An insider’s take by Napa Valley tour guides by Randall Reeves and company
It is hard to top winery tours and wine tasting in Napa Valley, California. The region’s incomparable soils, topography and ideal climate have helped generations of passionate winemakers to create some of the world’s most exquisite wines.
Most of the over 500 wineries in Napa welcome guests for winery tours, education and wine tasting. If you have just one day to tour the wine country from San Francisco, which are the best places to go in Napa Valley? With so many amazing Napa wineries, that is not an easy question to answer.
This post is intended to be a helpful guide to the best winery experiences, not the best wines. The Napa Valley wineries featured were hotly debated by weeks by our Napa Valley tour guides based on their first-hand knowledge about the hospitality, quality, ambiance, and the overall wine tasting experience at hundreds of Napa wineries.
The options for putting together a personalized wine tour to Napa Valley from San Francisco can be overwhelming. Some Napa wineries feature over-the-top luxury, others intimate experiences with the winemaker at a family-owned winery and still others that are exceptional based on how they entertain and educate.
According to our panel of guides, these are the ‘best’ winery tour and tasting experiences in Napa Valley:
- Sterling (Best View)
- Artesa (Best Tasting Room)
- Chateau Montelena (Best Garden)
- Kieu Hoang (Best Tasting Porch)
- Dutch Henry (Best Family-Owned Winery)
- V. Sattui (Best Lunch Spot)
- Castello di Amorosa (Best Medieval Castle)
- Stags Leap (Best Wine Cave)
- Beringer (Best Wine Club)
- Domain Carneros (Best Fairy Tale Estate)
- Inglenook (Best Celebrity-Owned Winery)
- Opus One (Best Snob Appeal)
- Best View: Sterling Winery
Best View: Sterling Winery
Perched 300 feet above the town of Calistoga, Sterling Vineyards offers panoramic views of Napa Valley. An aerial tram carries visitors up the hill to the white stucco winery that stands out dramatically against the Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges that flank Napa Valley.
While tasting Sterling’s award-winning wines, guests may roam beautiful outdoor terraces and elegant tasting rooms inspired by the sun-bleached island of Mykonos. Well-marked walkways and motion-sensitive DVD screens allow guests to take their time during a self-guided tour of Sterling Vineyards’ winemaking facilities.
While known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Sterling cultivates ten vastly different terroirs producing wines of great distinction.
Hours: Daily 10am – 4:30pm
Reservations: No appointment required. Note: there can be lengthy waits for the tram during summer and fall weekends.
Address: 1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515
Best Tasting Room: Artesa
The Spanish-inspired tasting salon and adjoining patio space at Artesa Winery overlooks the rolling hills of Carneros and is easily one of the most beautiful places to enjoy a flight of wine. Designed by a renowned Spanish architect, the winery was built to blend seamlessly into a high hill of native grasses at the south of the estate.
Artesa’s tasting salon, awarded the 2018 Design Award from the American Institute of Architects, draws inspiration from the art, culture and nature of Barcelona. This Napa winery features sweeping views through floor to ceiling windows and courtyard reminiscent of the Mediterranean waterfront.
At the heart of the bright-white space is a dramatic circular bar covered with hand-made, imported tiles. Leather lounge chairs and tall white ‘tapas’ tables complete the atmosphere of relaxed luxury.
Both the Tasting Salon and Terrace feature Barcelona-inspired food and wine pairing experiences by appointment. Artesa Winery specializes in Pinot’s and Chardonnay along with a vintage estate sparkling and cabernet, tempranillo and albariño.
Hours: Daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Reservations: Required for tours and tastings for groups of 6 or more.
Address: 1345 Henry Road, Napa CA 94559
Best Garden: Chateau Montelena
The setting at Chateau Montelena winery is one of the most remarkable in the Napa Valley. It features an Instagram-worthy stone castle carved into a hillside above a garden, lake and vineyard that stretches to the base of Mount Saint Helena.
While they appear to be groomed, the gardens are mostly wild, growing where and how nature intended. If you take the time to walk the path around the lake, you will be surrounded by plants native to the area, including redwoods, oak, madrone, and toyon.
The Calistoga AVA offers the perfect climate for fruit, so besides impressive vineyards, you will see mature orchards of mandarins, key limes, blood oranges, Buddha’s hand, Yuzu, and finger limes on the paths leading to the tasting room.
Jade Lake provides the perfect backdrop for this sanctuary which hosts many species of wildlife such as the mute swans and ducks along with the occasional visits of otters and beavers.
As pleasing as the gardens may be, they are not the highlight of this remarkable winey. Chateau Montelena is the Napa Valley winery that famously won the white wine section of the historic “Judgment of Paris” wine competition in 1976.
