9 Napa Valley Wineries That Are Worth the Drive From SF

P.S. One is a castle!

Sterling Vineyards
Photo courtesy of Sterling Vineyards
Photo courtesy of Sterling Vineyards

Napa Valley is known for its stunning landscapes, hillside vineyards, grand estates, Mediterannean climate, gourmet food, and phenomenal wine, traits that have made it one of the most popular wine regions in the world and the second most visited tourist destination in Cailfornia (that famous mouse and his friends are the only bigger draw). And though the American Viticultural Area (AVA) is actually very small as compared to other wine-making regions (just five miles across and 30 miles at its longest point), it is still home to over 400 wineries, 95% of which are family-owned. With so many wineries to choose from, it can be a little overwhelming to figure out where to start. Our advice: Be flexible. Ask for recommendations. Seek out smaller vineyards for more intimate experiences. Don’t try to go to too many wineries in one day. Hydrate. And also, make it a point to explore at least a few of the wineries on this list, all of which not only produce excellent wine, but offer unique experiences to break up the monotony of sidling up to tasting room counters.

Editor’s note: Please be sure to check with each specific winery for current visiting options. Most are open by reservation only until California fully reopens.
Brasswood Napa Valley
Photo courtesy of Brasswood Napa Valley

St. Helena
Wine is often best enjoyed with food, which is an area where Brasswood excels. You can visit the standalone restaurant on its own or indulge in the Brasswood Lunch Pairing at the winery, where you’ll enjoy seasonal dishes paired perfectly with premium small production wines. If you’re constantly confused when people say they smell notes of “blackberries” and “coffee” and “leather” (?!?), the Sensory Tasting may be a good option. You’ll use a Sensory Globe  and a flavor wheel to focus on using smell, touch, and vision to uncover what’s in your glass.
How to book: Appointments aren’t required for signature tastings, but are for curated experiences. Make one on Resy.

Photo courtesy of Castello di Amorosa

Travel back in time to a 13th-century- and Tuscan-inspired castle where you can tour the wine production area, underground cellars, armory, torture chamber (!), and do a barrel tasting in the Grand Barrel Room. You can also do a standard tasting and explore the castle on your own, but you won’t get to see the torture chamber, so it’s really not a hard choice to make.
How to book: Walk-ins are accepted for tours and tastings, but reservations are recommended and can be made on the website.

Charles Krug Winery
Photo courtesy of Charles Krug Winery

St. Helena
Charles Krug is the oldest winery in Napa Valley and was home to the first tasting room in California, two facts that alone make it a worthy destination. The single-vineyard cabernet is an easy third. They’re currently offering tours and tastings, as well as private cabanas where groups of six can do a tasting flight or order full bottles along with food. Visit on the weekend when they fire up their classic Mugnaini Pizza oven for delicious wood-fired pizza.
How to book: Reservations are not required for the tasting room, but are required for tours and cabana rentals. You can make them on the website.

Photo courtesy of Domaine Carneros

Domaine Carneros uses the labor-intensive méthode traditionnelle (the one that’s used in the Champagne region of France) to make its sparkling wine, and while that is certainly one draw, the other is the that you can enjoy your tasting on the terrace of a grand chateau with perfectly manicured formal gardens and views of vineyards. Splurge for “The Ultimate Chips & Dip” pairing and you’ll sip your bubbles with Tsar Nicoulai Caviar and gourmet potato chips.
How to book: Walk-ins are allowed, but reservations are recommended, especially for the high-end experiences and tours. They can be made on Tock.

Photo courtesy of Hall Wines

St. Helena
A 35-foot tall Bunny Foo-Foo sculpture greets guests at this winery that’s located at the base of the Mayacama Mountains and sets the tone for the experience to come. The 33-acre property is home to the historic Bergfeld Vineyard, which was originally planted in 1859 by a New England sea captain, as well as 35 pieces of contemporary art dispersed across the land. You’ll see all of that on the signature tour that’s followed by a seated tasting, but you’re also welcome to explore the grounds on your own before or after your tasting.
How to book: Reservations are recommended and can be made on CellarPass.

Robert Mondavi Winery
Photo courtesy of Robert Mondavi Winery

St. Helena
Robert Mondavi was a winemaking pioneer who helped put Napa Valley on the map. Learn more about him and the history of winemaking in this region at a seated tasting or on a tour of the historic To Kalon Vineyard, cellar, and barrel aging room. New to wine tasting? Reserve the Wine Making Basics tasting where a wine educator will teach you how to swirl, smell, and sip.
How to book: Tastings and tours are available for walk-ins and reservations. Reserve your spot on Tock

Photo courtesy of Tank Garage Winery

You can get acres of vineyards, rolling hills, gorgeous views, and classic tasting room experiences at most wineries in Napa. At Tank Garage, you won’t get any of those things. What you will get is a chance to taste unique, one-off wines while hanging out in a garage with the door open at a vintage gas station. You’ll also get good music, vintage pinball, and a laidback vibe. 
How to book: Reservations aren’t usually required, but right now are available on Tock.

V. Sattui Winery
Photo courtesy of V. Sattui Winery

St. Helena
V. Sattui does offer tours and tastings, but we think the best way to enjoy the winery is to arrive hungry and dp the following: Get lunch to-go at the artisan deli where you’ll choose between gourmet sandwiches, paninis, house-made charcuterie, and over 200 cheeses. Grab a bottle (the cabernet sauvignon is excellent), and then enjoy it all at a table on the two-acre picnic lawn that’s surrounded by oak trees and vineyards. Not able to find something you like at the deli? First of all, that’s impossible, but second of all, there’s also a food truck serving barbecue and wood-fired pizzas on most weekends.
How to book: Walk-ins are accepted, but reservations are recommended. Tours and tastings can be reserved on CellarPass.

Sterling Vineyards
Sterling Vineyards

Sterling is currently closed as it repairs the damage from 2020’s Glass Fire, but we couldn’t leave it off of the list because we wouldn’t be doing our job correctly if we didn’t tell you about the only estate in Napa Valley where you have to/get to take an aerial tram to the hilltop winery 300 feet above the town of Calistoga. Once there, you’ll enjoy a tasting on the terrace that looks like something straight out of Mykonos, except with wine country views for miles. And be sure to check out the art collection with originals by Picasso and Renoir before riding back down to the bottom. While you wait for the winery to reopen, you can book a virtual tasting that’s curated to your tastes, or shop from their reserve collection
How to book: Inquire about booking a virtual tasting on their website. Reservations are encouraged when the winery reopens.

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Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer who is constantly disappointing people in wine country when she tells them her last name is spelled B-A-R-R-I-N-G-E-R and not B-E-R-I-N-G-E-R. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf.