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which wineries worth it/worth tours?

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Thought I'd make this a separate post. Going on Tuesday now!
Okay so here are the vineyards we hope to go to (we may not hit them all but...)
Stag's Leap Winery
Chimney Rock
Pine RIdge
Frog's Leap
Opus One
Nickel & Nickel - i think this one folks said was worth a tour
Cakebread (have appt)
Sequoia Grove
Silver Oak
Quintessa (tour/tasting - but tell me if it's not worth it because it's expensive)
Grgich Hills
Joseph Phelps (2 seminars)
Vincent Arroy
Bennett Lane
And maybe a mountain day (which ones)

Anything big missing? Anything a TOTAL waste? oh and where else is worth an actual tour? THANKS!

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  1. Unless you know someone at the winery, tours are typically all the same in terms of a rough outline of the winemaking process from vines to crush pad to fermentation to barrel room to bottling line. I'm of the opinion that once you've been on one, you've been on all, and if I want to get to more than a couple wineries in a day I avoid them when possible since they usually take at least an hour.

    Some of the places on your list are open for drop ins, others require tasting appointments and book up, so you may find it worth your time to just start calling before getting your hopes up about a particular tour somewhere.

    Make sure you keep lots of water with you in your car to clear out your mouth between tastings, and I also find it handy to pick up a baguette and rip off chunks to nibble on throughout the day, which also helps reset my taste buds.

    1 Reply
    1. re: SteveG

      some seem to only do tours. i agree it takes a while.

    2. actual schedule at this point:
      day 1:
      Elyse appointment
      maybe Stag's Leap or Bounty Hunter on way into St. Helena
      dinner at Mustard's Grill
      day 2:
      Tour @ quintessa
      maybe Stag's Leap, Pine Ridge, Chimney Rock (no appts)
      consider appt at Sullivan's or Groth
      day 3:
      seminar at phelps
      tour (only option) at nickel & nickel
      tasting at cakebread
      try to wander into sequoia grove
      dinner at go fish
      day 4:
      tour at pride
      picnic in there somewhere
      dinner at press
      change hotels! :)
      day 5:
      mainly a spa day in calistoga so will have a late start. was thinking bennett lane - any other calistoga vineyards if you all really think sterling is bad?
      dinner at solbar
      day 6:
      seminar at joseph phelps
      day 7:
      unknown - have to be on redeye back from SF

      is this doable?
      i really have NO idea.

      still haven't gotten to milat (recommended) or opus one or hess or vincent arroyo (sp?)

      i don't want to miss anything that i'll kick myself for but i don't want to feel like i'm on too much of a schedule either.

      p.s. i REALLY appreciate all the help.

      by the way, whoever posted this site is fabulous. http://www.napavintners.com/maps/maps...

      it is really helpful with making appointments.

      32 Replies
      1. re: AMFM

        Slightly confused because you have Seminar at Phelps twice; on Day 3 and Day 6. Different seminars?

        I guess the only food-thing I would change is dinner at Press. I believe they are horribly over-priced for what they offer ($50 chicken? $90 steak?) You are missing some great eateries like Ubuntu which has many accolades on this board (and elsewhere).

        Other great Calistoga wineries to visit are Zahtilla and Chateau Montelena.

        1. re: Carrie 218

          I love the enormous cowboy ribeye at Press for $89. Some great beef there. And the spinach and duck-fat roasted potatoes. But it is a little pricey.Actually, I usually get the Kobe burger.

          Yes, in addition to Carrie's recs for Calistoga, add Vincent Arroyo (correcting AMFM's spelling). Great single-vineyard Petite Sirahs.

          Comments going through your itinerary:
          Mustard's has gone downhill. Consider Ubuntu, Terra, Redd, Martini House, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen instead (this is another Cindy resto besides Mustards and Go Fish, and the best of the lot) ...

          Have you checked the threads lately for Napa? Tons of comments.

          Quintessa has only a couple of wines, unless they pour wines from Chile or Argentina. It's a Augustin Hunneus property. Other wineries may be of more interest and benefit.

