Three classic stops make for an ideal day in Napa
Any time of year, California’s Napa Valley is beautiful and full of wine-tasting experiences. Yet come autumn, the region becomes a flurry of grape-harvesting activity, making it an exciting, and popular, time to visit.
Hundreds of wineries large and small span out from Highway 29, from the city of Napa through Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena on the way up to Calistoga. Combined, these three very different wineries add up to a full day of soaking up the tastes, sights and flavor of Napa Valley.
Taste of Tradition
For a thorough—and thoroughly enjoyable—introduction to winemaking in the valley, visit the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. Built in the style of California’s missions, this was one of the first in the valley to open for tours and tastings. A comprehensive tour costs $25 and lasts seventy-five minutes. A guide begins by explaining the Mondavi history, then leads visitors on a tour of the winemaking process, pausing to talk about grapes, crushing, fermenting, barrel aging and more. Then it’s time for tasting! At a table, the group sits down and the guide pours samples of three wines, taking time to explain the qualities of each and answer questions. Afterward, take a few minutes to explore the grounds, which feature fountains, sculptures and views of the fields, before heading to the next stop.
Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tour is $25; call for reservations. 888-766-6328, robertmondaviwinery.com
Go With the Flow
Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga offers a leisurely, unique and picturesque winery experience. It starts with an aerial tram ride up three hundred feet to the winery, distinctive with its Mediterranean-style whitewashed walls. And then a self-guided tour winds around the building, with signs and motion-activated televisions positioned near stainless steel vats and wood barrels detailing steps in the winemaking process. Along the way, visitors stop for five wine samples poured by informative staffers. The beauty is there’s no need to rush—and you won’t want to here. Linger with a glass of wine on the expansive rooftop terrace taking in some of the best views of the valley, and later enjoy the final sample in the tasting room or adjacent deck shaded by tall cypress and pine trees.
Open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. $25 for tram ride and self-guided tour with samples. 800-726-6136, sterlingvineyards.com
Finish a day of wine tasting in style with a stop at Domaine Chandon in Yountville. While guided tours are offered of the first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the States, the most fun is had in the sleek Tasting Lounge. Decide which menu appeals most—the classic tasting includes a brut and rosé among others—and enjoy samples of bubbly at the long bar, which opens to a grassy meadow. Or bring your glass to a tall cocktail table in the lounge’s club-like atmosphere or sip al fresco on the open patio surrounded by scenic landscaping. Unwind as the sun begins to dip toward the horizon and toast a day well spent in Napa.
Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tastings are $18–$25. 888-242-6366, chandon.com
Can’t make it to Napa this month? Sample vino at the Madison Food & Wine Show, October 22–24 at the Alliant Energy Center.
Katie Vaughn is associate editor of Madison Magazine.