Covid-19: Napa Valley is in the State of California’s Covid-19 Regional Stay At Home order, and currently most wineries are only allowing pickups of wine orders, or offering virtual tastings.
When Joseph Osborne arrived in Napa in the 1850s and dug deep into the soils of Oak Knoll, he never would have imagined that those first vines would mark the birth of one of the world’s most highly reputed wine regions. California’s Napa Valley may not lay claim to the centuries of existence that wine regions in Europe do, but it shares the same passion for beauty in both wine and design.
The region is home to some of the most fascinating and stunning wine properties, with architectural and landscaping influences being drawn from all corners of the world. From the grandeur of French châteaux to modern art retreats, from medieval forts to palaces erected in Italian marble, Napa is home to an eclectic mix of wineries spanning all shapes and sizes. There’s even a winery with a ski lift!
The days of the simple tasting room set-up are gone as wineries have to think further outside the box for ways to stand out in this competitive market. ‘Experiences’ are increasingly offered by wineries – and beautifully manicured gardens, majestic cellars and grand architecture are fundamental cornerstones in this, to entice in the crowds.
Napa has more than 550 wineries – some stand out more than others, but one common theme is the vast outdoor spaces where people can admire the surrounding beauty of the winery before even stepping inside.
From instantly recognisable and historic properties to cutting-edge masterpieces, here follows a selection of Napa Valley wine estates known for their unique architectural values.
Save on a Decanter subscription in our January sale
Best for nostalgia
Napa’s first estate winery, the Inglenook property (pictured top) was bought by Gustave Niebaum in 1879. Work began on the iconic château in 1881 and when completed in 1887 it was the first to introduce gravity-flow winemaking – considered one of the greatest winery structures in the western hemisphere at the time.
Film director Francis Ford Coppola bought the property in 1975 and still owns it today, having put his own distinct twist on the visiting experience with his film and photography museum. Steeped in history, the building is a nod to Napa’s rich winemaking past; sensitive restorations in 1997 make it feel as if you’ve been transported back to the 1800s, walking in the footsteps of the founding fathers of Napa viticulture (Inglenook was actually the first estate in the region to plant Merlot, back in 1882).
The property’s most breathtaking feature is the vast network of caves that sit within the mountainside, leading out to a picturesque valley view. As part of its continuing 140th anniversary works, this maze of tunnels is undergoing a giant expansion, to be completed by the 2021 harvest.
Best for historic charm
Coming to fame by triumphing over Burgundy’s best Chardonnay wines at the 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting, Chateau Montelena’s past tells a much larger story, entwined within the foundation of its architecture.
Conceived in 1888 by Alfred Tubbs, this medieval castle-styled building is said to have been designed by a French architect, built by French masons and on mostly European foundations. Rumour has it, it was inspired by Château Lafite in Bordeaux. With rustic stone walls, narrow arched windows and even faux arrow slits, this fortified gatehouse has stood the test of time.
In 1958, its next architectural evolution came at the hands of Yort and Jeanie Frank, a couple who emigrated from Hong Kong prior to World War II. Their retirement home was not complete without a Chinese-inspired garden, so Jade lake was born. Considered one of Napa’s most beautiful sanctuaries, it is home to many species of plant and wildlife, and is surrounded by weeping willows on all sides.
In 1976, the estate was bought by Jim Barrett, whose success at the Judgement of Paris that year gave the property its winemaking name. It is still owned by the Barrett family today.
Best for creative wackiness
Many of the properties on this list hold great historical value, but Raymond Winery is perhaps the most intriguing and visual of them all for an entirely different reason. Like Alice in Wonderland, you seem to be entering another dimension – an eclectic mix of all things whimsical.
While the Raymond family arrived in Napa during the 1930s, it’s Burgundy-born Jean-Charles Boisset who now runs operations. His creative outlook has made Raymond one of the most talked-about wineries in northern California due to its unique and provocative design. Half-nude mannequins hang from pipes and giant chandeliers loom above fermentation tanks – like so many other discoveries, their presence is hard to explain, yet somehow works.
Boisset is also a leader in biodynamic farming and offers visitors a glimpse into what the practice means in the Theater of Nature. In addition to its many collections and selections of wines, Raymond Winery also produces celebrity collaborations, including singer John Legend’s LVE range.
Best for art
This new-age, industrial-meets-contemporary utopia fires the imagination. Avid art collectors Craig and Kathryn Hall moved to Napa in 1995, with Kathryn’s family winemaking history (and their love of Cabernet Sauvignon) inspiring the pair to combine the two.
The winery melds the old and the new: the original 1885 stone building was completely restored and now, under sweeping mountain views, visitors can enjoy the work of critically acclaimed artists from all corners of the globe.
Hall was also California’s first production winery to receive LEED Gold Certification from the US Green Building Council and continues to push the boundaries of green innovation.
Best for mountain views
The winery is one of many in the Jackson Family Wines global portfolio. Founded in 1995, it is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon produced from Napa’s four major mountain district AVAs: Spring Mountain, Mount Veeder, Diamond Mountain and Howell Mountain. Nonetheless, it is the architectural magnetism of the estate’s European-inspired castle that is arguably the biggest drawcard.
In the heart of Spring Mountain, this stone fortress with its gothic-inspired quatrefoil windows offers a sense of grandeur, yet there’s an understated elegance and warmth too. Luxurious, open-plan interiors with locally sourced artisan furnishings and grand chandeliers overhead create a spell of enchantment and comfort.
Some of the best places are difficult to get to, and that statement couldn’t be truer in this instance.