Beat the tourists and plan your next road trip along Napa wine country’s Silverado Trail. See the top 10 wineries to visit en route, selected by Stephen Brook...
Top 10 wineries to visit on the Silverado Trail
For a more leisurely alternative to the tourist traffic of Highway 29 through Napa Valley, plan your road trip along the Silverado Trail — running down the valley from Calistoga to Napa.
The Trail hugs the eastern flank of the valley, with hardly any traffic lights to impede the flow. It also has cycle lanes for those who wish to combine hedonistic winery visits with gentle exercise.
Scroll down to try Silverado Trail wines
This route is also close to some of Napa’s finest resorts and restaurants, such as the Auberge du Soleil, Meadowood, and The French Laundry and Bouchon in Yountville.
The wineries below are listed from north to south. Total driving time between them is approximately one hour.
NOTE: If you, or your designated driver, would rather not take to the wheel between wineries, the driver service Uber functions in the San Francisco Bay area, including Napa Valley.
Dan and Margaret Duckhorn began producing wine in Napa in 1976, and soon acquired a deserved reputation for outstanding Merlots as well as Cabernet Sauvignon. This stemmed from a visit to Bordeaux, where Dan was entranced by St-Emilion and Pomerol.
At first he bought fruit, but gradually acquired 240ha of vineyards. In 2006 the Duckhorns sold the property to a private equity firm, which in turn sold it on to a similar company in 2016. But quality has always been high, especially for the red wines, which are made in a robust, oaky, long-lived style.
The tasting room at Duckhorn occupies a spacious house just south of the Silverado Trail. Tastings can be booked by appointment on the website, and are seated and tutored in a relaxing atmosphere, either indoors or on the veranda.
Tasting cards are provided for each wine as an aide-memoire. Visitors can choose from a Portfolio tasting of five current releases ($35), or an Estate tasting of five single-vineyard wines, with cheese platter included ($70). Find out more
Opening daily 10am-3pm daily
1000 Lodi Lane, St Helena, CA 94574
Since construction magnate Joseph Phelps bought this former cattle ranch, planted vines, and released his first wine from the 1973 vintage, the property has been constantly evolving.
The initial winemaker, Walter Schug, indulged in splendid late-harvest wines from Riesling and Scheurebe. After his departure in 1983, Phelps focused more on varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, especially from remarkable vineyards such as Eisele and Backus.
There was a later experiment with Rhône varieties, which has been discontinued. However, the Phelps venture along the Sonoma coast, 40ha of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir under the Freestone label, continues. Insignia, a Bordeaux-style blend, pioneered this style in 1974. The property remains family-owned.
Although a slight detour, the site alone makes a visit a thrilling experience. The gorgeous redwood winery at Phelps houses a spacious visitor centre, and a fine terrace that overlooks hills and vineyards. Joseph Phelps also has an in-house chef, who can present culinary experiences ranging from cheese pairings to a three-hour lunch ($275).
Overall, this is one of the more luxurious tasting experiences that Napa has to offer, though visits are by appointment only (book via the website). Tastings cost $75 for one hour; other options include Exceptional Wine Experiences ($100 for 90 minutes) and more specialised tastings, such as blending the flagship wine Insignia.
There are also 90-minute private tutored tastings ($125) and six-vintage verticals of Insignia ($200). Find out more
Open daily 10am-3pm
200 Taplin Road, St Helena, CA 94574
These beautiful Rutherford vineyards, and the swooping stone-faced winery set into the hillside, are the creation of Agustin and Valeria Huneeus from 1990 onwards. About 80ha are planted on five hillsides, and since 2005 the farming has been biodynamic.
The varied soil types allow winemaker Rebekah Wineburg to produce a Bordeaux-style blend of complexity and finesse, plus a sophisticated Sauvignon Blanc. The first vintage was 1994 and it took a few years for the wine to shed a certain hollowness and achieve the polish and distinction that Huneeus had always aimed for. Today it would be churlish to complain about quality, which is consistently high.