          Be sure to differentiate between Stags' Leap Wine Cellars (home of Cask 23, Fay, SLV) and Stag's Leap Winery (now a Fosters/Beringer/Blass property).

          Phelps is brilliant. Nickel & Nickel wonderful.
          Cakebread is kind of a factory these days. You could skip it, or go, your call.

          Anything other than the sushi at Go Fish is pretty disappointing. Another resto choice would be better as you can probably find sushi where you are.
          Pride is brilliant. Barnett, very good. Cain, also good.That's your Spring Mountain District day. Order ahead and take a picnic lunch (I like going to Sunshine Market for this), both Pride and Cain are picnid options, but call first.

          Yes, Sterling is bad, but the view is good. Check out both terraces if you
          bother going -- the South Terrace view is glorious, but the view to the North is very beautiful also. The wines aren't much, sad to say.Wish they'd get their act together over there.

          Have a great trip.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            my problem with restaurants is that my husband won't eat anything that has touched a vegetable. sad but true. and that GREATLY limited my choices. he is fine with chain caliber food. really. so i picked places that had things he'd eat. he doesn't love bbq much - and besides we live in the thick of that - so i can get great here. i'd do casual. the only meat on most of those menus was a hangar steak and i thought he'd be miserable with 4 of those in a row pushing it off of a parsnip puree. but don't get me wrong. i don't want to be miserable either!
            thanks for the input on vineyards. i appreciate it. sounds like there are some good ones on the list. i'm excited for the mountain day - will leave press beause my hubby will LOVE it and it's our actual 10th anniversary. thanks for the tip about picnics. had heard model bakery too. Is Spring Mountain better than any on my list? because I doubt I can do all four but would trade one. We prefer reds. Strongly! :)

            1. re: AMFM

              Just to be clear: Pride, Barnett, Cain and Spring Mountain Vineyards
              are all within the Spring Mountain District. That's why I used that term. Pride is one of the best in Napa Valley. Cain is a lovely setting and Chris makes some great wine (off of Langtry lane, where Lillie Langtry lived). Barnett recently has produced some killer swill, but I'd probably direct you to Spring Mountain Vineyards, a winery within the Spring Mountain District. The grounds are stunning, the wines very very good. You taste in the old and hugely graceful Victorian mansion that was the house on the TV show "Falcon Crest."

              More info:

              1. re: maria lorraine

                so give up Barnett? and try to move Cain? this scheduling is a pain so I just want to be sure. i was 10, 12, and 2:30 now. and couldn't get to spring mountain before they closed but had heard they were lovely. thanks so much.

                1. re: AMFM

                  Just don't drive yourself crazy. Those appointments sound a bit too close.

                  Of the four, I'd pass on Barnett. I'd do Pride and Spring Mountain Vineyards, if it were me. I love Cain, so you could add it in also, if you really, really wanted to.

                  But watch it that you aren't planning visits so close together that you can't enjoy yourselves and relax. The view from Pride towards the eastern Valley is truly spectacular. Take your picnic lunch there (with their approval) and just revel in the view. That takes time.

                  Perhaps spend some time sitting on the veranda at Spring Mountain Vineyard or exploring the grounds, and take in all that gorgeousness there. Cain is tucked away down a long lane, and it's scenic also, though it would be my third choice. Barnett, fourth.

                  One thing is clear: there is nothing else like mountain fruit for wine: always bright, direct, and with that refreshing acidity.

                  Have a great time. Oh, I like Model Bakery...just think Sunshine is better for picnic stuff because it has far more variety. They have a website -- check it out, and possibly order ahead so you can roll by the day of your picnic and just pick things up. Good luck.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Thanks SO much. they were trying to get me to do one hour but i thought that was CRAZY! i figured three in a day was enough.

                    1. re: AMFM


                      You mean this wasn't self-induced madness?

                      Pride: some of the greatest swill in the valley + great view
                      Spring Mountain Vineyard: excellent swill, gorgeous grounds
                      Cain: very good swill, good scenery
                      Barnett: some good swill, some very good swill.

