You can easily sip your way through Napa Valley wineries without a reservation, but there are some Napa Valley wine tasting reservations worth making.
The older I’ve gotten the more non-committal I’ve become, especially when I travel. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to make plans and map out things but as my kids have gotten older I’ve been able to “loosen the reigns” and let things be a little more spontaneous…as spontaneous as you can be with two little kids. Those unplanned days tend to result in some of the best experiences. However, when it comes to winery tours and tastings, being open and spontaneous won’t always get you into wineries you want to visit. When it comes to wine tasting in Napa Valley though, you can easily sip your way through the valley with zero reservations. There are more than 500 wineries, 285 of these Napa Valley wineries are open to the public by appointment, in other words you have to make a reservation. However, 300+ Napa Valley wineries do not require appointments. You can easily be spontaneous with your Napa Valley wine tours…but there are some Napa Valley wineries where reservations are soooo worth making. Not just for the experience of the tour but also the types of wines that are available, which may include reserve wines or a more private, limited quantity of wines you won’t find else where. I’ve complied a short list of some Napa Valley wine tasting reservations worth making. Do you have other Napa Valley wineries people should consider making reservations to visit? Let us know which Napa Valley wineries and why in the comments.
Napa Valley Wine Tasting Reservations Worth Making
Kelham Vineyards is a family owned and operated vineyard that sits at the base of the Mayacamas mountain range surrounded by vineyards and stunning gardens filled. The winery was founded in 1998 by Susanna Kelham and her two sons Ron and Hamilton Nicholsen. The family focuses on producing Cabernets, Merlot, Chardonnay and the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve ever had. Prior to the family founding the winery, Rawson Kelham farmed this 60-acre vineyard for 35 years selling its grapes to wineries such as Cakebread, Mondavi, Duckhorn and Beaulieu. Kelham Vineyards came highly recommend from friends who have visited it a number of times. I had been told it may be difficult to get in for a tasting since it’s a smaller, more intimate tasting. I called on a Monday in April and surprisingly I was able to get in for a tasting that same Wednesday. (This would not have been the case for a Friday, Saturday or Sunday tasting.) The wine tasting included an artisanal cheese and charcuterie selection that was paired specifically with each wine. We chose to do our 1.25 hour tasting outdoors in Kelham’s lavish outdoor seating area. The surrounding gardens were immaculate, honestly I could have stayed and sipped wine all day at Kelham. Next time, we’ll make sure to book the two-hour, four-course lunch and wine tasting. To top it off, we had the pleasure of doing our wine tasting with Ron Nicholsen, who is also the winemaker. The personal attention of having him sit down and explain the wines, his philosophy and their history in the outdoor garden was a memorable experience. Every wine tasting is done with a member of the Kelham family… Wines: The 2006 Sauvignon Blanc is a dry wine with hints of lemon and nuts on the nose, grapefruit and a little vanilla. This along with the 2003 Merlot, 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 Sons blend and port were my favorites. The Pinot Noir is also a must, as Ron, the winemaker explained, “this wine is a unicorn, you won’t find it again”. In 2007 he had the chance to purchase grapes which were used to produce this small production. It’s truly an amazing wine. If you have the chance to snap up one of the bottles in the 99 cases, do it! I sure did. Location: 360 Zinfandel Lane, