HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Napa wineries - just need something new

Going up to taste this weekend and I just need some ideas of somewhere new to go. We've been to Havens, Elyse, Sawyer, Cakebread, Groth, St. Supery, Whitehall Lane, Robert Sinskey, Duckhorn, Markham, Stag's Leap, Pine Ridge, Grgich, Plumpjack, Darioush, Dutch Henry, Sequoia Grove, Mahoney, Artesa, and I am sure a few others I can't think of. Good wines (any varietal) is more important that atmosphere.

So what have I misssed?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. Have you been to Caymus, Silver Oak (note: Silver Oak is closed on Sundays) or Frank Family? Your list seems as though you have not been on Silverado Trail as much as Hwy 29? I particularly like Rombauer, Cuvaison for their higher-end pinots, and Mumm for some of their less readily available sparkling wines. There are so many on Silverado, it's hard to suggest just a few.

      Another option is to head over the Sonoma direction, perhaps start with Carneros wineries?

      1. Here are three that I am partial to:

        Ceja (Great family story behind this winery)

        1. Okay, I'll try again...

          Why not consider some mountain wineries? Disclaimer -- THREE YEARS AGO, I worked at one NOT LISTED HERE.

          Spring Mountain: Smith-Madrone, Pride, Keener
          Howell Mountain: Outpost, Neal, Lamborn

          Most need appointments but produce excellent juice.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Carrie 218

            I really enjoyed my visit to Terra Valentine, which is on Spring Mountain.

            1. re: JasmineG

              The Spring Mountain District is an especially good choice: the wines are characterized by clear, direct mountain fruit with a backbone of acidity. Beautiful, really. Spring Mountain Vineyard, Pride, Keenan [not Keener], and Smith-Madrone are all wonderful. I'm especially fond of Pride: their Cab Franc is the best in the valley, and their Merlot is remarkable (not so much a Merlot fan, either!) Spring Mountain Vineyard makes stunning Cabernet; their top wine, Elivette, is worth seeking out. Their Victorian house was the "Falcon Crest" house on television, and is used for tastings. Beautiful grounds and vineyards. Here's the link to the Spring Mountain District, with the wineries listed:

            2. re: Carrie 218

              Or head this way and check out the ones in the Santa Cruz Mountain area:

              Burrell School, Byington, Picchetti, Roudan Smith, David Bruce
              Storrs, Testarossa, Thomas Fogarty


              1. re: Carrie 218

                Irostron's advice is good. North Bay gets the media coverage, and admittedly is flatter, therefore easier to navigate. But the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA's 55 or so wineries include those that helped make US wine internationally known for Cabernets (Ridge Vineyards at both the 1976 Spurrier "Paris" blind tasting, and its 2006 re-enactment); for Pinot-Noir wines (Martin Ray, now Mount Eden vineyards, also later David Bruce); and even for bad puns (Bonny Doon).

                “California’s best table wines, whether white or red, may be expected to come from the Santa Cruz Mountains, from the Napa Valley, and from Sonoma County.”

                -- Schoonmaker and Marvel, "American Wines," 1941.

              2. Chappellet (appt needed), Lewelling (appt needed), Neal (appt needed), Del Dotto (expensive) are all good

                4 Replies
                1. re: whiner

                  I've always wondered the protocol for appts at wineries: how early do you call, what do you say, what do you expect them to say, how is the tasting experience different?

                  I, also, have grown tired of the crowded-tasting-room and long drive; these days I patronize local wine bars with good flight menus.... maybe it's time to try again....

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    I wpnder the same. I plan to do a lot of winery visits in the next year. The plan is to go with the places that don't need an appointment to get my feet wet. That will probably involve a lot of crappy wineries. Once I feel more comfortable, I'lll start exploring the appointment only wineries. If all goes well, but the end of this year I'll have an answer, but maybe someone else has a clue before that.

                    1. re: rworange

                      In my relatively limited tasting experience, I have so far found that two types of California wineries have tastings by appointment: wineries that are so tiny they can't afford to staff a tasting room, and wineries that want to project an air of exclusivity, which is usually an illusion. (Joseph Phelps -- aka sold at Costco -- I am talking to you.) Regardless, if you turn up on the doorstep, they are unlikely to turn you away. You are a potential sale, after all.

                      But I agree with Maria: sometimes when you call ahead you get better service, esp in the summer rush. But in that case, I think they are expecting you to pick up more than just a bottle or two.

                      On my last wine tasting trip, I walked into two places that are supposedly appointment only without any premade reservations and had no trouble tasting in at all. One was in the Anderson Valley. The winemaker himself greeted us and poured. The other winery, as previously mentioned, was Phelps. He is a Judgment of Paris winner and the cabs easily go for like $150 and up. There were stretch Suburban limos outside and very shiny Harleys. We were expecting to be rebuffed, but after a brief consultation to the reservation book, manager told us there was a last minute cancellation and we could taste to our hearts content.

                      The one case where I think you really need to make an appointment is the super tiny winery (something like Harmonique in Anderson Valley), especially if you are visiting on a weekday. Otherwise, they might be out and about on business and nobody would be there to help you. This is less likely on a weekend when the volume of tasting is at its most brisk, but still, it's nice for them to know they've got company.

                      To Dive: I would highly recommend going to Schafer next to Sinskey. The merlot is insane and the winery is run on solar power. I don't think that makes the wine taste better, but I thought I would mention it. Also: if you like port, then try Praeger Portworks. Not like any other place in Napa. Also I think the syrah port just won an award from the Chronicle. The white port is freaking delicious -- dry rather than syrupy sweet. Happy tasting!

                    2. re: bbulkow

                      You simply say you'd like to visit and make an appointment to do so. If there is a charge, the winery will let you know. Generally, you make the appointment several days if not weeks ahead of time. Wineries that require appointments usually offer a more elegant and personalized visit, with special and reserve wines opened more often. You're given more time to enjoy the wine and to have your questions answered. Lots more info about the process and winetasting protocol on the CH wine board. Here are a couple of threads to get you started with lots of tips about appointments, tasting, spitting and buying:
                      How Do I plan for 3 days of wine-tasting?
                      Wine competition sampling

                      By the way, you generally have a better tasting experience if you make an appointment even if one is not required by the winery. The staff then expects you and looks forward to hosting you.

                  2. We like Etude, Domaine Carneros and Mayo Family Winery. Etude has one of our favorite Pinots and we like the champagne at Domaine Carneros. Have fun.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: espinoza

                      Which Mayo Family Winery? There are currently four tasting rooms. Have you tried the one with the $25 wine./food pairing? Anyone tried that?

                    2. Heitz is pretty good; Del Dotto is a great experience. The tour does both barrel and bottle tasting but you definitely need a ressie; BV Reserve tasting room; Provenance; Flora Springs; Mondavi Reserve tasting room; Phelps is pretty fun as well.

                      1. May I ask how you liked Duckhorn and stags leap? We're looking at a few days in Napa this fall. It will be our first trip there. I pretty much want to stick to higher end wines and tastings that require appointments. We are hoping to have a more intimate up-scale experience this way but would really enjoy having the input of others who have been there.
                        Thanks in advance. :)

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Docsknotinn

                          You may very much like Duckhorn. Beautiful tasting room, fine if not stellar wines.

                          Stag's Leap is a district, with both Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (Cask 23, SLV, and Fay single vineyard wines) and Stags' Leap Winery (confusing, I know), which is now owned by the Fosters/Beringer Group. In that area, you'll also find one of Napa's very finest: Shafer Vineyards. Pine Ridge is also worth a look. Outside of that district, look to Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel (all single vineyard wines), the Spring Mountain District (listed above), Joseph Phelps, and the wineries attached to winemakers Philippe Melka, Mia Klein and Heidi Barrett. All the wineries I've mentioned offer extremely well-made high-end wines and a superlative winetasting experience. Appointments are necessary, and there will be a charge (possibly waived with purchase).

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Maria, Thanks so much for the info! :) Napa can seem a bit over whelming at first with sooooo many choices between wineries and hotels. I think I may be looking forward to the cheese as much as the wine.