The winery still features its remarkable chardonnays, but the vineyard’s diversified soil produces aromatic, rich and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandels.
Hours: Daily from 9:30am to 4:00pm
Reservations: Upgraded experiences can be booked by calling 800.222.7288 or emailing [email protected]
Address: 1429 Tubbs Ln, Calistoga
Best Tasting Porch: Kieu Hoang Winery
In the evening, fog and breezes off nearby San Pablo Bay provide natural cooling in the Carneros AVA. During the day, Kieu Hoang winery’s perfectly situated porch looks out over sun-soaked vineyards located in the southernmost grape-growing region in Napa Valley.
Kieu Hoang Winery is an iconic Napa Valley winery founded in 2014 on land purchased from the famous Mondavi wine family. The winery’s owner, Kieu Hoang, a scientist originally from Vietnam, has partnered with winemaker Charles Hendricks to produce several standout varietals.
The winery is particularly known for its Platinum Label products made with grapes grown 2000 feet above sea level and in the direct pathway of cool breezes from San Pablo Bay, ideal growing conditions for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.
Hours: 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM daily
Reservations: Reservations for fewer than 6 are not required. For special arrangements or large parties call 707 253 1615 or email [email protected]
Address: 1285 Dealy Lane Napa, CA 94559
Best Family-Owned Winery: Dutch Henry Winery
Founder Scott Chafen named the respected Dutch Henry winery of Napa Valley after a 19th century prospector turned farmer that made a comfortable living selling produce to Napa Valley stagecoach passengers. They must have been pretty good fruits and vegetables because nearby Dutch Henry Canyon is also named for him.
The Chafen family’s wish has always been to earn a reputation for winemaking with passion. Their dreams were rewarded in 1999 when Dutch Henry was named one of the “top five” Napa Valley wineries to visit by the Wall Street Journal.
A tasting room in a cave cellar? Painstakingly dug from the rocky hillside, this underground feature, which looks as if it has been there for 100 years, was completed in the fall of 2008.
Dutch Henry’s family of winemakers specialize in handcrafted wines. Bordeaux varietals dominate but other varietals include an estate Syrah, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, Argos (Bordeaux Blend) and a dry Rose.
Hours: The winery tasting room operates from 10 am to 4:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday and 10 am to 3:30 pm Sunday and Mondays.
Reservations: Reservations for 4 or more are recommended. Cave tours require an appointment. Call (707) 942-5771 or email [email protected]
Address: 4310 Silverado Trail, Calistoga CA 94515
Best Lunch Spot: V. Sattui Winery
V. Sattui Winery is a long-time favorite stop for lunch because of its old-world Italian charm, vast picnic grounds, personalized winery, barrel tastings, food pairings, legendary fresh food deli, and friendly staff.
Michelin-Star chef, Stefano Masanti ensures exceptional cuisine matches the glamorous and relaxing space. Culinary Director, Joe Schneider, combines award winning wines with weekly tasting events. For any Napa tour from San Francisco, V. Sattui is a great spot to relax with a bottle of wine, while enjoying a family lunch on the picnic grounds.
V. Sattui features more than 60 different wines including sparkling and Port-styles and has recently adding a Concierge Service designed to tailor group visits to guest preferences.
Hours: 9:00AM-5:00PM in winter and 9:00AM-6:00PM in summer; 7 days a week.
Reservations: No appointment required. Large groups or event reservations can be made at (707) 963-7774.
Address: 1111 White Lane, St. Helena, CA 94574
Best Medieval Castle: Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa knows how to make a first impression. The authentically styled, 13th-century Tuscan castle winery was constructed using more than 200 containers of European materials and furnishings.
Begun in 1994, a humble building gradually morphed into a castle spanning 121,000 square feet with 107 rooms located in four underground and four above-ground levels. The building has all the elements you’d expect from an authentic Italian castle. A moat with drawbridge, high stone walls, gargoyles, a church, and a fully equipped torture chamber will fascinate on the way to the vaulted wine tasting cellar.
Thankfully, Castello di Amorosa puts the same love and attention into its wines which are elegant, intensely flavored, and well-balanced. The castle winery produces hand-crafted Italian-styled wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Primitivo and Sangiovese.
Hours: Self-guided tours and cellar tastings are available from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Reservations: Reservations are highly recommended. The winery advises visiting before 12:30PM on weekends. Assistance is available at 707.967.6272.
Address: 4045 St. Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515
Best Wine Cave: Stags Leap Cellars
Founded in 1970 by Warren Winiarski, this winery brought international acclaim to Napa Valley wines when their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon won the famous 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tasting. A bottle of the vintage was inducted into the Smithsonian National Museum in 1996 to highlight the impact that the achievement had on the U.S. wine industry.
The newly remodeled facility of Stags Leap winery’s is a showcase for gorgeous vineyards and Napa countryside. At the center of the vaulted cave, swings an amazing floor-to-ceiling Foucault pendulum. According to Winiarski, the winery’s cave “is the moral center of the universe.”
The 90-minute Stags Leap tour and tasting experience (by appointment only) explores the history of the estate, its unique terroir, and its superlative wines. Small groups are treated to fascinating stories of one of California’s earliest wine estates as they stroll the property and finish with a seated tasting in the stately Manor House.
You can no longer taste the famous 1973 cabernet, but you can taste one of their newer vintages from vines that been growing on the estate since the 1890s.
Hours: Daily guided tours at 10:00AM, 1:00PM and 3:00PM.
Reservations: By appointment only. Call (707) 261-6410
Address: 6150 Silverado Trail · Napa, CA 94558
Best Wine Club: Beringer Vineyard
If you really enjoy the wines from a specific winery and the wines are hard to find, then I recommend signing up a wine club in Napa Valley. As a member, you will often be the first to receive new releases or limited production wines. Most memberships include free tastings in their tasting rooms and discounts when you buy more wines online.
Beringer Vineyards has an extremely celebrated wine club credited to its intricately adorned 17-room Rhine House mansion, constructed in 1884. Beringer Reserve Club members receive complimentary samples and tastings in exclusive areas of the mansion.
The Beringer Wine Club also features special invitations to classes, performances, recitals and other pop-up occasions like gourmet dinners and rare barrel-tasting sessions in cellars where wine producers work their magic.
While distinguished as the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley and a National Historic site, Beringer Estate is graced with 19th century architecture and verdant gardens.
Beringer cultivates diverse and prized vineyards across appellations from the highest hills in Napa to the valley floor behind the historic winery.
Hours: 10:30 AM to 4:45 PM daily
Reservations: Appointments are recommended, call (707) 257-5771 or book online.
Address: 2000 Main Street, St. Helena, CA 94574
Best Fairy Tale Estate: Domaine Carneros
Founded by the noble French family behind Champagne Taittinger, this majestically grand château delivers a splendid wine tour in Carneros Appellation of Napa Valley. The winery is located in the southern part of Napa Valley, near the cool climate of San Pablo Bay.
This stunning 18th-century French mansion is carved into a gorgeous Napa hillside. Below the winery are cellars, repleat with exceptional sparkling wine. There are three terraces from which you can enjoy breathtaking views while sipping extraordinary sparkling and Pinot Noir wines.
Winery tours offer a behind-the-scenes look at how sparkling wines are produced, from the harvesting the vineyards to the bottling process. The tour experience culminates with a sampling of wines paired with an array of artisan cheeses, gourmet caviar, smoked salmon, and charcuterie, while seated in the Louis XV–inspired salon.
Hours: Daily 10:00AM to 5:30PM.
Reservations: Reservations are required. Phone (707) 257-0101.
Address: 1240 Duhig Rd., Napa, CA 94559
Best Celebrity-Owned Winery: Inglenook Winery
One of the original Napa Valley wineries, the elegant, ivy-covered Inglenook was founded by Finnish sea captain and wine connoisseur, Gustave Niebaum, in 1879. Gustave was passionate about making fine wines.
Hollywood legends were drawn to this Napa treasure in the 1930s and 40s, including Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, and Jean Harlow, to name just a few.
In 1975, Francis Ford Coppola acquired the notorious winery and spent considerable time, money, and energy restoring it to its original, magnificent splendor. He has since returned abandoned name Inglenook to the estate, promoting it as a true crown jewel of Napa Valley.
Wine tours of the historic grounds, elaborate tasting rooms, antique cars and other features are by appointment only.
Hours: Daily from 10:00AM to 4:30PM
Reservations: Tours are by appointment only. Call (707) 968-1161
Address: 1991 St. Helena Highway, Rutherford, CA 94573
Best (Wine) Snob Appeal: Opus One
This Napa Valley winery began as a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe Rothschild. The two wine behemoths teamed up to create a magnificent winery focused on producing a single Bordeaux blend with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
In 2004, Constellation Brands acquired Robert Mondavi winery and entered into a management agreement with Baron Rothschild. Opus One Winery delivers a luxurious, though somewhat formal wine experience.
The estate is impressive, especially when driving down the to the winery entrance. Looking out across Opus One’s vineyards from the upstairs terrace, you can become absorbed in a wonderful glass of wine. It doesn’t get more luxurious than this!
Opus One produces only one wine, a Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blend, so be prepared for tasting one lovely red wine in a positively pretentious setting.