Visits are by appointment only; bookings via the website. There are two tours, each around 90 minutes: the Estate option gives an overview of the vineyards, a tour of the winery and a tasting of four or five wines ($75); Quintessential includes barrel samples and at least one mature vintage ($125). Find out more
Open daily 10am-3pm
1601 Silverado Trail, St Helena, CA 94574
Miner is that increasing rarity in Napa Valley: a producer with a walk-in, no-appointment tasting room. There is a $25 fee, but this is refunded if you spend $75.
David Miner founded the property, which is not an estate winery, as it buys most of its grapes from the huge Stagecoach Vineyard, as well as from other regions of California. This makes Miner a good choice if your palate is beginning to grow weary of rich Cabernets. You’ll find Rhône varieties here, plus Tempranillo and Sangiovese.
However, Miner honours its origins by producing a flagship Bordeaux-style blend called The Oracle that is sourced from Stagecoach.Miner is less well-known than many other wineries along the Trail, so its tasting room is rarely crowded and the staff are only too happy to chat as well as to pour. Find out more
Open daily 10am-5pm
7850 Silverado Trail, Oakville, CA 94562
Despite its location, Sinskey is best known for Alsace-style wines and Carneros Pinor Noir. Moreover, unlike most tasting rooms, all tasting flights are accompanied by nibbles prepared in the adjoining kitchens, often by Dr Sinskey’s daughter-in-law Maria, who has written cookbooks about seasonal food.
Most of the grapes here are estate-grown and farmed biodynamically or organically. Abraxas is one of the winery’s best-known wines: a shot at bone-dry Alsace Edelzwicker, blending Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Or try Orgia, a Pinot Gris fermented on skins.
Marked by their freshness and flair, Sinskey’s wines are an invigorating alternative to Napa’s cult of Cabernet.There’s usually no need to book an appointment at this somewhat atypical winery, where five wines can be tasted, with nibbles, for $40.
A seated tasting with food and wine pairings is offered for $70; while a tour of the gardens and wine caves, including a seated tasting with seasonal dishes, goes for $95.
The more expensive ‘Chef’s Table’ option provides a similar tour and tasting, but with a five-course meal accompanied by older vintages ($175). If wines are purchased, a discount to the tasting fees is applied. Find out more
Open daily 10am-4.30pm
6320 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Few wineries in Napa are as well known as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Its 1973 Cabernet triumphed at Steven Spurrier’s Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976, and thereafter the highest standards were maintained under the direction of founder Warren Winiarski.
In 2007 he sold the estate to a partnership formed by Antinori from Tuscany and Chateau Ste Michelle of Washington State. The airy tasting room with its stone walls is set back slightly from the Trail. Its plate-glass windows offer views over the vineyard.
Visitors can also enjoy the bucolic scene from the terrace. To gaze over the SLV and Fay vineyards, glass in hand, is to experience an essential part of Napa’s wine history.
The Estate Collection tasting offers four wines (including Fay, SLV and the top selection Cask 23) for $45 (refundable if you buy two bottles). Other options are by appointment and can be booked on the website. These include the Wine Tasting & Cave Tour ($75 for 75 minutes) or the Cellarius Kitchen Experience with the estate’s chef ($125). Find out more
Open daily 10am-4pm
5766 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Since its first vintage in 1981, when Walt Disney’s daughter, the late Diane Miller, established the estate and winery, Silverado has won a fine reputation for consistent and full-bodied Cabernets from Stags Leap District.
The winery is also known for good estate-grown Carneros Chardonnay and Yountville Sauvignon Blanc. Jon Emmerich has been the winemaker here — only the second one in its history — since 1988.
The wines are sourced from Silverado’s 160ha of vineyards.The winery and lofty tasting room are perched on a knoll giving fine views of the valley and its vineyards. The flagship wine, Solo Cabernet, was created in 2002 and is blended from the best lots from the home vineyard near the winery.