                      That's the way it shakes out for me.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        when i called they were like "that should take an hour, how about our 11 o'clock". i was like "um no - how about i get to enjoy it and feel like i'm on vacation". and then cain only had a 2:30. i think they might have a 12 also. spring mountain only does a 2. it is hard to arrange! :) glad i get to pride. will try to do spring mountain. worse comes to worse we could maybe come back there on saturday, sunday - or monday before the trip back to SFO.

                        1. re: AMFM

                          <<<when i called they were like "that should take an hour, how about our 11 o'clock">>>

                          which winery is this? If it's Pride, take it, and bring your picnic lunch to have afterwards. Then roll down the hill to SMV at 2.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            we have pride at 10. barnett was trying to talk me into being there by 11 after. ended up with 12 - but that's just a tasting not tour like the others. if i can switch out barnett for cain at 12 and get smv at 2 i might. otherwise i'll drop cain and just pop in on barnett for a few minutes if/when i can and go to smv. cain was a bit snooty. only place that has been.

                            1. re: AMFM

                              Cain is very French. Don't take it personally. Chris and his wife are warm people, but maybe they don't give good phone.

                              Sorry to put it so straight, but your schedule is much too rushed...I'm exhausted reading it, and I live here and know the terrain and the wineries.

                              I'd really, really urge you to have your lunchtime picnic at Pride.
                              Read the other reports on this. Let everything else fall from that.

                              If you have time, visit Barnett. If you have time, visit Cain.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                thanks. honestly that's why i asked if it was doable. i'd like to feel like i can explore the area and bike and all that too. i HATE the appointments (it's not that i don't understand) but they make me feel like i'm on one of those stereotyped european tours. i don't want to get charged for cancelling but don't want to be out of options. a lot of places are quite expensive too.
                                so i really appreciate the input.
                                i figure i can call in advance and if it works great. if not, fine too. i want some good views but my husband will be much more into wines.
                                most days there is one am tour/seminar. and then 1 (one day 2 but that's the exception) afternoon place. plan to otherwise wander. there are plenty of good places that you don't need appointments. but i'm debating canceling quintessa now. $65/person is a LOT. so if it's not much then not worth it.
                                the hard part is that i can buy great selection here in VA. i want to find little wines. or learn like at phelps. and most of all get the feel of napa and have a great vacation!
                                thanks for all your answers!!!!! happy 4th.

                                1. re: AMFM

                                  Quintessa is now charging $65 a person? Cancel it. Seriously.

                                  NO winery tour is worth that -- especially when there are dozens of gem wineries on Spring and Howell mountains which are STUNNING and informative to visit (with amazing architecture, beautiful views, and fabulous juice) which do not charge a dime to come and visit.

                                  That is obscene.

                                  1. re: Carrie 218

                                    I laugh about Quintessa because back when it was $25 (I think) per person - tasting, no tour - we spent an hour with two wines, a little plate of quince paste, crackers and cheese, and a nervous "guide" who sat down with us and hounded us with: "What do you taste in the wine now?" "And now?" "After a bite of cheese, how does that change your first experience of the wine?" "What about now?" "And now?" "And now?" "But really, what about now?" We left as quickly as we could.

                                    1. re: Junie D


                                      Sounds like a nightmare. Or a comedy skit.

                            2. re: maria lorraine

                              Is there a good spot near Pride to stock up on picnic supplies?

                                1. re: JPAub

                                  Sunshine Market recommended above.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Got it, thanks.

                                    We were also planning/hoping to do some hiking around the area. Are there trails around the grounds at Pride Mountain or any of the other nearby wineries?

                                    1. re: mofo313

                                      This isn't a Chow question, so I can't answer.
                                      Check online or ask around once you're here.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        I was hoping someone who's been there might know from experience.

                                        I called Pride and they said if you have a reservation for tasting they give you sort of free reign over the grounds but prefer you stay on the beaten paths as you're walking around.

                                        Thanks for everyone's help, we're doing a tasting at Pride then a picnic on the grounds there and after a stroll around the area we're going to check out Spring Mountain and then grab a light snack along 29 on our way back to SF.