Hours: Tasting hours are from 10:00am–4:00pm.
Reservations: Tours and tastings are by appointment only and usually made at least a month in advance. Call (707) 944-9442
Address: 7900 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville, CA 94562
Best Time to Go to Napa Valley
Best Ways to Do Napa Valley Tours from San Francisco
There are more than a dozen established and respected tour operators offering wine tasting experiences. Taking one of these wine tours from San Francisco offers you the chance to sit back, relax and enjoy the experience.
The experiences are guided so you can learn about grape growing and winemaking as you travel to visit Napa Valley wineries. As a bonus, you’ll have the chance to socialize with other wine enthusiasts as you taste your way through the area.
Group tour operators usually include the wine tasting fees which they negotiate below the posted rates. They also take care of reservations which can difficult to get in the peak summer and fall seasons. Here are several, we recommend:
Platypus Wine Tours’ “join-in” wine tours are a good option to experience Napa’s wineries while meeting new people along the way. During this approachable, sociable tour, you’ll visit four wineries and have a picnic lunch. Note: Platypus does not pick up at any hotels in San Francisco. They begin tours from Vallejo, CA, which you must reach by taking a ferry from Pier 1 in San Francisco. Phone: (707) 253-2723.
Extranomical Tours’ Redwoods and Wine Country Tour is one of the most highly regarded wine tours from San Francisco (are we a bit biased…maybe!). The day starts with a stroll under giant redwoods in Muir Woods and then a wine enthusiast guide takes you to both Napa and Sonoma Valleys for tastings and an optional gourmet lunch. Extranomical Tours also offers a small group reserve tour to Napa that visits three of the wineries on this “best” list. Phone: (415)-357-0700
If you prefer to stick with your own group for a Napa Valley wine tasting from San Francisco and you have at least 6 people, you can easily arrange a reasonably priced private tour. A day tour to Napa from San Francisco will run $400 to $600 but you’ll need to add in the wine tastings fees (plan on an average $25 per person at each winery) and gratuity for the driver.
Private tours can be customized to wineries you want to visit, and you can decide whether you want the fare to include wine tasting fees or pay them as you go. The operator should also make reservations at the wineries (make sure of this!).
Extranomical Tours (more shameless promotion!) also offers private, build-your-own wine tours to Napa Valley from San Francisco. To make the planning easy, an experienced travel consultant will help put your private tour together, handle reservations and all the special details needed to make your day in the wine country perfectly memorable. They do pickups from any Bay Area hotel to Napa and back. Phone: (415)-357-0700
Beau Wine Tours & Limo offers introductory tours perfect for Napa Valley newbies. The experience can be customized to your tastes and offers the chance to visit and tour at premier Napa wineries like Robert Mondavi Winery, Chateau Montelena, and Beringer Estate. A professional guide will provide insights into Napa’s grape varieties and terroir to help you gain a better understanding of this beloved wine region. Beau Wine Tours is based in Napa but will pick up qualifying groups in San Francisco for an extra fee. Phone: (707) 257-0887
DIY. Of course, you can drive yourself on a tour of Napa Valley wineries. Don’t rent a car from the airport, wait until you get into San Francisco and rent your car just for the day you plan to head to up to Napa Valley (hotels can charge up to $70 per night for a garage space!). Make sure you check how late the rental car company is open, since some close early certain nights of the week.
Be sure to set up tasting tour appointments in advance. Most wineries have open tasting hours, but many of best experiences require advance reservations. You can simply call the wineries or look on their sites to see if appointments can be made online.
You can also use Uber/Lift as transportation, but they will not plan your route for the day. Without a good plan for going from winery to winery and lunch you may spend most of your day inside a Prius instead of enjoying your day in Napa Valley.
Be sure to assign a designated driver!
Best to Know Before You Go
Is this your first trip to the wine country? No problem, here are a few helpful hints to help you prepare.
- Eat Before Tasting: Eat a good breakfast before you leave your hotel so you are ready for a full day of tasting.
- Don’t Wear Perfume: Leave the scent of your perfume and lotions at your hotel. This allows your nose (and others’ noses!) to fully experience the beauty of each wine.
- Search “how to taste wines”: Swirl, sniff, sip, and repeat to savor all of the aromas and flavors.
- Ask Questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions as the wineries LOVE talking about their wines.
- Pace Yourself: Wine tasting is a slow process so you can remember every moment, flavor, and wine. Take your time as you taste and savor the experience.
Of course, this list only scratches the surface. Napa has dozens of other amazing wineries worth noting, such as Beaulieu, Cakebread, Ehlers, Far Niente, Robert Mondavi, Pine Ridge, Shafer, Darioush and Silver Oak, to name a few.