Planning a Sideways-style wine road trip? Local resident William Kelley offers up 10 Napa Valley wineries to visit and some great restaurant suggestions.
Every year, 4.5m people visit the Napa Valley, and it’s a figure that could well rise in 2016 with the Super Bowl coming to San Francisco on 7 February in its 50th anniversary year.
Located less than two hours drive north of San Francisco, Napa Valley’s stunning vineyard vistas, balmy Mediterranean climate, and world-class restaurants and resorts make it irresistibly attractive.
- See below for William Kelley’s 10 top Napa Valley wineries to visit
Getting around: Just two roads – Highway 29 and Silverado Trail
What’s more, Napa Valley is easy to explore and understand, at least superficially. Drive its two main roads, Highway 29 to the West and the Silverado Trail to the East, and you will have seen the bulk of its vineyards and wineries. Napa’s sixteen appellations, known as American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) divide that acreage into distinct regions, all with a vinous voice of their own.
Of course, no visit to wine country would be complete without tours and tastings. We’ve selected some of our favourites.
Top Napa Valley wineries to visit:
See our interactive map, as well as a brief description of the wineries and the cost of tastings, as of January 2016.
Chappellet ($35-75 per person by appointment)
Perched high on Pritchard Hill, one of Napa’s priciest grape growing areas, Chappellet’s vineyards produce virile, brooding Cabernet Sauvignon.
Corison Winery ($55 per person by appointment)
After a distinguished career in the valley, Cathy Corison founded her eponymous Rutherford winery in 1988 and has remained true to her vision of producing balanced, ageworthy Cabernet Sauvignon.
Failla Wines ($20-50 per person by appointment)
The brainchild of winemaker Ehren Jordan, visitors to Failla are able to taste benchmark cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast as well as reds from Napa—all at one address in St. Helena.
Larkmead (by appointment)
Winemaker Dan Petroski is taking this historic Cabernet-focussed property in Calistoga to new heights.
Mayacamas Vineyards ($75 per person by appointment)
The historic estate dates back to the nineteenth century, but it was the long-lived mountain wines of former proprietor Bob Travers that really established Mayacamas’ reputation. His legacy continues under new ownership.
Robert Mondavi Winery ($20-50 per person)
In addition to revolutionising California wine, Robert Mondavi was the pioneer of Napa wine tourism, and his striking Mission-style winery continues to offer an hospitable welcome to visitors today.
Château Montelena ($40 per person by appointment)
Famous for their triumph in the 1976 ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting, Montelana’s ninteteenth-century winery and its cool cellars number among the valley’s architectural icons.
Shafer Vineyards ($55 per person by appointment)
The Shafer family and their long-time winemaker Elias Fernandez have been producing wines, including their celebrated Hillside Select, in the Stags Leap District for decades.
Spottswoode ($75 per person by appointment)
This family-owned estate is one of Napa’s reference points, and a visit to its picturesque historic winery is not to be missed.
Stony Hill Vineyard ($45 per person by appointment)
The McCrea family began planting their vineyards on Spring Mountain in 1947, and have been producing racy, ageworthy Chardonnay ever since: a true classic.
Napa Valley restaurants
After a hard day of wine tasting, what better than dinner at one of Napa Valley’s best restaurants?
Eating well is an integral part of what Californians call the wine country lifestyle. Chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, located in the gastronomic Mecca of Yountville, was the first North American restaurant to win three Michelin stars. With a mere 17 tables and an international reputation, getting a reservation can be challenging and dining costly, but the kitchen’s flashes of brilliance and the intimacy of the experience make it worth the effort.
Yountville is also home to chef Richard Reddington’s acclaimed restaurant Redd, as well as Keller’s Bouchon (his homage to the French Bistro) and more casual Ad Hoc (celebrated for its amazing fried chicken). Adventurous visitors can check out Pancha’s, the valley’s earthiest dive bar, where a legal loophole permits smoking indoors and a veteran clientele includes many of Yountville’s off-duty chefs and service staff.
Further north in St. Helena, Chef Christopher Kostow’s The Restaurant at Meadowood is the French Laundry’s latest challenger, winning its coveted third Michelin star in 2011. Kostow’s pared-down cuisine nods to molecular gastronomy and foregrounds local and seasonal ingredients. Meadowood itself is undeniably one of the valley’s loveliest places to stay—at a price. Not far away, PRESS Restaurant boasts the valley’s best all-Napa wine list, with vintages dating back to the 1940s.
Updated: 11/03/16 – Pritchard Hill
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