Before I get into my favorite wineries, I want to call out that I am no wine connoisseur, nor do I want to be one. When I go to the wine country, I'm just a simple girl, wanting to enjoy a day out in the sun, wining and dining with my loved ones. 🍷🧀🥂
Napa Valley (aka wine country) is where California's take on wine can be best experienced. It does not have the history or legacy of the European vineyards and wineries, which frees it from the baggage of expectations. Therefore, there is no need to preserve making wine the way it was always made. Fueled with Northern California's culture of innovation (see: Silicon Valley), this makes Napa, and it's sister counties the perfect place to innovate on the experience of producing and tasting wine. There are over 400 wineries and vineyards in Napa Valley today.
My trips to wine country reflect my own humble desires, and because I've been there more than a few times, I have cultivated my own taste. I've learnt what kinds of wines and vineyards I prefer, and which ambience soothes me and helps me make the most of my day. Each of the wineries I'm calling out below have their own unique elements, which was the reason I loved my time there. Here are my favorites:
Tucked away in a hidden corner in Sonoma, lies this small vineyard called Bartholomew. We tasted a few samples in the small tasting area, a contrast to some huge tasting rooms I've seen in other vineyards. The tasting area was artfully decorated. After sampling about 4-6 different wines and talking to the wine experts, we decided to purchase a couple of bottles of Pinot Gris, one to take home and the other to enjoy right there. It felt just right for the sunny day, and we paired it with cheese, crackers, nuts and fruits.
The best thing about this vineyard were the benches located outside, underneath the trees providing shade, and overlooking the vineyard. The vineyard itself looked big, but gentle and inviting. We sat on a bench with our spread and opened the bottle of wine, and in conversation finished the entire thing in an hour or so. Time just flew by! 😉
After that, we spent some time in the vineyard walking around, checking the grapes on the vines, but being careful enough not to disrupt anything. There was an intimate feeling to this vineyard, it felt the right size for our party. They didn't try to sell us more wines than what we wanted to buy, and provided us the benches to enjoy the wine in the vineyard itself. I stepped out of Bartholomew impressed by not just the wine, but the quality artwork and the beautiful surroundings. There is no better way to enjoy wine! I know I will go back for sure. ♥️
If there's one winery in wine country which screams California more than anything else, it has to be Scribe. The setting was a huge hacienda style house with lounge seating for sampling and tasting, overlooking the vineyards. It was glorious, and just perfect for a bright, sunny day. We made reservations, and got seated immediately after we arrived.
We got a menu which showed what we were going to get, a four course wine tasting with some bites in between. The wines were good, not something I was bowled over by, but the ambience was impeccable. The food bites were excellent, made from the vegetables grown in a small patch in the vineyard. The entire place was decorated very tastefully, it felt equal parts vintage and quaint, yet chic and sophisticated. It reminded me of an urban high-end San Francisco farm-to-table resturant experience, but in the midst of a vineyard. It definitely felt like something a native Californian would build.
We spent an afternoon there (~3 hours) and walked away really impressed. I wandered around the vineyard, taking pictures and dancing from all the wine. We also saw the vegetable patch, with fresh vegetables, which was very unique and impressive. We purchased two wine bottles from Scribe and took them home. Scribe maybe on the high end of a vineyard experience, but I would not hesitate to recommend it for a special occasion. It's worth the visit!
We decided to visit Hess Collection, because we knew there was a museum above the winery open for everyone. We thought it would be a cool idea to check out some art while we were in the Napa area. After arriving, we learnt that we couldn't take an open wine bottle into the museum but we could certainly explore after our tasting experience. So that's what we did.
The tasting area was good, but definitely not cozy, intimate or artistic. We tasted around 4 or 6 wines each, and decided to purchase three bottles of wine. It was hard to pick just three. Although expensive, Hess Collection had very impressive wines, and to-date I've never purchased a Hess Collection bottle that didn't taste great. If only the tasting experience matched the taste of the wine!
After the purchase, we headed upstairs and explored three floors of art. The collections were great, and I was awe-inspired seeing a couple of Andy Goldsworth's works there. All in all, I think Hess Collection is worth the visit not just because of the quality of their wines, but also for the priceless works of art you get to enjoy for free.
Castello di Amorosa
By far the biggest vineyard and winery I've seen in Napa, this castle is literally built to look like a vintage Italian winery. We went on a paid wine and cheese tasting tour, which took us through the history of the castle, how, when and why it was built, the many barrels of wine, and finally ended in a huge dining room with wine and cheese.
The wine expert who took us on this tour was both knowledgeable and funny, and made sure that our group had a pleasant experience. The wines were excellent, we ended up purchasing six bottles of wine including two dessert wines.
Looking back, the only thing this winery/vineyard lacked was an intimate experience. It felt mass-produced and touristy, and therefore lacked novelty. It's not a bad thing, but may feel uninspiring if you've already been on wine tours before. That did not impact the quality of wines though, they were of the highest quality!
If you prefer a bubbly wine, then Mumm Napa is your place. We tasted three kinds of sparkling wines here, and liked all of them. There was a small photography exhibit in Mumm Napa which included a few Ansel Adams shots. I loved the exhibit a lot - it was both novel and exciting. 😍
The ambience of this place felt somewhat similar to Scribe, but also like an outdoor restaurant with all tables located adjacent to each other and the lights overhead. It wasn't ideal, because it felt more like a restaurant than like a winery. The vineyard was hardly visible from the seating area.
We ended up not buying a bottle at Mumm Napa, since we're not huge fans of sparkling wine, but the experience was unique and worth checking out!
So that's all of my favorite wineries in the Napa and Sonoma area. I hope to go there again soon, check out new places and share new favorites in the coming months.
PS -- For all the wineries and vineyards I'm recommending here, there are an equal or greater number of them that I went to and didn't love or they weren't memorable enough. 🤷🏽♀️
Have you visited any wineries or vineyards around the world? Which one's are your favorite? Let's hear it in the comments below!