Tasting rooms were once places for guests simply to sample a winery's latest releases and purchase a few bottles as souvenirs. But times have changed. As Napa Valley tourism has evolved, many tasting rooms are offering something beyond wine: memorable experiences.
The best of these increasingly personalized visits tell the story of the winery in compelling detail, often in beautiful settings that showcase impressive artwork and architecture. Tours are in-depth and custom-designed. Tastings typically last an hour or more, and they are often guided, seated and relaxed.
Don't be intimidated by the fact that most wineries require appointments: As Napa Valley's popularity has grown, so have the crowds, and reservations help wineries maintain a comfortable ebb and flow of customers.
Set appointments also give visitors the chance to make the most of their time. When you call to book a visit, you may get quizzed on what kinds of wines you like or what your expectations are, all in an effort to further personalize your visit. Even if a winery doesn't require reservations, it's always best to phone ahead. Hours of operation can change with the season, and wineries are always adjusting their offerings to improve customers' experiences.
The listings below describe 18 of the most exceptional wineries to visit in Napa Valley today. Some are new destinations we're excited about, others original pioneers that have been refreshed or reimagined. But all go deep on education and hospitality.
From the outside, Atelier by JCB Tasting Salon is an unassuming edifice in downtown Yountville. But inside you'll find a sensualist's delight, replete with crystal, red velvet, gold and leopard-print accents. Its vintner-owner, Jean-Charles Boisset, spared no expense in the design, offering gilded mirrors on the ceilings, interactive digital tables that give information about the wines available for tasting, and display cases of Baccarat glassware for sale.
Flights from the JCB collection are served four or five wines at a time, including pours from bottlings such as the JCB Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley No. 1 ($200) and The Surrealist Napa Valley ($350), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
Alongside the Tasting Salon, beyond glass doors with handles that look as if they came from the Palace of Versailles, is an equally ambitious epicurean boutique. There's an expansive cheese and charcuterie selection, as well as hundreds of items imported from around the world, including mustard, caviar, confections and teas.
Castello di Amorosa is an unlikely spectacle: a replica of a Tuscan castle rising from a hillside in Napa Valley. Nevertheless, the guest experience here is far from hokey. Founder Dario Sattui's fascination with medieval Italy means that the 100,000-square-foot, 13th century–style building is full of authentic details, from the handwrought ironwork to the imported bricks. There are more than 100 rooms on eight levels, and the grounds are complete with a moat, guard towers, courtyard drawbridge, "torture chamber" and chapel.
The wines can be outstanding, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet-based blends, such as Il Barone and the super Tuscan–inspired La Castellana, a mix of Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese. There is plenty to see with the basic admission fee, which comes with a tasting of five wines. But guided tours (starting at $40) will give you access to rooms otherwise off-limits and a sampling of some of the more premium wines. You can upgrade all the way to the "Ultimate" $20,000 (per couple) full-day package that includes a theatrical welcome, a key to the castle, a photographer to follow you around and document your visit and an overnight stay at the nearby Solage Resort.
Covert Estate is aptly named. Invisible from the road and nestled into a Coombsville hillside, the entire facility is underground. The tasting room decor pays homage to the region's farmland history, blending pastoral touches, including buffalo hides and barn wood, with industrial and elemental features such as walls embossed with zinc and glass caissons holding sample soils. A twisting metal chandelier with a large chunk of obsidian as its centerpiece provides dramatic contrast to the bucolic backdrop.
Covert is also a good reason to check out Napa Valley's newest AVA, Coombsville. Just a few minutes from downtown Napa, this rural neighborhood is home to impressive talent such as Favia and Arrow & Branch. Covert is a collaboration between the Nicholson, Nestor and Fayard families. Julien Fayard is winemaker and managing proprietor; his own brand, Azur, as well as wines from the Nicholson family brand, Nicholson Jones, can be sampled along with the Covert wines.
