I made my first trek to the Napa Valley a little over 20 years ago and was completely mesmerized by everything that I encountered during that trip…the vineyards, the food, the wine, the people, the beauty of the area…EVERYTHING!  Not to date myself but at the time very few wineries charged for tastings. They might or might not have checked your ID and generally had a small tasting bar where they poured their best offerings for you to sample.  Heitz Cellar was the first place I visited and launched me on this journey into the fascinating world of California Cabernet. As the demand and the appreciation for Napa wines (all varieties) grew, so did tourism.  Consumers, like me, wanted to visit and see where and how their favorite wines were being made; we wanted more… to meet the winemakers, learn about the process, experience the magic. Thankfully, the vintners recognized the value in providing this opportunity, and a Win:Win resulted. While I’m featuring 11 of Napa’s best Cabernet Tasting EXPERIENCES, have no fear; there is a huge range of tastings available at all price points (including free) for a wide variety of wines made in the valley.  Truly the Napa Valley has something to offer every wine lover.

First, let’s consider a few facts about this unique region.  Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Napa Valley; it accounts for 40 percent of the overall Napa Valley wine.  Although small is size (30 miles long x 5 miles wide), the area is rich in minerals and soil types, containing more than 100 varieties found on Earth.  The climate is categorized as dry Mediterranean and ideal for growing grapes.  Furthermore, vineyards are planted on a wide range of elevations from sea level (the valley floor) to 2,600 feet on the mountains above. Some grapes get early morning sun. Some get late day.  Some are covered in fog that rolls in early morning, cooling the vines.  Some are water stressed and must send roots deep.  Hence, the complexity of the wine that is produced is a direct result of the terrior where the grapes were grown and the mastery of the winemaker.  Understanding this diversity, this puzzle makes one more savor the taste even more.

As a California Cabernet lover, Napa is the mecca.  The 11 wineries I have chosen to focusing on represent a range of terrior and also style of winemaking, and all have elevated the bar for  tasting.  These truly are EXPERIENCES not to be missed!

11 of Napa’s Ultimate Cabernet Tasting Experiences

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyard, 680 Rossi Road, St. Helena, (707) 963-8600

Off the beaten path, Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyard is a gem tucked away as the name suggests…in a little valley less than 10 minutes from downtown St. Helena.  Todd Anderson leads his team in producing luscious wines with a bordeaux style.  I love visiting Conn because they make you feel right at home and enjoy sharing their wine making tips and their wine.

Anderson Conn Valley- Barrel room tasting, Napa

Barrel Room Tasting, Anderson Conn Valley Vineyard, Napa, California

Wines Produced:  Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Eloge (Bordeaux blend), Right Bank (Bordeaux blend), non-malolactic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, & Sauvignon Blanc

  • Tour and Tasting include tour of property, discussion of winemaking philosophy and style, and tasting of current releases.
  • Appointments are requested in advance via website.  Call for parties of 8 or more.
  • Tastings are $65 per person (waived with 2 bottle purchase or upon joining wine club).
  • Please allow 90 minutes for the tour and tasting.

For a truly unique experience, opt for the Personalized Tour & Tasting with Winemaker Robert Hunt$250 per guest.

Chappellet, located on famous Pritchard Hill – 1581 Sage Canyon Road, St. Helena, (707) 286-4219

Chappellet embodies what makes mountain wines so unique and so delicious.  Perched atop the famous Pritchard Hill, the winery offers unparalleled vistas and a peak into the trials, tribulations, and rewards of hillside wine production.

