The Ultimate Guide to Napa Valley Wine Tasting
Planning to do Napa Valley wine tasting during your visit to the Bay Area? Check out this guide to learn about when to visit, which wineries to see, and the best forms of transportation!
Napa Valley 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 that California Wine Country has to offer, the phrase that comes to the top every time is Napa Valley wine tasting. 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 five of our favorite artisan wineries in the region— Monticello Vineyards, James Cole Winery, Ru Vango, Frog’s Leap Winery, and Laird Family Estate. We’ll also cover the best place to stop for a casual lunch, when to travel, and some great options for Napa Valley transportation from San Francisco.
Ready to plan your trip? This Wine Country tour makes stops at two of the most scenic wineries in Napa and Sonoma!
When to Visit Wine Country
As you’re planning your trip for Napa Valley wine tasting, the first thing you’ll want to consider is the timing. So, when is the best time of year for wine tasting in Northern California? If you can, we 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. Overall, It’s the best time of year to truly experience the artistic and romantic spirit of winemaking. Furthermore, 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 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 remember, no matter what season you come in, the wineries will be open for tasting!
Best Wineries for Napa Valley Wine Tasting
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 recommend checking out one or more of these five iconic Napa Valley wineries.
Established in 1970, Monticello remains one of the few family-owned wineries in the valley. They truly have a relationship with the soil that spans over decades. They have learned to create award-winning, estate-grown wines of singular quality and distinction. From planting and pruning to harvest and crush, and from barrel to bottle. Monticello handcrafts its wines in small batches. They’ve been devoting meticulous care to every step of the winemaking journey!
Through decades of familiarity with the land, Monticello is able to capture the best of the distinct soils of the five vineyards they farm. Because these vineyards span the length of the Napa Valley! They start at the southern end in the Oak Knoll District, and moving north to Yountville, Rutherford, and St. Helena. Such diverse lands allow Monticello wines to reflect the entirety of the valley. Equally, they express the subtleties and sense of place of each of these unique locations.
They currently offer two tasting options in the tasting room of their estate. Modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, it was built in the Palladian architectural style of the Italian Renaissance. The Estate Tasting is $45 per person, with an educational tasting of 5 different varietals all estate grown. Explore the diversity of the Napa Valley! The Reserve Tasting is $65 per person, focusing on “The King” Cabernet Sauvignon. You will sample 5 limited production Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab blends, and understand why the locals call this remarkable wine “The King” with a fittingly royal tasting! You can also upgrade any tasting with a charcuterie plate or platter. Reservations are for up to 8 guests, and are recommended for all tastings.
They are located at 4242 Big Ranch Rd. just south of Oak Knoll Avenue, between Highway 29 and Silverado Trail.
James Cole Winery
Founded in 2000 by husband and wife James & Colleen, this 11 acre property on Silverado Trail has passionately produced lovingly-crafted wines out of a romantically hip and intimate setting. Uncover ultra-premium Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends that taste like a lifelong dream made reality! James Cole grows and handcrafts full-bodied, balanced wined through first-class winemaking techniques.
Reservations are required for parties of 1 to 9, upon which you will be able to choose between two different tasting menus: their Signature Tasting, which is $45 per person, and their Reserve Tasting, which is $75 per person. Explore four wines ranging from Chardonnay to estate bottling in their Signature Tasting. Experience bottlings from their estate and reserve wines in the Reserve Tasting. Indoor and outdoor seating options are available upon arrival. There is also the option to book a Private Tasting at $95 per person, in one of their elevated spaces for a tasting of four to five wines, including reserve bottlings and library selections, paired with small plates of crackers and cheese.
They are located at 5014 Silverado Trail, right across from Oak Knoll Ave.
Loosely translating to “Road to Art”, Ru Vango keeps that phrase near to their heart as they craft their wines, starting in their beautiful vineyards. They have two locations in the Napa Valley Region: Spring Mountain & Carneros. They boast their ability to farm the land and let the terrior speak through their wine. Their estate wines include Pinot Noir & Chardonnay grown in their Carneros Vineyard and Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, & Merlot grown in their Spring Mountain Vineyard. Their owners are American entrepreneurs and philanthropists, originally from Vietnam, who fell in love with the land and have started making something special in every bottle produced!
They offer both tasting and tours, with tastings starting at $45 per person. Parties of 6 or more are welcome, and you must book your reservation in advance. They allow guests to bring their own food on their beautiful premises.
