No doubt you have heard of the terrible fires that raced through the Wine Country and communities north of San Francisco. Amazingly, a few wineries had fire damage, but every winery on our list survived. (Maybe that means we should be updating the list!). So we have added some new wineries in green, meaning we’ve haven’t tried them but they show up on many lists of “best wineries”. If anyone tells you “all the wineries and the grapevines burned up” that is completely untrue, so don’t cancel your tour to the Wine Country. It is still one of the greatest things you can experience in this area. Some of the wine tasting rooms have shut down because people think they’re not open (or gone), but it’s just that people have stopped coming. Don’t make that mistake!
We include phone numbers, so you can call first to be sure they’re open. In order to be time conscious, be SELECTIVE. You might want to start the previous evening at the London Wine Bar or Vino Venue (above in Saloon/Wine Bar list) and ask for a 1 oz. taste of the wineries in that area. While most of our world-class wineries are in Napa, we’ve added a list at the end of excellent wineries that are not in Napa. If there’s some particular winery you want to visit, you can google it or just email Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to be truly safe, have a non-drinker drive.
You can rent a limo and driver (Bauer’s Transportation 415-522-1212). $800 for six people and a full day. The driver knows the way, and you won’t get asked to walk a straight line. Of course,you might bribe a local to drive you for a lot less. Or, if you have an under-21 licensed family member, s/he is your driver!
How to Get There: Leave the city by way of the Golden Gate Bridge (101 North) to Highway 37 East. It’s about 20 miles from the bridge to the 37 turnoff. Take 37 to 121 North (about 7 miles). The wineries start on 121. Eventually, 121 hits Highway 29 North (in about 16 miles). Turn left (North) on 29. Most wineries are near 29 or on Silverado Trail, which parallels 29 further East.
Choosing Where to Stop: There are over 700 wineries in Napa Valley alone so RESIST MOST WINERIES YOU SEE. The best is yet to come. We’ve listed some of our favorite wineries below. You can’t possible visit every winery in one day, not even the ones on our short list, so BE SELECTIVE. If you are a truly serious wire drinker or collector, you might make this a multi-day excursion. We’ve mentioned a few hotels and motels you might use as a base in our Guided Tour below.
Most tastings are free, unless you taste the good stuff. So pay and taste the good stuff! Life is too short for bad wine. Don’t sample what you don’t like. Below is a list of what we would see going up Highway 121 heading to Highway 29 and then down Silverado Trail (a big circle) in the order they’ll appear.
How Much Should You Drink? Just because they pour you a generous glass doesn’t mean you have to drink it. You can share a taste with a friend or spouse. Some of these tastes may cost you $5 or more, so it may be cost-effective to share. And, if you are the driver, we recommend that you use the spittoons. Yes, spitting is nasty, but it will allow you to taste the wine without taking in the alcohol. Any wine you buy better be sealed and unopened and in the trunk, just in case you are stopped. An open bottle of anything alcoholic is an instant citation, or worse!
As You Begin:
Turn onto Highway 121 from Highway 37. You will pass Viansa Winery. DO NOT STOP THERE. THIS WINE IS A WASTE OF YOUR TIME. Just continue on 121 until you see the Chateau on the left side of the road. This is the Domaine Carneros Winery (Tattinger Partners) 1240 Duhig Road (707-257-0101). If you’re a Fan of the Bubbly, stop and have a glass on your way into Napa. Sit out on the terrace for one of the most breathtaking views of the Napa Valley.
RMS (Remy Martin) 1250 Cutting Wharf Road. This is not exactly wine, it’s distilled wine… brandy and cognac. Just a short drive from the Chateau (above) on your right – not well marked, but worth the effort. Do take the tour, as the “Angel’s Share” is unbelievable. No tasting here, but very memorable.
Return to 121. Turn right and head towards Hwy 29. Turning left onto Highway 29…
Domaine Chandon 1 California Drive (707-944-2280) Just off Hwy. 29 in Yountville. It’s tricky as you take the exit to the Veteran’s Home going left under the freeway and voila Domaine Chandon is on the right. Wonderful Champagne vintner. Another of Deb’s favorites. You pay to taste – but keep the glass.
If you intend to stay in Napa overnight, we recommend El Bonita Motel 195 Main St Napa (Hwy. 29) 707-963-3214. This old style motor inn has been restored and refurbished. Quaint, if a bit smallish rooms, include a microwave, fridge, coffee maker, TV, and even wine glasses. Also a wonderful pool and spa. Reasonable rates and very clean. Located right on Hwy. 29 so very convenient. If you’re over 50, it will take you back to the way things were before freeways.
