Napa Valley’s Best Wineries for Your Summer Visit
By Franki Hanke
Napa Valley is a wine region. Even the uninterested know you visit Napa Valley (and neighboring Sonoma) for wine. The initiated would call it, more specifically, a wine appellation. That is, the land and climate of the region produce unique conditions that create specific qualities in the grapes, and eventually, wines made there.
From town to town and winery to winery across the Napa Valley region, unique differences appear in Napa wine that a wine lover can try to pick out on the palate.
But, you can’t taste them all during your getaway to the countryside. Instead, here are our favorite 11 for the quality of their wine, the character of their stories, and the care in their farming.
Our favorites are only a mere sample of the best Napa Valley options in the region. If you asked someone else, they might list Silverado Trail’s Stag’s Leap Winery for their Cabernet, Los Caerneros’s Domaine Carneros by Taittinger for their Champagne, or Calistoga’s Chateau Montelena for their “Judgement of Paris-”winning white. If you have a different favorite, please share.
Hall Wine – St. Helena
Originally home to Napa Valley Co-Op, which produced 40% of Napa Valley’s wine, Hall Wine’s vineyards have a rich history of producing stellar wine. Across 500-acres, they produce an array of Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Their St. Helena location encompasses 33 of those acres. Their wines are aged in a wine cave at their Rutherford location centered around a stunning, specially-commissioned chandelier named “Chilean Red.”
The Hall St. Helena winery offers a tasting experience tailored towards a range from novice to experienced tailored to your familiarity with wines. Reservations are required, and private experiences can be arranged. If you haven’t managed to schedule a Napa Valley visit yet, Hall offers two virtual experiences: Bespoke Tastings and Happy Hour. Tastings run from 10 AM to 5:30 PM and cost $50 per person. Winery tours are an additional $50 per person. Their specialty tastings increase the price, but provide the opportunity to taste exclusive, sought-after wines and interact with their winemakers and educators.
Visit Hall Wine at 401 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, California 94574.
Fantesca Estate & Winery – St. Helene
Serving wines from the “Queen of Cult Cabernet” herself, Heidi Barrett, Fantesca Estate & Winery was founded by high school sweethearts, Susan and Duane. Hear directly from Susan and Duane Hoff, founders of Fantesca Estate & Winery, about the founding of their St. Helena winery in our interview. At Fantesca, they serve wine they would, and do, share with family and close friends including Cabernet-expert Heidi’s only Chardonnay.
All those age-worthy wines are in Fantesca’s wine cave rather than cellars, carved in Spring Mountain hillside, and once a silver mine. Cave-aging is naturally cool with consistent humidity perfect for wines. Their property’s interesting history continues within the vineyards themselves. Originally planted in the 1860s, their vineyards were part of Caroline Bale’s dowry pre-Prohibition before going dormant for decades prior to re-planting.
Fantesca offers private tours and tastings of their gorgeous estate, including olive trees and honeybees alongside their vineyards. Their wine tastings are by request only and cost $250/person.
Visit Fantesca Estate & Winery at 2920 Spring Mountain Road St. Helena, California 94574.
Sinegal Estate – St. Helena
Widely known by its legacy as a historic winery Inglewood Estate, the now Sinegal Estate vineyards are not only a winery but a natural retreat in wine country. Their property includes lovingly maintained gardens and a private lake alongside their vineyard and cave. Read the story of its founding from David Sinegal himself in our interview.
The historic vines here maintain a century-long history of producing wine while a multi-million dollar expansion upgraded the experience as a whole. They produce four wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are made entirely from grapes grown on the property.
The Sinegal Estate tasting experience encompasses the entirety of their gorgeous property for a 90-minute experience including a winery tour and tasting. The cost is $100 to $150 per person, but for every $300 in wine purchases, they will refund one tasting fee. If you’d like to re-live your time in Napa Valley from home, purchase a sampler with virtual tasting.