From vintage tractors in the refurbished barn to eclectic artwork, there are surprises around every corner at this property near Calistoga. Owner Mike Davis created an IT service management firm in the 1980s, then began a second career in 2011 when he purchased the historic Saviez Vineyards and launched this ambitious restoration. The winery, designed by architect Howard Backen, integrates warm woods with stone taken from the grounds. It features cutting-edge technology, including iPad-controlled fermentation tanks and a solar farm that provides 80 percent of the winery's power.
There are a variety of tasting experiences to choose from. Swinging couches on the balcony of the tasting room offer a relaxing perch to take in valley views while sipping wines paired with small bites. The showstopper is the Phase V barrel room, deep within the cave complex. Sealed by metal doors, the chamber is accessed James Bond–style, with an infrared palm scanner opening a door to reveal an inner sanctum with a glass-enclosed atrium.
Few combinations connote luxury more than sparkling wine and caviar. Domaine Carneros has coupled the two, pairing its bubblies with Tsar Nicoulai's American white sturgeon caviar from nearby Wilton, Calif.
Visitors can pair any of the Domaine Carneros tastings with three half-ounce portions of Tsar Nicoulai caviars, fleshed out by accompaniments including potato chips, toast points and crème fraîche, for $150. An extra $200 (and a reservation) will secure three rare offerings from Tsar Nicoulai, including its rarest product, the Crown Jewel, a buttery and rich caviar with gold and silver flecks that give the large beads a jeweled effect.
Those desiring an even more exclusive treat may opt for a table in the Sparkling Suite. Balcony doors open onto one of the most picturesque vistas in Carneros. Wines are paired with caviar, cheese and charcuterie, and guests depart with a keepsake bottle at the end of the tasting.
Far Niente is one of Napa Valley's oldest and most romantic estates, a stone winery originally built in 1885 that today is surrounded by meticulously maintained gardens. It's a fairytale setting for a story about how Oklahoma nurseryman Gil Nickel purchased the property in 1979 and spent years restoring it, ultimately building a loyal following for its Chardonnay and Cabernet. A visit includes a tour, a look at the 40,000 square feet of caves, and a sit-down tasting of both current-release and library wines, paired with cheese and capped off with a taste of the estate's sweet white wine, Dolce.
When you walk by the carriage house, take a peek at the Nickel family collection of vintage automobiles. Call ahead to book reserved seating in the gazebo by the estate's small lake.
With its large leaping rabbit sculpture visible from the highway, Hall's St. Helena tasting room is easily spotted. But the quieter Rutherford experience is tucked into the hills above Auberge du Soleil on the valley's east side.
This tour and tasting begins at the estate's Sacrashe Vineyard before progressing into the cellar and caves. The barrel-lined path is accented with reclaimed bricks from historic sites in Vienna, a nod to founder Kathryn Hall's former work as U.S. ambassador to Austria. At the end of one tunnel is the Chandelier Room, named for the stunning, sprawling chandelier-made of rootstock and decorated with shimmering Swarovski crystals-situated above a long cherrywood table. There, a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon is paired with small bites. For an additional fee, guests can enjoy the "Platinum Tasting," which includes wines from Hall's limited-production Platinum Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, comprising select barrels from some of the estate's best vineyards.
The legacy of Gustave Niebaum, ship captain turned Napa Valley pioneer, lives on at Inglenook. Francis Ford Coppola has restored the celebrated property, dating to 1887, and parlayed its heritage into educational and customizable experiences steeped in history. Tours and tastings are offered daily, but private experiences make for a more memorable outing. Library and barrel tastings, as well as blending sessions, are hosted in one of the many nooks of the original cellar, some containing dusty bottles dating to 1965, others decorated with plush couches and lounge chairs. All private visits conclude with a cheese plate or other food pairing.
Charles Krug, founded in 1861, is the valley's oldest winery still in operation. However, its revamped tasting room is just three years old. What was formerly a huge cellar space has been transformed into one of Napa's largest tasting venues. The 5,000-square-foot tasting room, which once contained more than 170 10,000-gallon redwood tanks, is now the backdrop for seated tastings. Staves from the old redwood tanks have been refurbished as paneling, giving the space a warm and inviting atmosphere. A floor-to-ceiling glass partition provides views of the reserve barrel-aging cellar. Historic photographs and artifacts are displayed upstairs, including 19th-century wine presses and other winemaking paraphernalia.