Silver Oak 1915 Oakville Crossroad 707-944-880. Turn right on Oakville Crossroad. Continue through the vineyards until you see their sign on the right. World-class red wines made in (amazing) California oak barrels. One of Steve’s favorites. Again, you pay to taste, but a beautiful Reidel (pronounced REE-DULL) glass goes with you. Go back out Oakville Rd. turn right back to 29.
Niebaum-Coppola – Estate, Vineyard and Winery 1991 St. Helena Hwy (Hwy. 29) 707-968- 1100. The wines of film director Frances Ford Coppola are wonderful and the Chateau (formerly Inglenook Winery) is breathtaking. There is an excellent self-guided tour of the Chateau and the artifacts are worth seeing. Be sure to go to the second floor. And don’t forget the wine. There is a fee for tasting, but you keep the glass.
Beaulieu Vineyards 1960 St. Helena Hwy. 29 (707-963-2411) on the right, just past Rutherford. Go to BV’s separate tasting room and try the “George de La Tour Private Reserve”. Wow! You pay to taste, but you taste 5 wines and two may share the tasting. Worth every penny.
Rutherford Grill is at the Beaulieu Vineyards. Terrific Food.
Grgich Hills 1829 St. Helena Hwy 29 (707-963-2784) This winery is a Van Der Burgt Family Favorite! (Chardonnay and other varietals) 1/4 mile beyond Beaulieu on the left.
Tra Vigne Restaurant (Charter Oak Ave. at Hwy. 29, St. Helena 707-963-4444) The perfect lunch. Beth Van Der Burgt says it serves the best tiramisu she has ever had.
Gott’s Roadside (933 Main St. [Hwy. 29], St. Helena 707-963-3486). If you think Tra Vigne above is just one more fancy restaurant (with fancy prices), try this one instead. Formerly called Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, it’s open every day from 10:30AM to 8:30PM, it serves legendary burgers, fries, and shakes, and a lot more. This ‘dive’ was spruced up after it appeared on the Food Channel, and its burgers came in #2 in the nation in Bon Appetite Magazine. So be prepared to wait. The only burger stand with a Wine Bar !! There’s now a branch in San Francisco as well (see the restaurant guide up front)..
Maybe you’d like to spread this whirlwind tour out, especially if this is a romantic getaway. Next time we stay here, we’re going to try Sunny Acres Bed & Breakfast (1397 Main St. St Helena 707-963-2826 www.sunnyacresbandb.com). This 1859 Victorian has no phone, radio or CD player in the three available rooms. (But they do have wi-fi!). It sits right in the middle of a 26- acre vineyard across the road from Tra Vigne (above). You need a stepstool to get into bed. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Chateau Montelena 1429 Tubbs Lane 707-942-5105 (Chardonnay, Cabernet) Pass Calistoga, right on Tubbs Lane, pass Bennett Lane, entrance on left. Chateau Montelena has a lake and islands for a stroll. World Class, if you drink the good stuff. Buy a “library tasting” for $40 and share it. (Regular $20 tasting is almost as good.) This is one red wine that Steve actually collects. In 1976, their Chardonnay beat the French in a ‘blind’ tasting. Go rent the movie “Bottle Shock”.
Continue East on Tubbs Lane and cross over to Silverado Trail, turn right, heading South.
On the Silverado Trail. Stop at:
Sterling 1111 Dunaweal Lane 707-942-3344 (Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay) turn right on Dunaweal Lane. Sterling has their winery on top of a hill. You take a tram ride to get there. What a view!
Duckhorn 3027 Silverado Trail 707-963-7108 (Merlot) right on Lodi Lane. Perhaps the greatest Merlot. Hey, if you saw the movie “Sideways”, this would have changed his view on Merlot!
Rutherford Hill 200 Rutherford Road 707-963-1871 (Merlot). Left on Rutherford Hill Rd. IF YOU ONLY TAKE ONE WINE CELLAR TOUR THIS IS THE ONE. Tour Times: 11:30, 1:30 and 3:30 daily.
Stag’s Leap Cellars 5766 Silverado Trail 707-944.2020. Continue down Silverado and it’s on the left. This winery, along with Chateau Montelena above, started the whole craze in 1976 when their Cabernet beat the French in a ‘blind’ tasting. A perfect “last stop” winery.
The French Laundry. (6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599, 707-944-2380). This restaurant is often listed as one of the best in the USA and always in the Top 5 of California, three Michelin stars. You have to call two months in advance to get a reservation. Dinner takes 3 to 4 hours, so don’t be in a hurry. Price is an astronomic $400 per person. Many call it “the best restaurant in the world”.