                  2. re: maria lorraine

                    It's too bad the OP got talked out of the tasting at Barnett. My wife and I spend a lot of time up on Spring Mountain and Barnett is one of our absolute favorite spots. The redwood deck at the top of Barnett's Rattlesnake Vineyard is one of the most stunning views for wine tasting anywhere in Napa, and the wines are among the best on the mountain. Then there are the barrel tastings, which they are very generous about sharing.

                    The only two places on Spring Mountain that I *might* choose over Barnett for a tasting trip would be Paloma (which I am really surprised to see that no one mentioned) and Pride Mountain Vineyards. I have been to Cain, Spring Mountain Vineyards, and every other spot on Spring Mountain that will allow visitors (along with more than a few that generally do not), and these three places - Barnett, Paloma, and Pride - are the best IMO. Spring Mountain Vineyards, in particular, takes a really long time (the tour is a mandatory part of a tasting visit), and the wines can be really inconsistent.

                    Edit - whoops, looks like the OP went to Barnett after all. Hooray! :-D

                    1. re: sbonagof

                      loved pride and barnett - 2 of our favorites from the whole trip! :) thanks.

              2. re: Carrie 218

                yep - different seminars at phelps. seemed worth doing twice. a general wine appreciation and the insignia blending.

                1. re: AMFM

                  I went to the blending seminar. It was a highlight of our trip and I would think the other one would be just as enjoyable.

              3. re: AMFM

                ok changed mustards to cindy's backstreet kitchen and solbar to terra for now. will change go fish if i can find something else interesting but i think i may just leave it. i have sushi don't get out much without little ones. my 2 and 5 year old love japanese food but eating out is stressful with them! he'll like the mac & cheese with shrimp most likely even if we'd all consider it sysco-ish. he loves the version at bar louie and i think it's disgusting. :)
                looking for pizza/italian, other casual if you all have suggestions!
                will do zahtila, chateau montelena, on sunday. bennett lane & vincent arroyo on saturday - or vice versa. THANKS.

                1. re: AMFM

                  Azzurro Pizzeria in Napa probably serves the best pizza in Napa Valley.
                  Unfortunately, pizza is very strong here.

                  Lots of Italian/Mediterranean dishes at restaurants up and down the valley, but as far as strictly Italian, I'd direct you to Bistro Don Giovanni. Read the comments.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Edit: Unfortunately, pizza ISN'T very strong here.

                    Sorry, typing too quickly and not proofreading enough!

                2. re: AMFM

                  If you are going to Elyse, I would think about adding an appointment at Havens as well, which is right down the street. I've enjoyed the very personal and relaxed tastings there. Sometimes held outside at the picnic table, sometimes inside, they always have some cheese and crackers, and will often have some older vintages to compare.

                  1. re: AMFM

                    If you're interested in bubbly, the tour at Schramsberg is pretty thorough and delicious at the end.

                    1. re: AIG

                      I've heard that. Maybe next visit. My husband doesn't drink it so I couldn't convince him this time! :)

                  2. For something different I would do Judd's Hill which is off the trail. They have a new tasting room and its a small winery thats family owned and operated. Art, Bunnie, Judd and Holly are great and I like their wine. I am not a big wine person but we were in Napa and one tends to drink when there. I visited their old location a few years back and Holly did a tasting for us. She nice, gave clear explanations, and treated us very well. Some of the other places we visited were impersonal and sometimes robotic. At Judd's Hill they were super nice and they took us around on a nice tour too. It was one of my most memorable visits to Napa and I hope to get back and visit them soon.

                    1. thanks guys. appreciate the help. here now - will post reviews later!