Visit Sinegal Estate at 2125 Inglewood Ave. St. Helena, California 94574.
Hestan Vineyards – Yountville
Named for owners Helen and Stanley Cheng, Hestan Vineyards was once a former cattle ranch. Now, it’s a vineyard and garden that’s sustainably farmed and entirely solar-powered. Their wines are produced by the acclaimed winemaker Thomas Brown and Bordeaux-expert Jeff Gaffner. They produce unfiltered, 100% varietals that reflect the land of their meticulously maintained estate: Chardonnay, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Their tasting salon sits in downtown Yountville and showcases both their wines and cookware products. It’s open daily and available for reservations. For an elevated experience with a private tour and seated tasting, reach out to Hestan for an appointment.
Visit Hestan Vineyards at 6548 Washington Street Yountville, California 94599.
Etude Wines of Grace Benoist Ranch – Napa
Etude Wines is founded on the idea that wine is grown, not made. That is, the care they give to their grapes influences the wine more than anything that comes later.
As such, their farming is chiefly important to their Pinot Noirs of Carneros. They maintain hyperspecific vineyard blocks with their own specifications. Their process is overseen by winemaker Jon Priest. Learn more about their senior winemaker in our interview with Jon.
Alongside nurturing their vineyard, Etude prioritizes protecting the land itself. Their sustainable farming is largely unparalleled. Twelve miles of wildlife corridors preserve natural habitats and their migration.
Etude offers a few different tasting experiences including a unique Study of Pinot Noir which samples five different Pinot Noirs grown in different regions so you may taste the effects of terroir on the final product.
Visit Etude Wines at 1250 Cuttings Wharf Road Napa, California 94559.
Clif Family – St. Helena
Clif Family creates more than wine with their fertile Napa Valley land. Instead, the Clif family farms fresh fruits and vegetables for the Clif Family Bruschetteria Food Truck and their wines. In all their farming, sustainability is a core component.
Since they make their own food products, their chef and winemaker collaborate to product items that are perfect for wine pairings. Their region is best known for cultivating Cabernet Sauvignon though they offer Rose of Cabernet Franc and Grenache as well as Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and several red wine blends.
Clif Family is one of the few wineries on our list that provide pairing food and wine tastings together all using their own produce. They provide three different tastings ranging from $50 to $85 per person.
Visit Clif Family Tasting Room at 709 Main Street St. Helena, California 94574.
Jax – Calistoga
Run by a brother and sister team, Jax Vineyards is truly a family winery. They onboarded Kirk Venge as winemaker to showcase the flavors of their land and later Dan Parrott, whose background is in Italian import houses, to bring balance to their offerings.
Their farm sits on volcanic alluvial soil due to the proximity to Mt. Saint Helena. This soil, and diurnal temperature variations, are attributed with the quality of their crops. There, they grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Once grown, their grapes are all harvested by hand.
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Jax offerings tastings in a SoMa, San Francisco tasting room rather than on their estate itself. They have availability for simple reservations, walk-ins, and unique private experiences. The Early Bird provides Cowgirl Creamery in a charcuterie board at their outdoor fire pit for only $35+ per person while The Flagship adds some upgrades for $40+ per person.
Find the Jax vineyard at 3468 Highway 128 Calistoga, California 94515 but taste at their tasting room at 326 Brannan Street San Francisco, California 94107.
Knights Bridge Winery – Calistoga
Planted across the rising elevation of the Mayacamas Mountains, Knights Bridge provides the ideal environment for growing Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Their production is overseen by winemakers Douglas Danielak and Derek Baljeu. Their collaboration is relatively new, with Derek’s promotion to Winemaker in January of 2021. This, along with a recent winery completion, make Knights Bridge a perfect addition to your itinerary if you’ve already visited many of Napa Valley’s best wineries in the area.
