A Guide to Napa Wine Tasting Like a Pro
Planning to do some wine tasting in Napa Valley during your visit to the Bay Area? Check out this guide to learn when to visit, which wineries to see, and the best forms of transportation for Napa wine tasting!
California is renowned nationwide for its famous wines and wineries. From Paso Robles in Southern California up to the northern coastal town of Mendocino, you’ll be sure to find exquisite boutique wines pressed from local vineyards.
But, if you’re looking for the best of the best, the name that comes to the top every time is Napa Valley.
Located just about two hours north of the San Francisco area, Napa is definitely the most iconic and renowned region of Northern California’s Wine Country.
When you think of Wine Country, this is probably the place that comes to mind. Here you’ll find rolling hills covered with thriving vineyards, five-star resorts, local artisanal culinary goods, Michelin-rated restaurants, and an incomparably beautiful countryside.
And, of course, some of the world’s most famous, award-winning wines!
So, it’s not surprising that a northbound day trip to experience some Napa wine tasting is one of the most popular activities for Bay Area locals and tourists.
In this guide to Napa Valley wine tasting, we’ll discuss three of our favorite artisan wineries in the region—Castello di Amorosa, Beringer Winery, and Starmont Winery & Vineyards.
We’ll also cover the best place to stop for a casual lunch, when to travel, and a great option for Napa Valley transportation from San Francisco.
Ready to plan your trip? This Wine Country tour makes stops at three of the most scenic wineries in Napa and Sonoma!
When to Visit Wine Country
As you’re planning your trip to Napa County, the first thing you’ll want to consider is the timing.
When is the best time of year for wine tasting in Northern California?
If you can, we’d recommend scheduling your visit during the harvest season, from August to October.
Along with classic wine tastings, you can expect to participate in harvest dinners, grape smashing events, and street fairs. It’s the best time of year to truly experience the artistic and romantic spirit of winemaking.
So it’s not surprising that reservations book up quickly during this time period. Due to the increased number of visitors, we suggest booking harvest season tastings, accommodations, and tours well in advance.
While we’d recommend planning your trip to Napa over the harvest season, you really can’t go wrong when it comes to timing your visit to Wine Country.
The valley is known for its mild year-round temperatures. Whether you come in autumn, winter, spring, or summer, the beautiful rolling landscape covered in vineyards will make a striking backdrop to your visit.
And of course, no matter what season you come in, the wineries will be open for tasting!
Best Wineries to Visit
Once you have the dates set for your visit to Wine Country, it’s time to start mapping out the wineries you plan to visit!
If you’re not sure where to start, we’d recommend checking out one or more of these three iconic Napa Valley wineries.
Producing high quality wines since 1875, Beringer is California’s oldest continually operating winery.
But, you’ll want to visit this winery for more than just the history! Beringer is famous for its sustainable farming practices, attentive winemaking philosophy, and the expressive flavor of its wines.
This winery feels a strong commitment to preserve the fertility of the estate land and the health of the vines through sustainable farming.
So, they employ natural methods of vineyard management, dry farming strategies, and organic compost for fertilization.
After harvest, the winemakers focus on producing wines that showcase the tasting notes of the fruit and soil of origin. Throughout each step of the winemaking journey, they strive to enhance the expressions of the vineyards and preserve the delicate and complex flavors of the grapes.
These historical wines are world-renowned, and for good reason. Here you’ll find flavorful, distinctive wines that authentically express the characteristics of the vineyard site. Each glass at this Napa wine tasting experience will invoke all your senses—eyes, nose, palate, and heart!
Castello Di Amorosa
If you’re looking for a wine-tasting opportunity that includes both exquisite wines and a unique architectural experience, you need to visit Catello Di Amorosa.
Built in 1994 by Dario Sattui, this winery takes the form of a 13th century Tuscan castle. It spans 121,000 square feet, and is comprised of 107 rooms, four underground levels, and four above-ground levels.
The most incredible thing about this construction is not the size, but the authenticity. The builders exclusively used similar methods and materials that would have been employed 700-800 years ago.
The result? An exquisite architectural masterpiece unlike anything else in the country! The castle is a perfect replica of medieval architecture, complete with a moat, drawbridge, towers, torture chambers, and more. And you can tour almost every room of the castle, including the guardrooms and dungeons.
You’ll find much more than just amazing architecture at this iconic landmark though.
Along with being one of the most beautiful wineries in Napa, Castello di Amorosa also produces an elegant portfolio of complex Italian-style wines.
Stop in their tasting room to sample flavorful and perfectly balanced wines that reflect the climate, soil, and growing conditions of the vineyard.
When you purchase wine tasting admission, you’ll be able to sample five premium wines. You’ll also be given roaming access to the upper two levels of the castle, the main tasting bar, and the Knight’s Hall below ground. You can take a map of the castle and give yourself a self-guided tour, or upgrade to a guided private tour with premium tasting!
Starmont Winery & Vineyards
Starmont Winery & Vineyards began as a single Chardonnay wine, but has now grown into one of the most comprehensive Napa wine tasting experiences. Here you’ll discover an impressive portfolio that encompasses Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Rosé wines.
The winery is situated on 50 acres of vineyard in Carneros, one of Napa’s most famous wine regions. While Starmont has only been offering Napa wine tasting deals here since 2005, their vineyards are part of the historic Stanly Ranch Estate which was first planted in 1872.
In honor of the heritage of the vineyard, Starmont became a certified Napa Green Winery and has focused their efforts on practicing organic farming techniques.
Along with crafting exquisite wines, their goal is to set up their winery as a model for sustainability and environmental improvement. So, throughout the farming, harvesting, and winemaking journeys, you’ll find them taking steps to save water, use natural products, and preserve the fertility and beauty of the land.
But if you’re here for the wine rather than the environment, you’ll be glad to know that Starmont’s winemaking philosophy is as noteworthy as their environmental stance!
Once the fruit has reached optimal sugar levels, it is harvested by hand in the early morning hours and carefully sorted. Depending on the wine type, the grapes are either whole cluster pressed or cold soaked for three to five days.
The winemakers then proceed with small-lot fermentations. To do this, they use a unique combination of culture and native yeasts to showcase a pure expression of authenticity in the wines.
Finally, the wines are aged to ensure optimal flavor, balance, and distinctiveness in the final blends.
Situated between Napa Valley and Carneros, Starmont Winery provides a variety of tasting experiences to enjoy in their luxurious open air tasting room or indoor lounge!
Napa Valley Transportation
Now that you know about some of the top wineries in Napa Valley, you may be wondering about the best ways to get from San Francisco to Wine Country.
There are a variety of transportation options for traveling in between the Bay Area and Wine Country. If you have a designated driver, you can pick up a Napa winery map, rent a car, and drive yourself up north. Or, while you’ll have to make several transfers between bus and train, you can take public transportation.
If you use one of these forms of transportation, you may even be able to find some free wine tasting in Napa. While you won’t be able to sample the best wines this way, it can be a good option if you simply don’t have the budget for tastings at the artisan wineries Napa is famous for.
Another thing to keep in mind as you plan your visit to Napa is transportation between wineries.
Most of the best wineries aren’t within walking distance of the downtown area. So, if you’ve taken public transportation, you’ll want to have some other forms of transportation lined up.
You can easily book a ride-sharing service, like Lyft or Uber, to help you get in between wineries and back to the bus stop. Or, you could rent a bicycle from one of the many of the rental shops in Napa and bike to your destinations!
While driving or taking public transportation to Napa are good options, they do have a couple of drawbacks.
If you decide to drive, you’ll need to either track down a designated driver or forgo sampling the country’s most famous wines. Who would want to do that?
And if you choose to take the bus or train, you’ll have to be prepared for multiple transfers and sort out transportation between wineries once you’re in Napa.
It’s also good to remember that wine tasting fees won’t be included in the transportation costs. Winery tours and tasting fees can be upward of $30 per winery, so be sure to account for this when pricing out your trip!
So, what is the best way to visit Napa Valley?
We think that Napa Valley wine tour packages are overall better value and more fun than driving or taking public transportation.
Taking a Napa winery tour also means you don’t have to deal with finding a designated driver. Or, even worse, being the designated driver yourself!
Sonoma and Napa Boutique Winery Tour
Our top choice for getting to Wine Country from San Francisco is with this small group Sonoma and Napa Valley Combo tour. This minibus tour hosts a maximum number of just fourteen passengers. So, it’s a great way to enjoy some company without feeling overcrowded.
To start with, you’ll be picked up at your hotel in San Francisco between 8am-9am. You’ll board the minibus and travel to the first stop, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Did you know that the Golden Gate Bridge is considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world? One of our favorite aspects of this small group tour is that you’ll have an opportunity at the bridge to step off the bus and take photos of this iconic landmark!
After boarding the bus again, you’ll make your way across the bridge and to the first winery stop.
There are countless Napa wine tours leaving from San Francisco to choose from. So, what makes this one the best?
This combination wine tour stops at three of the most iconic wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties, including Starmont Winery.
And the best part? There are no extra tasting fees. It’s all included in the tour price, so you can participate in as much tasting as you like!
Along the way, you’ll also make a stop at Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. Oxbrow is more than just a market, though. It’s the community’s favorite gathering place for artisanal culinary products, boutique wines, and more! You’ll find a wide selection of gourmet merchants serving up savory bites, sweet treats, and craft beverages.
Please keep in mind that lunch isn’t included in the tour price, so you’ll want to come prepared to pay for your meal.
One noteworthy point about this wine tour is that you can actually take your kids! Anyone under 21 years will be offered a discounted tour price. And, of course, they won’t be able to sample wines at any of the wineries. So, the stop at Oxbow Public Market is always a highlight for those traveling with younger families!
At the end of the tour, you’ll enjoy a scenic ride back from Napa to San Francisco where you’ll be dropped off at the same location where you boarded the bus.
With stops and included tastings at three of the region’s most beloved wineries, it’ll be hard to find a better value or more enjoyable tour option for your visit to Wine Country!