Ru Vango Winery Tasting Room is located in Napa Valley in the Carneros District. The Carneros District is the southernmost grape-growing region in Napa Valley. The fog and evening breeze off nearby San Pablo Bay make the Carneros area the coolest wine producing region in the valley, ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They offer a curated collection of fine art exclusively featured in their art gallery provided by Winn Slavin Fine Art Beverly Hills. Come join them for a sophisticated wine tasting and experience these gorgeous pieces of “existential surrealism” for yourself!
Their second property is located in the Spring Mountain District. Located above 2,000 feet, it has seven acres of vines. Ru Vango Winery will be producing its high-end limited production out of Spring Mountain.
Frog’s Leap Winery
Believing that a grapevine should be grown in healthy soil that supports all the nutrient needs of the plant, Frog’s Leap has been farming organically since 1988. Simultaneously they also believe that most of the great and historical wines of the world have been made from non-irrigated grapevines, and to that end Frog’s Leap farms all of its vineyards without irrigation. To put it simply, they don’t make great wine, they grow it.
Their story starts in 1972, when founder John Williams obtained an internship at Taylor Wine Company, and falls in love with wine. Shortly after, he agrees to start a winery with his friend that coins the clever official motto: “Time’s fun when you’re having flies!” And from there, they sell their motorcycles to raise the cash to launch the project, producing their first wine in 1981. From their first Frog’s Leap wine released that year– a 1981 Sauvignon Blanc– Frog’s Leap has produced a masterful selection of wines produced from their lush 40 acre Rutherford vineyards.
They have a few enticing options to choose from for your wine tasting experience, and you must reserve an appointment. The first is the Signature Seated Tasting, at $45 a person. From their Vineyard House porch overlooking the gardens, you will enjoy a flight of five wines including their most popular releases alongside a rotating selection of winery-only favorites. A complimentary snack plate is provided. Next is their Guided Tour and Tasting, at $75 per person, where you will explore the origins of their wines, from growing grapes organically from their dry-farmed vineyards to fermentation, barrel, cask and bottle. Enjoy an intimate walking tour that culminated in a relaxing seated tasting of six wines, featuring selections from their limited and library releases. This is a shared, 90 minute experience.
Lastly, Rooted in Rutherford is a $95 experience that explores and learned about what makes the Rutherford area so spectacular for winemaking. Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Sauvignon Blancs are grown from the roots of Rutherford, and you will try special and rare vintages, and small lot wines. This is a shared 90-minute walking tour and elevated tasting experience! They also even offer interactive wine tasting experiences that you can check out here.
Frog’s Leap is located at 8815 Conn Creek Road, in Rutherfield, California.
Laird Family Estate
Laird is founded by a farming family with nearly 50 years of experience growing grapes in the Napa Valley. With more than 2,000 acres of planted vineyards, they sell 97% of their grapes to other premium wineries and reserve just 3% for their own Laird Family Estate, which was established in 1999. Their vineyards produce particular grape varieties that thrive from the thick fog and marine winds to the volcanic soils mixed with ancient coastal deposits in the lower bench of the Mayacamas Mountains. And they farm their vineyards to produce fruit that best complements those hallmarks of the land! They strive to produce wines that are “a window to a place”, each being different in expression, with its own subtle, yet distinctive character and voice.
Enjoy a relaxing atmosphere at their winery where you can sample five of their current releases. Their elevated tasting room and patios offer a panoramic view of Napa Valley. Learn about the Laird story, as well as the wines, with their informed and friendly staff. At Laird Family Estate, their outlook is that you’re always a member of the family! The maximum group size they accept is 12 guests, including non-drinkers and kids. They also hold events at their estate, such as Lairdapalooza, and Harvest Party!
Laird offers a number of wine tasting options, firstly with their Mixed Wine Tasting at $50 per flight. Enjoy a flight of five of their most popular white and red wines. Next is their Red Wine Tasting, where you can savor a flight of five red wines. These span from medium to full-bodied. In this tasting that starts at $60 per flight (complementary with a $120 wine purchase!), discover the diverse nuances between Cabernet Sauvignons.