Chappellet Vineyard, Napa, California

Chappellet Vineyard, Napa, California

Wines Produced:  Pritchard Hill Cabernet Savignon, Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Signature Chardonnay, Napa Valley San Piedras, Napa Valley Zinfandel, Artist Series – Pinot Noir, and Malbec

  • Tours and Tastings are by appointment via website.
  • Tastings are available Monday – Sunday, 10am-4pm
  • Choose from one of 4 experiences:
    • Cellar Tasting – Taste 5 current releases in the barrel room; 60 minutes, $40 per person
    • Estate Tour & Tasting – Start with a glass of one of our Signature white wines in the winery followed by a walk through Chappellet’s Pritchard Hill vineyards with stunning vistas of Napa Valley’s Lake Hennessey. Conclude with a tasting of current release selections in the barrel room; 90 minutes, $50 per person
    • Private Estate Tour & Tasting – Enjoy an unforgettable private tour of the Chappellet winery and Pritchard Hill vineyards followed by a tasting of five of our current release selections; 90 minutes, $75 per person
    • Signature Tasting and Estate Tour – Join your estate host for an unforgettable private tour of the Chappellet winery and vineyards followed by a tasting of Chapellet’s Signature series wines, including the acclaimed Signature Cabernet Sauvignon; 90 minutes, $95 per person

Cliff Lede, 1473 Yountville Cross Road, (707) 944-8642

Cliff Lede is the latest addition to our personal list of stops and is always a “fan favorite” with our foodie band of followers.  Can one mesh his love for wine and his love for classic rock and roll?  For Canadian Cliff Lede, the answer is a resounding YES!  Lede has done just that with 60 acres in the Stag’s Leap District creating beautiful vineyard blocks named after his favorite rock songs like “My Generation.”

Wines Produced:  Cabernet Sauvignon (various regions – Beckstoffer To Kalon, Stags Leap District, Howell Mountain, Calistoga), Red Blends- Claret and High Fidelity, Stags Leap District Rock Block Red, Sauvignon Blanc

  • Walk-ins welcome at Tasting Bar for parties less than 5; six or more require a reservation. Open daily 10am-4pm. $35 per person
  • Wine Tasting Experiences offered: (must reserve online or by phone)
    • Veranda Table Testing– Reserve a table with view of the Stags Leap district palisades as you taste the current release wines from both Cliff Lede and FEL.  Maximum of 6 guests/daily 10-2:30pm/ $50 per person
    • Backstage Tasting Lounge – Taste our limited production wines in our comfortable lounge featuring rotating art exhibits and rock music.Thursday-Monday/10-2:30pm/ $75 per person
    • Front Row / Members Only – The best seats in the house under the shade of our Courtyard is reserved for our wine club members to taste our exclusive club wines and enjoy table side service as you enjoy the vineyard view. Thursday-Sunday/11am,1pm, 2:30pm/ complimentary for club member + 3 guests.

Diamond Creek Vineyard,  1500 Diamond Mountain Road, Calistoga, (797) 942-6926

Cabernet Sauvignon Exclusively is their tagline, and it says it all.  You can literally drive past the mailbox a million times and never notice the beauty that sits right off the road.  Al Brounstein had no idea that he was about to hit the  jackpot of soils when he started clearing his land.  He was one of the first vintners to talk about the relationship and importance of terrior.

The Diamond Creek Vineyard Signs, Diamond Creek Vineyard

The Diamond Creek Vineyard Signs

Wines Produced:  Cabernet Sauvignon (Gravelly Meadow, Volcanic Hill, Red Rock)

Tours and Tastings are done by appointment only and include a beautiful tour of the property.  Often the tastings also include wonderfully prepared small bites to enjoy.  Please call the winery for more information.

Hall Wines,  Hall has 2 tasting rooms with distinct experiences:  Rutherford & St. Helena.

Craig and Kathryn Hall wanted to find a way to showcase their love of wine, art and architecture, and so they built it.  Their attention to detail sets them apart for all three.  Regardless of where you taste, your visit will demonstrate how these important components shape the unique Hall approach to winemaking.