                      1. so...
                        missed elyse because our plane was 4 hours late. ugh. went to cindy's backstreet kitchen the first night. had the special wood oven pork chop - yummy.
                        went to chimney rock, regusci, stag's leap wine cellars, and pine ridge the first real day. nothing blew me away. lunch in yountville. dinner at tra vigne had pretty good pizza and the calamari with fried lemons/onions was quite yummy. the harvest inn was really nice. loved the grounds, the convenient location and the european breakfasts.
                        next day did wine appreciation at phelps, a tour at nickel & nickel, tasting at cakebread, and a walk-in to milat. loved the seminar - great value. really enjoyed nickel & nickel. thought cakebread was a waste. milat was charming so i'm glad that was recommended as well. dinner at rutherford grill was fine but not overwhelming.
                        mountain day we picked up a picnic at sunshine and then only made pride and barnett. couldn't move cain and there was just too big of a gap between those and spring mountain so we ended up headed to the next hotel in calistoga. pride was probably my favorite across the board - great wines, great tour, beautiful. barnett had a few fantastic wines. had a nice meal at press that night.
                        loved the solage calistoga as well. elegant but still laid back. felt very removed from the hustle of the wine tasting machine. beautiful scenery. from there did vincent arroyo and bennett lane. liked both. also insignia blending at phelps and conn creek. all in all a great trip.
                        thanks for all your suggestions!

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: AMFM

                          Thanks for the report

                          Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
                          1327 Railroad Ave., St. Helena, CA 94574

                          Pizzeria Tra Vigne
                          1016 Main St, Saint Helena, CA 94574

                          587 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA

                          Rutherford Grill
                          1180 Rutherford Rd, Napa, CA 94558

                          1. re: AMFM

                            oh market was great too. a perfect burger!

                            1. re: AMFM

                              Just as a clarification, did you have pizza at Tra Vigne or at Pizzeria Tra Vigne?

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                the pizzeria. wanted pizza at the other place for my hubby - hoping we could find a compromise but didn't see it on the posted menu.
                                the atmosphere was super casual but the calamari with lemons and onions was great. :)
                                my eating was severely limited in napa - but i got to pick the places to stay. :) and i do love the guy! :)

                                1. re: AMFM

                                  The pizza at Pizzeria Tra Vigne kinda blows. It's better at the regular restaurant but the regular restaurant is really overpriced for what you get compared to other Napa restos. Great bar, though.

                                  The piadine at Pizzeria Tra Vigne are what really shine. They're extra tasty.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    that's what i had - a piadine. it was yummy. and the calamari (with the lemons and onions) was also good. i wanted to go to the other restaurant because it looked nice and the pasta's looked great but they had no posted pizzas on the menu outside and that's what my hubby really wanted. it was fine though.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      Is pizzeria tra vigne what used to be Tomatino's in the meadowood-owned health spa/hotel next door to Tra Vigne, or the cantina in the corner of the courtyard at Tra Vigne?

                                      1. re: SteveG

                                        It's what used to be called Tomatina, after the annual tomato food fight in Valencia, Spain. Now the Tomatina name has been trademarked and franchised, so the spot is now called Pizzeria Tra Vigne. It's located down the same driveway as Merryvale Winery, and yes, in the same overall building as the Inn at Southbridge and spa owned by Meadowood.

                                        The building next to the Tra Vigne restaurant is the Cantinetta, now only open for private tastings and dinners, but which once had a deli whose food was better than the restaurant, thanks to the talented Mariano Orlando. Alas, no longer. That man could cook up a storm.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          Any idea where Mariano Orlando ended up? It seems he's associated with the community college and did a seminar last summer at the up valley campus on tomato conserva, but I can't find any more recent info on google.

                                          1. re: SteveG

                                            I'd like to find out myself. I'll ask around.

                                          2. re: maria lorraine

                                            >Alas, no longer.<

                                            I hadn't seen this thread and stopped by Tra Vigne today intending to have lunch at the Cantinetta, which has been my favorite Napa Valley lunch place for quite a while. What a disappointment!

                                2. Although this post has long past I couldn't resist adding my two-cents. I highly recommend the wine cave tasting at Del Dotto. They boast 2 wineries (St. Helena- new, Napa- original) and their wine offers an experience not soon forgotten. Their red wines rate 90+ points and they make the first port I've ever really liked. While their wine cave tasting fee is more pricey than their neighbors, it's truly worth every penny.