The Pyramid Tasting is a sensory food and wine pairing experience that is $125 per person. The pairing is composed of an assortment of small bites developed to pair perfectly with five of their distinguished wines. You will learn about how wine enhances food and how food brings out the complexity and flavors in wine. This experience is limited to a maximum of 6 guests at a time, and reservations must be made at least 72 hours ahead of time.
Finally, their Winery Tour & Tasting at $125 per person takes an up-close look into the world of winemaking. Your designated tour guide will walk you throughout the winery and you will get to see some of the winemakers in action! This experience includes a tour, a flight of 5 Laird wines, a charcuterie board, and chocolate truffles. They also offer bottle service, and blankets that you can grab from the tasting room. You can sprawl them out on the lawn, surrounded by vineyards. This is a great option for those of you who are looking for a private space where you can enjoy wine…and the company of your companion(s) as you take in the beautiful scenery around you, of course!
The Laird Family Estate is located at 5055 Solano Ave in Napa Valley.
Discover the best of both Sonoma and Napa Valley on our easy to access Wine Country Tour from San Francisco. Complete with visits and tastings at carefully-chosen boutique wineries, you’ll get to truly soak in all the flavor!
Napa Valley Transportation
Now that you know about some of the top wineries for Napa Valley wine tasting, you may be wondering about the best ways to get to Wine Country from San Francisco. 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 might be able to find free wine tasting in Napa! While you won’t be able to sample the best wines this way, it can be a good option. Especially if you 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 rental shops in Napa and bike to your destination! 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 track down a designated driver. Or forgo sampling the country’s most famous wines. And who would want to do that? 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 $45 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 they’re 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!
Take in the rustic valleys on a private tour from San Francisco! Enjoy wine tastings, a stop for lunch in the historic Sonoma village or Napa’s Oxbow Public Market, a drive through the charming coastal town of Sausalito, and a stop for photos of the famous Golden Gate Bridge.
Sonoma and Napa Valley Wine Tasting Tour
Our top choice for getting to Wine Country from San Francisco is with this 25 max. group 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.
First stop: Golden Gate Bridge
To start with, you’ll be picked up at the beautiful and entertaining Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. 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 this experience. You’ll have an opportunity at the bridge to step off the bus and take photos of this iconic landmark!
Coffee & Sweet Treats in Oxbow Public Market
Oxbow Public Market is a popular local gathering destination in Napa Valley. The market features plentiful food and drink options for our morning visit. You can sip on a cappuccino from Ritual Coffee Roasters or imbibe in a mimosa or Bloody Mary from C Casa to start your day. Sample delicious eats like Oprah Winfrey’s favorite English Muffins from Model Bakery. Or maybe a sweet Empandita from El Porteño! A savory bagel sandwich from Loveski Jewish Deli? Yes! At Oxbow, you’ll find countless tasty options to choose from to begin your memorable day in Wine Country!
Wine Tasting in Sonoma and Napa
After boarding the bus again, you’ll make your way across the bridge and to the first winery stop. This combination wine tour stops at two of the most iconic wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties, and always includes a stop at one or two of the wineries mentioned above! 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!
Lunch in Historic Sonoma Square
Located in the heart of Sonoma Valley, historic Sonoma Square offers an abundant choice of options for lunch and leisure. Here, you can stroll through the charming courtyards and meandering alleyways! Exploring your lunch break however you wish. There are countless cafes and restaurants to choose from. Whether you’d like to enjoy a sit-down meal at a Michelin-featured restaurant (reservations recommended), or grab a bottle of wine for a picnic lunch. We’ve even put together a self-guided walking food tour to savor the ample variety of eats. And there’s plenty of free time if you’d like to add-on a third wine tasting to your day! With dozens of tasting rooms to choose from, you can sample wines from Petite Sirah to Sauvignon Blanc and everything in between.
Bring the Whole Family!
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. The stop at Sonoma Square is always a highlight for those traveling with younger families! In addition to eateries and tasting rooms, Sonoma Square is home to many charming boutique shops, art galleries, and museums to explore. Allowing you and your kids to take in all that Wine Country has to offer!
Scenic Drive Home
At the end of the tour, you’ll enjoy a scenic ride back from Wine Country to San Francisco. You’ll be dropped off at the same location where you boarded the bus! This tour has stops and included tastings at two of the region’s most beloved wineries. It’ll be hard to find a more enjoyable value for your visit to Wine Country!
Ready to plan your trip to Wine Country? We’d love to help make your experience in Napa Valley unforgettable!
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