Wines Produced:  Hall produces a large selection of wines grown in different regions of the valley to include multiple Cabernet Sauvignons (including the multi-award winning Kathryn Hall), Merlot, Red Blends, Sauvignon Blanc, WALT Pinot Noir and Chardonnay & BACA Zinfandel

St Helena Tastings, 401 St. Helena Highway, (707) 967-2626

  • Walk Ins welcome but reservations preferred  from 10am-5:30pm, starting at $40 per person.
  • Reservations required for parties of 6 or more.
  • Wine Tasting Experiences offered:
    • HALLmark Tour – Sip on Sauvignon Blanc and stroll through the grounds including the historic Bergfeld building and enjoy the extensive art collection.  Finish in one of the private tasting salons as you enjoy four of the award winning Hall wines.  90 minutes, $40 per person
    • Gallery 401 Tasting– Taste 5 wines featuring the award winning Cabernet Sauvignons.  Offered daily 10am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, 3pm and 4:45pm up to 8 guests, $40 per person
    • Ultimate Cabernet Experience – Set in the Founder’s Cellar, enjoy a curated selection of exceptional Cabernets along with a barrel tasting and cheese pairing.  Offered daily at 11am and 2pm, $150 per person up to 5 people, $175 per person for 6 or more guests.
  • BACA Lounge Tasting – Far more fun than formal, taste the Zinfandel releases. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in May, June, and July.
  • Platinum Experience – This is the most elevated tasting at the St. Helena property and the only opportunity to taste their Platinum Collection of wines including a barrel tasting of the prized Kathryn Hall.  Additionally, guests enjoy 3 other platinum wines and perfect food accompaniments from Chef Sarah Scott.  Appointment Only, $250 per person

Rutherford Tastings  56 Auberge Road, Rutherford, (707) 967-2625 .

Hall Wines - Rutherford Tasting & Tour

Hall – Rutherford Tasting & Tour

  • Reservations are required via email or phone.
  • Wine Tasting Experiences offered:
    • Hall Rutherford’s Appellation Exploration – This one-of-a-kind tasting of Hall’s limited production wines showcase the variety of the grapes grown across the region.  Dive into the importance of terroir, climate, elevation, and winemaking techniques and get a peak at the 100-point Sacrashe vineyard.  All wines are paired with small bites from acclaimed chefs featuring local cheeses, craft foods, and seasonal tastes.  This tour frequently fills up on weekends.  90 min, $125 per person/ $100 for club members.
    • Upgrade to the Platinum Tasting to include all the above plus the 100 point Rainin Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon for $250 per person.

Plumpjack/Odette/Cade, A triple threat as they all are owned by the same group and can be tasted together or individually!

Plumpjack, Cade and Odette Wines

Plumpjack, Cade and Odette

Plumpjack Winery, 620 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville, (707) 945-1220

The original of the trio grew out of a small wine shop in San Francisco and a love of wine.  Plumpjack creators aimed to craft high-quality wines that honored the land with an inviting and approachable style.  Plumpjack showcases the Oakville region of the valley.

Wines Produced:  Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville; Merlot, Napa; Syrah, Napa; Reserve Chardonnay.

  • Current Release Bar Tasting – Daily by appointment for up to 6 guests, 60 min, $40 per person
  • Current Release Vineyard Patio or Garden Courtyard Tasting – Daily by appointment at 10am, 12pm, 2pm.  Includes tasting from sister wineries Cade Estate and Odette Estate. 90 min, $50 per person
  • Hilltop Tasting – The most intimate tasting (weather permitting) with a seated experience that takes you through a flight of flagship wines and a cellar preview of coveted library wines. Daily by appointment, 10:30am & 1:30pm, 90 min, $80 per person.

Odette Estate, 5998 Silverado Trail, Napa, (707) 224- 7533

Odette Estate Winery represents a complete dedication to sustainable farming earning Gold LEED certification for the winery and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) for the vineyards.  The desire to produce an award winning, estate produced wine and showcase it in a modern, sleek way has definitely been achieved at Odette.

Wines  Produced:  Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Chardonnay

  • Bar Tasting – Daily by reservation, 10:30am, 12pm, 2pm, flight of 4 current releases. $40 per person.
  • Estate Tasting – Daily by reservation, 10am, 11:30am,1pm 2:30pm.  Taste a flight of current releases and highly acclaimed wines seated in the Estate Lounge.  Maximum group:10, $60 per person
  • Estate Tour and Tasting – Seated tasting of Odette, Cade and Plumpjack wines paired with cheeses.  Daily by reservation at 10am.  Maximum group: 12, $80 per person

Cade Winery, 360 Howell Mountain Road, Angwin, (707) 965-2746

Environmental responsibility and commitment to preserving Cade’s special spot atop Howell Mountain were the guiding principals in designing the beautiful Cade Winery.  From the large steel dining table constructed from the hull of a World War II submarine to the lounge table constructed from trees devastated by the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, every piece tells a story of rebirth and environmental stewardship.

Wines Produced:  Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nape

  • Tour and Tastings available by appointment only, daily from 10am-4pm.  Fee is $80 per person for parties up to 6 guests, $125 per person for 7 or more.

Pride Mountain Vineyard, 4026 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena, (707) 963-4949

Twenty twisty miles up from St. Helena sits Pride Mountain Vineyards, 235 acres on the summit.  Such a uniques setting is destined to produce unique wine, and so it does.  Growing fruit roughly 2000 feet above the valley flooring requires steady attention and care over a long, 6-month, season.  Consequently, the wine is full-bodied and delicious.  The crush pad also introduces some of the quirks of producing wine in that half is in Sonoma County and half sits in Napa.

Wines Produced:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintners Select Cab, Reserve Cabernet, Reserve Claret, Sangiovese, Viognier, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay

  • Estate Tasting – By reservation, Wednesday- Monday, 10am-3:30pm, up to 6 guests.  Enjoy tasting the current releases while walking through the wine cave.  Allow 60 minutes for tour. $30 per person
  • Founder’s Tasting – By reservation for groups of 7-12 on Monday, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 11am, 1pm and 3pm OR Saturdays at 11am and 1pm.  Allow 90 minutes. $45 per person
  • Summit Experience – Designed for 2-6 guests.  Enjoy a cave tour and a private seated tasting experience of current releases and limited release offerings.  Reservations available Monday, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 10am and 2:30pm.  Allow 90 minutes for experience.  $90 per person.

Robert Mondavi Winery, 7801 St. Helena Highway, Oakville, (888) 766-6328

To some, this is the birthplace of the modern consumer wine tasting experience.  Not ones to sit on their laurels, Mondavi continues to innovate and explore different ways to elevate the wine tasting experience (besides just popping in to stand by the bar)!  There is something for every type of taster here with multiple offerings to consider.

Wines Produced:  Mondavi produces multiple varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Fume Blanc, Pinot Noir, Meritage Blends, Moscato, Rose, Sauvignon Blanc.

As with their wine selection, Mondavi offers a wide range of tour and tasting options and also special events such as the Summer Concert Series.  I have listed a few of the popular offerings here, but it’s best to visit their website to see all the incredible offerings available!

  • Walk-in Tastings – No reservation required.  Three tasting rooms available daily, last pour is 5pm.  Flights priced at $25, $30, $40, and $50 depending on wine selected.
  • Signature Tour and Tasting – Reservations are recommended and available daily, year round.  Visit the famous To Kalon Vineyard and winemaking cellar followed by a seated tasting of 3 wines.  Duration is 90 min.  $40 per person
  • Fireside Tasting with Artisan Cheese and Charcuterie – Reservations required.  Limit of 12 guests and offered on Wednesdays at 5pm.  Taste a variety of Reserve and winery-exclusive wines in the Spotlight Lounge. $55 per person
  • Exclusive Cellar Tasting – private, seated tasting of 4 reserve wines with cheese and charcuterie  in the To Kalon Cellar.  Reservations required.  Limit of 10 guests and offered at 2pm daily.  $55 per person
  • Several options for Lunch and Dinner Experiences that allow multi-course meals paired with selected wines.  Visit the Mondavi Website HERE to see the delicious options.