The regular tasting flight here is $35 (refunded with the purchase of one bottle of wine), and the Premier Flight is $40 (refunded with the purchase of two bottles). Silverado also offers a range of tours from $55 onwards, including a special Library Tasting featuring vintages back to the 1980s. Find out more
Open daily 10am-5pm
6121 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
As you drive up the lane to Chimney Rock, you may wonder whether you’ve arrived in South Africa by mistake, as the winery is a replica of the venerable Groot Constantia manor house. The original founders were from South Africa and clearly had a bad attack of homesickness.
The forte here is Bordeaux-style reds, including Elevage, a Merlot-dominated tribute to the Right Bank. Other wines are pure Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 2000 the Terlato Group, which has extensive holdings in all sectors of the international wine industry, has held a controlling interest in Chimney Rock.
Yet quality, always high, has been maintained under long-term winemaker Elizabeth Vianna.The tasting room here is mercifully free of the bling that mars some others in the Valley. The $50 tasting fee for five wines is refunded if you buy two bottles.
There are other options by appointment via the website, including a flagship vertical tasting ($75 for 90 minutes); a tour and barrel tasting ($85 for 90 minutes); and the Ganymede tour, named after its finest vineyard, lasting two hours with lunch ($145). Find out more
Open daily 10am-5pm
5350 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Cameras out! No visitor can resist stopping at this glorious, yellow-stoned, neo-Persian extravaganza of columns, porticoes and fountains, all leading towards a lofty pillared visitor centre.
This is more than a standard tasting room: it is admirably staffed, as all tastings are hosted, and also sells decanters, wine books and Coravins. Tastings can also be organised in the shady gardens.
Darioush was founded in 1997 by Iranian-born entrepreneur Darioush Khaledi, who wanted his winery to be a tribute to the architecture of his native land. From the outset the estate favoured big, bold wines, mostly sourced from his 44ha of vineyards.
Wines are handcrafted with lavish use of new oak, yet manage to avoid being overblown.The Portfolio tasting at Darioush offers five wines for $40, with the fee refunded if you purchase at least two bottles.
There are also other tasting options, such as a 90-minute tour and seated tasting with artisanal cheeses for $75 or food and wine pairing for $150. Find out more
Open daily 10.30am-5pm
4240 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Although a relative newcomer, having been founded in 2007, Black Stallion has become a popular destination, so a visit is hardly an intimate experience. But the huge tasting room, a former equestrian centre, is well staffed, and there are various options.
While the Gaspare Vineyard near the winery is owned by Black Stallion, most of the wines are sourced from vineyards throughout the valley and from Sonoma too. That means a large and fluctuating range is on offer.
The top wines are the Transcendent Napa Valley Cabernet, and the Cabernet-dominated red blend called Bucephalus. No reservations are required for tasting flight combinations of four wines ($20-$50), with refunds if you buy three bottles. There is also a range of more personalised tastings that can be booked on the website. Find out more
Open daily 10am-5pm
4089 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
A week after my visit to Napa to research this article, devastating forest fires swooped down on the valley, causing enormous damage and considerable loss of life.
Most of the Silverado Trail wineries had a very close call, but the Signorello visitor centre was burnt to the ground (although the vineyards and wine stocks were spared).
The estate is run by Ray Signorello Jr, whose father planted it from 1980 onwards. The main focus is on Cabernet Sauvignon and top Bordeaux-style blend called Padrone. But the relatively cool climate makes it possible to produce fine white wines here, as well as Cabernets of restraint and sophistication.
Top Signorello whites include one made from some of California’s oldest Chardonnay vines and a polished Graves-style wine called Seta. This style was quite common in Napa in the 1980s but has almost vanished today.
Ray assures me Signorello will rise again, and knowing his energy and entrepreneurship, I have no doubt that this will be true, and that future visitors will be met with the same welcome as in the past.
Update June 2018:
Signorello Estate has announced it will be opening a temporary tasting room from 13 July 2018. The new tasting space offers tourists an ‘Estate Experience’, priced at $100 per person, which includes a small group tasting, vineyard tour, plus an insight into Ray’s ambitious rebuilding plans. Find out more
Stephen Brook is an awarded author and has been a Decanter contributing editor since 1996. This article first appeared in Decanter magazine’s April 2018 issue. Editing and update by Laura Seal.
Silverado Trail wines to try
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