grill that anchors the town. Because it’s on Highway 29 between Yountville and St. Helena, it’s the perfect place to refuel with fantastic elevated American comfort food between wine tastings.
Where to Stay: Voted the best hotel in Napa Valley by Napa Valley Life Magazine, Auberge Du Soleil is a stunning oasis among the vineyards. “Auberge de Soleil is a luxurious resort in Rutherford that offers stunning views of the valley and high-end amenities such as a spa and Michelin-starred restaurant,” says Christina Turrini, a Bay Area luxury travel agent.
One of Mondavi’s favorite Napa Valley wineries is AXR in St. Helena. “It has a great vibe, amazing wines, and an ambiance and intimacy that are perfection for a revitalized historic building,” she says. It’s a modern boutique tasting room, formerly haunted (so they say) and the former home of the first female vintner in 1886. Oh, and it used to be a brothel.
Today’s AXR winery focuses on crafting small-lot wines, including their icon wine, AXR1 Cabernet Sauvignon, which comes from their Napa Valley vineyards Sleeping Lady, Artalade, Denali, and estate V Madrone. The classic AXR Napa Valley experience begins with a tour of the historic estate followed by a private seated tasting of their current release red wines. A special barrel sample tasting is also on offer.
Where to Eat: Oakville Grocery is not just the oldest continuously running grocery store in California, but it’s a pizzeria, a wine museum, a gourmet deli, a cheese and wine shop, and a coffee shop. They offer picnics-to-go and wine tasting of some of the region’s best pours. You may want to enjoy one on their outside patio with views of vineyards and the Wine Train passing by.
Where to Stay: The Ink House is a historic property with wine tastings, a pre-arranged private chef, and excursions to the owners’ (Jean-Charles Boisset and Gina Gallo-Boisset) other stunning properties. The Inn offers ultimate luxury in its four-ensuite bedroom lodging that is perfect for small groups. The Ink House Observatory provides a 360-degree view of Napa Valley. Haute Living Magazine called it the Luxury B&B of Your Dreams.
When VIPs travel to Napa Valley, Turrini suggests they visit Artesa Vineyards and Winery.
“Clients love Artesa for its contemporary and artistic flair,” she says. “It’s owned by Spain’s oldest winemaking family, Raventós Codorníu, and [Winemaker] Ana Diogo-Draper crafts the most amazing wines.”
Artesa is known for its artisanal, estate-grown, small-lot Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are avant-garde sculptures dotting the property, including those around the iconic pools and fountains at the entrance designed by world-famous artist Gordon Huether, Artesa’s former artist-in-residence. With the art and architectural backdrop and an almost 360-degree view of vineyards, Artesa vies for the title of the most beautiful winery in the area.
Seated indoor and outdoor terrace tastings are available, but reservations are recommended.
Where to Eat: Morimoto Napa features Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s creative menu, ultra-modern décor, and outdoor patio overlooking the Napa River. The spot draws in locals and tourists alike, but the star of the show is the food—especially the sushi, sashimi, and maki.
Where to Stay: Stanly Ranch, an Auberge Resort, sits on 712 acres of vineyards, but you’ll also find longhorn steers, miles of biking trails, and 135 ultra-luxe cottages and guestrooms with views of the Mayacamas Mountains. It’s a newer property for Napa, and it offers the juxtaposition of Auberge Collection accommodations with a western ranch feel and a plethora of outdoor experiences on offer. Forbes listed it as One of the Best Wellness Destinations to Visit in 2022.
Bray’s love for mountain Cabernet led her to Promontory, a wine-growing project from the Harlan Family. “This vineyard site hovers in a suspended valley all its own, high in the hills above Oakville,” she says. “To tame these mountain tannins, while preserving the wine’s inherent freshness, winemaker David Cilli employs a mix of stainless steel, concrete, and oak for fermentation. [He ages] the wines in large Austrian oak foudres, all of which you can see on a visit to the estate. The view upon entry to the estate is one of the best in Napa Valley.” Tasting guests are greeted with a glass of Dom Perignon followed by a winery and barrel room tour, and ending with an outdoor seated tasting in the garden.
Where to Eat: Gott’s Roadside features gourmet casual American fare meets retro roadside diner for an unbeatable combo. The outside-dining-only picnic tables concept complements the elevated burgers, hot dogs, fish tacos, salads, fried chicken options, and the beer and local wine list.
Where to Stay: Bardessono is one of only seven U.S. hotels to receive the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s (LEED) Platinum certification—the highest standard for environmental design, and Forbes Travel named it The Best Hotel for Couples in Napa Valley in 2023. Beyond feeling good about staying at Bardessono, you can also feel good while staying there with its relaxing rooftop pool, top restaurants within walking distance, and deep soaking tubs and balconies for every room.