Seavey Vineyard, 1310 Conn Valley Road, St. Helena, (707) 963-8339

Seavey is what I used to call a “word-of-mouth” wine tasting.  Tucked into a narrow little valley (not far from Anderson Conn Valley), sits an old stone barn which houses some of the most amazing wines, young and old.  We found it thanks to a friend’s recommendation, and we are so glad we did.  Don’t expect pomp and circumstance here– just down home tasting and conversation, usually with Dorie Seavey, the daughter who now oversees the vineyard and wine production.

Wines Produced:  Founder’s Reserve Cabernet, Caravina Cabernet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Mimi’s Rose, Merlot .

  • Open 7 days a week from 10am- 4pm but tastings are by appointment only.
  • Please allow 60-90 minutes for all tours/tastings.
  • Tour and Tasting experiences offered:
    • Vintage Tour and Tasting – Enjoy a tour of the winemaking facility and historic barn and taste 3 current release plus one library wine.  $60 per person but fee waived with purchase of 3 bottles or a club sign-up.  Tasting complimentary for up to 4 if a wine club member.
    • Library Tour and Tasting – Enjoy a tour as detailed above then sit down in the Founder’s redwood paneled office for a guided vertical tasting of 6 hand-selected library wines aging from 5-25 years.  $90 per person but fee waived with a purchase of 6 bottles or a club sign-up.  Tasting complimentary for up to 4 if a wine club member.

Shafer Vineyards, 6154 Silverado Trail, Napa, (707) 944-2877

Everything you have ever heard about this winery and the tasting is absolutely true!!  Beautiful setting, award-winning wines, friendly and open owners and winemakers who love to meet their customers, and lovers of dogs sums up what you will find with a visit to Shafer. This one is not-to-be-missed, but it fills quickly.  Plan ahead!

Shafer Winery Tasting Room

Shafer Tasting Room

Wines Produced:  Hillside Select Cabernet, Relentless (Syrah), One Point Five Cabernet, TD-9 (Merlot/Cab/Malbec blend), Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay

  • Appointment only Monday-Friday.  Tastings at 10am and 2pm; allow 90 minutes.
  • Maximum of 10 people per seating.
  • Taste 5 wines including the Hillside Select.
  • $75 per person.  Fee waived for members on Hillside Select list who have purchased 3 bottles in the past year OR those on the Napa Valley list who have purchased 6 bottles or more.

Spottswoode Winery, 1902 Madrona Avenue, St. Helena, (707) 963-0134

Another newer addition to our tasting list, Spottswoode is a classic estate vineyard and winery with the family home still occupied and overseeing the vineyards.  This is a lovely stop with a tour of the gardens, the vineyards, and the winery that culminates in a tasting of the literal fruits of all this labor.

Spottswoode Estate Entrance

Spottswoode Estate

Wines Produced:  Estate Cabernet, Lyndenhurst Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Estate “Mary’s Block” Sauvignon Blanc, Field Book Syrah, Field Book Albarino

  • Tour and Tasting by appointment only.  Space is limited and often fills 4-6 weeks in advance.
  • Includes a tour of  the estate vineyard, historic Spottswoode home and gardens, winery buildings, and beautiful “ghost winery” stone cellar.
  • Seated tasting of three wines:  Estate Cabernet, Lyndenhurst Cabernet, and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Allow 90 minutes for experience.
  • $75 per person

 

And so, here is the bucket list!  Some of the best Cabernet (along with other varietals) Tastings & Tours the Napa Valley has to offer.  While the wine is the reason for visiting, it most assuredly will be the people, the art, the architecture, the food, the history or simply the ambiance that elevates the stop to an experience.