I spent an amazing summer working in the Napa Valley for a small producer called Sullivan Vineyards. One of the big benefits of working in Napa is that you get to taste anywhere in the area for free. Needless to say, I took full advantage of this benefit and have assembled a list of recommendations here:
These are broken into 2 regions, Carneros and Napa.
-The highway between Sonoma and Napa is called the Carneros Highway, and it is a beautiful road. Carneros is basically a region of rolling hills on the south of both of the valleys. It gets slightly cooler weather due to some bay breezes, and so colder weather grapes tend to do quite well there.
-The Fremont Diner is on the road here, which is a sort of upscale diner with great food and a large outdoor seating area that is sandwiched right between vineyards. Really a nice stop.
-Domaine Carneros is a big sparkling wine producer. I think it’s probably the prettiest winery/vineyard property in the area. And on top of that, their sparkling wines are delicious. You can do a tour if you’re interested in how sparkling wine / champagne is made (I did the tour a few years ago and actually thought it was pretty good) or just do a tasting on the terrace. Awesome spot.
-These are listed roughly from south to north to help you plan (though this is from memory so no promises on the geography).
-I’d recommend making reservations at most of these places (you don’t need to at Phelps or Shramsberg, though)
–Darioush – a really over-the-top tasting experience – everything from the grounds to the wine is sort of ridiculous. Kind of worth doing just for that reason, but it’s expensive and a bit snobby.
–Pina – Excellent deep reds. The tasting is not fancy – this is just a barn off the Silverado trail, basically, but the wines are good.
–Joseph Phelps – One of the bigger names in the fancy Napa wine world…I’m not a huge fan of their wines (though they are by no means bad…just uninteresting), but the tasting room is done at this building that overlooks their vineyard and it’s very pretty.
–Chateau Boswell – Awesome mostly white wines inside a huge underground cave system.
–Sullivan Vineyards – the place I used to work. Though they’ve expanded and have a whole new set of people running the place…the wines are still very good…even if the personal touch is gone.
–Frog’s Leap – Another one on the slightly bigger side, Frog’s Leap is very pretty, laid back, and their wines are nice.
–Ladera – Up Howell Mountain, these guys do very good Cabs from hillside fruit.