Wine can be purchased by the glass or bottle to enjoy with snacks available at a salumi bar. A 90-minute tour takes in the cellar and a garden run by the neighboring Culinary Institute of America, as well as a themed tasting. Located just north of St. Helena on the 140-acre home ranch, the Krug tasting experience offers a step back in time but with all the modern conveniences. It's a peaceful setting amid massive oaks, complete with a large lawn open for picnicking.
Lokoya's tasting venue is located on a peaceful 77-acre property high on Spring Mountain, above St. Helena. Lokoya has tastefully renovated the gothic stone winery and its tasting room, formerly the quirky home of producer Terra Valentine, and now offers modern lounging areas both inside and outside, where visitors can soak in the views, enjoy some snacks and taste a selection of new releases and older vintages.
Lokoya was founded in 1995 by the Jackson Family wine group to specialize in expressions of appellation-specific Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the mountains around Napa Valley. Tailored tastings can be selected from the four appellations that winemaker Chris Carpenter taps to make his ultrapremium bottlings: Spring Mountain, Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain and Diamond Mountain.
With its majestic stone entryway and grassy berm rising out of the vineyards, Opus One is one of Oakville's most iconic winescapes. Co-founded by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux's Mouton-Rothschild, the winery, built in 1991, prides itself on hospitality and offers impressive guided tours. Guests start with a visit to the vineyard, then follow the winemaking process from picking to barreling, with a tasting of the newest release in the breathtaking grand chai. The "Double Vintage" tour offers a chance to compare two vintages of Opus One in the private library. End your visit with a trip to the roof to take in the view.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards' Bordeaux-inspired red blend Insignia is recognized as one of Napa Valley's signature wines; the 2002 was Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2005. The winery, founded in 1973, remains family-owned and focused on wines grown on its 375 acres of vineyards on eight sites around Napa Valley, overseen by winemaker Ashley Hepworth.
The history comes through on a visit to the recently renovated tasting room. The original winery's redwood exterior and distinctive trellis entryway remain intact. But inside, a chic, expansive space has been created, where large old casks add ambience to multiple tasting areas outfitted with comfy chairs. There's also a humidity- and temperature-controlled mini barrel room on view.
Phelps offers a comprehensive program of personalized and educational tasting experiences, including an Insignia blending seminar, a single-vineyard tasting, a wine-aroma challenge, a wine-and-cheese pairing and an Insignia vertical. Most visitors will be drawn to the terrace, which offers impressive views of the estate and one of the most stunning vistas in all of Napa.
Quintessa offers distinct tasting experiences in its private pavilions, which resemble glass tree houses. From this perch on top of Dragon's Hill, with views of the estate vineyards, Dragon's Lake and Rutherford, visitors can try barrel samples, library wines and a cheese and charcuterie plate. The estate tour, privately guided, features a comprehensive look at the vineyards, winery and caves, amid stunning architecture, and finishes with a sit-down tasting.
It's easy to spend the afternoon on the Round Pond terrace, drenched in sunshine, taking in the sweeping views of nearby vineyards, with a glass of wine in your hand. Gastronomes may opt for the "Il Pranzo" tasting, which takes guests through the gardens and olive groves before culminating in a family-style lunch prepared by the winery's estate chef. For the full Round Pond experience, splurge on the Signature Tour, a five-hour expedition that includes a look at the estate's vinegar-making operation, olive mill, gardens, beehives and barrel room, with plenty of sampling along the way before you settle down for lunch.
Shafer's wines include the iconic Hillside Select Cabernet, recognized as a Napa benchmark, and the Syrah blend Relentless, which was Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2012 for the 2008 vintage. Tasting the entire range is just one of the highlights of a visit to this secluded estate, tucked against the Palisades Mountains in the Stags Leap District, east of Yountville. The rocky slopes and rolling vineyards form a dramatic backdrop for the modern winery.
Visitors are greeted at the door by a bronze sculpture of Shafer's dog Tucker before convening on the front lawn to learn about the surrounding vineyards and history of the winery, founded by John Shafer in 1972.
The bright and airy tasting room offers sweeping views of the valley and features sliding glass walls that open onto the patio on warm days. The attentive staff caters to each group's needs while keeping the sit-down tasting casual and intimate. The experience concludes with sips of the winery's Cabernet dessert wine, paired with chocolates.
A visit to this rising Cabernet star offers a real taste of the wine-country lifestyle. Tucked at one end of a quiet neighborhood south of St. Helena, the serene property emanates Old World charm with its lush gardens and updated yellow Victorian home, built in the 1880s. Founder David Sinegal is the former CEO of Costco. He and his father, Jim, who founded the retail company, bought the historic Inglewood Estate in 2013, renovating the old stone winery and connecting it to an extensive wine cave in the hillside.
With glasses of Sauvignon Blanc in hand, guests are led on a walking tour of the grounds, taking in the organic garden and tranquil lake with its picturesque gazebo and rolling lawn. The sit-down tasting offers a chance to compare the winery's two Cabernets in the hip and cozy lounge.
Built in 1972, Sterling's brilliant white stucco winery, inspired by architecture from the Greek island of Mykonos, stands out against a bluff south of Calistoga. Founder Peter Newton had visitors in mind when he designed a gondola to transport guests up to the winery. The three-minute ride is fun and memorable for its stunning views.
Treasury Wine Estates acquired the property in 2016, and the new owners have given it a much-needed makeover. New hardwood floors throughout, warm and modern furnishings, Riedel glassware and culinary programs have all taken the experience up a notch. An app adds a digital overlay and augmented reality to the estate.
Guests are handed a glass of wine as they disembark from the tram, and there is an option for a self-guided tour, punctuated with wine and videos that explain the various stages of wine production. The many terraces provide panoramic views of the valley.
The newly renovated Trinchero tasting room mixes a speakeasy atmosphere with the feel of an archaeological exhibit—a decor of rich leather and brass elements includes a display of stuffed pheasants, a sculpture of a West African fertility god and an array of family photographs and heirlooms that remind visitors of the winery's history, dating to 1948.
A basic tasting includes four of Trinchero's estate-grown wines, but consider the many upgrades, specialized tastings and tours. "A Taste of terroir" is a horizontal tasting of single-vineyard Napa Cabs, while "The Art of Oak" shows the influence of different oak barrels on the same single-vineyard wine. There's even a rare opportunity to try future vintages, current releases and library vintages of the same two wines in the "Time in a Bottle" tasting. Tours give a more in-depth look at the 22-acre property, dotted with oak trees and offering striking views from the center of the valley.
• Always call ahead; hours and offerings can change seasonally.
• Don't be discouraged by "appointment-only" policies. Appointments ensure that staff will be ready and available to take care of you, and by-appointment tours are often less crowded.
• Don't overdo it; visiting three or four wineries is a full day, especially if you're taking tours.
• Leave enough time to drive from location to location. Consider that it takes about 45 minutes (longer with traffic) to drive from downtown Napa at the southern end of the valley to Calistoga in the north. Ask winery personnel how long to allow for a visit and how long it might take to get to your next appointment.
• To avoid the traffic on Highway 29, use the other north-south artery, Silverado Trail, which is less congested because it avoids towns and stoplights. There are plenty of streets that cross over between the two. Also be aware that left turns out of a winery's driveway onto the highway can be difficult when it's busy.
• To avoid crowds, get an early start. Another strategy is to visit on weekdays rather than weekends, and to avoid harvesttime.
• Be sure to pack water and provisions. Some attractions are many miles from a restaurant or deli, and you never know when you'll find a picnic spot to take advantage of. (But make sure to ask permission before you picnic.)
• Use the spit bucket, and ask if you can share a tasting in order to consume less wine (or try more options).
• If you're planning to purchase wine, bring a cooler and a bag of ice.