Knights Bridge Winery offers private tastings by reservation. This includes a tour of the estate, their new facilities and aging caves, and a seated tasting. Cost is $150 per person which is waived with a six-bottle purchase if you’re looking to stock your cellar.
Visit Knights Bridge Winery at 1373 Lincoln Avenue Calistoga, California 94515.
O’Connell Family Wines – Napa
One of a small group within the wine industry, O’Connell Family Wines operates an entirely organic farm for their wine production. Wine isn’t their only offering with a lush estate producing olive oil, herbs, and other edibles.
Their wines attempt to showcase the unique flavors produced from their own vineyard’s soil, climate, and care.
O’Connell Family offers patio tastings that overlook the riverside. Their food pairings elevate a wine tasting to a light meal. They further offer tailored Estate to Plate experiences showcasing their wines and other estate-grown products including housemade seasonings and olive oil, charcuterie, and house-made chocolates. Pre-book tastings online.
Visit O’Connell Family Wines at 1000 Main Street Napa California 94559 in Downtown Napa.
Calling themselves winegrowers not winemakers, Rudd Estate is serious about their fields. Their grapes are grown with minute specifications and organic practices. Founders Leslie and Susan brought a combined background of alcoholic beverage wholesale and gardening practices that informed their winery.
They are supported by a team that has visions of their own for the land of the Rudd Estate. Current vintner Samantha Rudd grew up on the estate as her father led the winemaking. Now, she follows in his footsteps while forging a unique path for the estate organic farming and unique collaborations.
Rudd offers tours only by request.
Peju Winery – Rutherford
As many of Napa Valley’s best wineries are, Peju is a family affair. Founder Tony’s daughters Ariana and Lisa, grew up among barrels and wine cases as their parents worked to create a small winery from the ground up.
Now, Ariana is spearheading organic and sustainable practices at Peju including solar panels that produce 40% of the winery’s power.
Throughout their winery, look for sculptural work by Welton Rotz. Namely, “Harvest Dance” is a Carrara marble sculpture near the entrance that reflects founder Tony’s vision for the artist throughout. Other work is throughout the property and integral to the overall aesthetic of Peju.
Though you can stop into their wine and gift shop, Peju Winery requires reservations for their tasting experiences.
Find Peju Winery at 8466 St. Helena Highway Rutherford, California 94573.
Wondering where the bubbly is?
If you’re a big fan of bubbly, sparkling wine like Champagne, you won’t see much of that at Napa Valley’s best wineries since the agricultural conditions favor other varietals. If you’re after that bottle of sparkles though, visit Mumm to try Tami Lotz’s.
Other Options for Wine Experience
Beau Wine Tour
Overwhelmed by plotting your own course through Napa Valley’s rich offerings? Don’t then. Instead, turn to Beau Wine Tours for a personalized tour through the town of your choice.
Their tours include both a vehicle driver and personalized customization for your tastes and requests.
If you’re not sure what you want to see, consider turning to Verve for uniquely themed winery tours. Our favorite theme? Doyennes of Wine features the women of Napa Valley’s wine scene.
Other wine tasting experiences feature up-and-coming wineries, sabering a bottle open, library vintages for stocking your own cellar, and wineries for their unique, young atmosphere. There’s a tour for any flavor (as long as that flavor includes wine).
Wine Club Memberships
Many of Napa Valley’s best wineries on our list offer memberships. These usually provide discounts, exclusive benefits, and sometimes free tastings for club members. If you’re just visiting and hoping to experience a broad range of wines from different vineyards, you likely won’t need a membership.
However, if you’re an avid wine lover and visit often (or want to ship your wine in from Napa Valley’s best wineries), ask about the wine club wherever you visit.
While you’re visiting, stay in one of our favorite rental properties.
The true appeal of Napa Valley wines is the opportunity to taste what’s reflected in each estate’s own climate. Even if you consider yourself an amateur sommelier, let tastings be an opportunity to try and train your palate while exploring Napa Valley’s best wineries.
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