Founded by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild in 1978, Opus One was a real old-world and new-world partnership. It is known today as one of California’s earliest cult wineries and makes two proprietary Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. “Opus One is a shining star,” says Darioush Khaledi, founder of Darioush Winery, his favorite Napa Valley haunt. “It has a European flair, beautiful architecture, and really fine Bordeaux-style wines.” While looking out on Mount St. Helena, you’ll enjoy a tasting of two library vintages and the current vintage, followed by a tour of the winery.
Where to Eat: The French Laundry tops every foodie’s bucket list for fine dining in Napa Valley and has received three Michelin stars. This farm-to-table spot uses onsite organic ingredients meticulously orchestrated into classic French cuisine by world-renowned Chef Thomas Keller.
Where to Stay: For walkability alone, it’s hard to beat Archer Hotel in downtown Napa. It’s surrounded by boutiques, tasting rooms, and restaurants. Conde Nast Traveler named it one of the Top 20 Hotels in Northern California in 2022. Don’t miss the rooftop whiskey bar, which offers extraordinary views of the valley.
The Trefethen Family was instrumental in getting the Oak Knoll district recognized as an AVA. They have been the stewards of their remarkable 400-acre Oak Knoll estate for three generations, and today’s wines use estate-grown fruit exclusively. Due to the varied nature of soils on the estate, they can grow nine different varieties, each in its optimal environment. “[The family] still pays homage to the heritage of grape varieties that grow well in Oak Knoll, ranging from White Riesling to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Cabernet,” says Davis. “It is a three-story, wooden gravity-fed [a winery design in which production takes place on at least two levels, allowing for a gentler, less interventionist approach] winery converted to a winery and tasting room in one. You have to experience it for yourself.”
Trefethen offers several tasting options, from our choice of wine flights, vineyard tours, a Reserve Tasting at the Villa that includes a charcuterie board, and a full chef-prepared food and wine pairing. Reservations are required.
Where to Eat: The Courtyard at Charter Oak sets the scene under Mulberry trees strung with lights and a long fire pit. Two terraces off the brick building overlook the courtyard. Think of it as a family-style, casually luxe restaurant with seasonal California cuisine. Don’t miss the stracciatella appetizer.
Where to Stay: Rated one of California’s Top 15 Resorts by Travel + Leisure in 2021, Meadowood Napa Valley screams rustic elegance with 36 luxurious cabins blended into a wooded hillside. You can conveniently study up for wine tasting at their onsite Wine Center—offering a wealth of Napa wine education.
Quintessa Winery sits on a sprawling 280-acre property of rolling hills, valleys, and diverse microclimates. Its semi-open-air tasting rooms offer incredible pastoral views. Its biodynamic and organic vineyards are planted with Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carménère. With all of that, they produce a singular expression of those vineyards each vintage.
“They make only one wine each year—a Cabernet Sauvignon blend,” says Khaledi. “There’s nothing else like it in Napa.” In addition to standard tastings, Quintessa offers a Collectors Experience with a tour of their custom-designed gravity flow winery, including the fermentation, winemaking, and aging processes, followed by a walk through their 17,000 square feet of caves. Reservations are required for all tastings.
Where to Eat: Bistro Don Giovanni is run by Naples-born Giovanni Scala, so you know they offer authentic Italian dishes. The proof is their Trip Advisor choice award from 2022, meaning that the bistro ranked within the top 10% of properties on Trip Advisor. The outdoor garden seating is divine, with hanging lights, a fountain, and mountain and vineyard views.
Where to Stay: Poetry Inn is a Stag’s Leap District luxury five-suite inn owned by the Cliff Lede Family of Cliff Lede Vineyards. Rated Excellent on Trip Advisor, with one guest writing, “On our 2nd balcony, we had an outdoor shower and hammock. Our morning delivery of coffee and pastries were fabulous.” The secluded space is focused on privacy and a well-thought-out design. Example: All balconies face west for incredible sunset views.
Which Is the Most Popular Winery in Napa Valley?
According to Davis, V. Sattui Winery is at or near the top of the most-visited winery list each year. But the influx of tourists may not be appealing to everyone. Nonetheless, the vineyard is quintessentially Napa Valley and has a lot to offer with a storied history, striking estate, and onsite dining.
How Many Wineries Should You Visit in a Day in Napa?
Most wineries are by reservation only, and they typically have 60 to 90-minute tasting appointments from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. When taking lunch and travel time into account, two or three appointments per day allow for a leisurely day of wine tasting.
Can You Walk Between Wineries in Napa?
In general, no. Driving is required, and the best option is to hire a car service for a built-in designated driver. But many wineries have tasting rooms in the downtown areas of Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. You can easily walk between them, shop, dine, and sample wine in these charming towns.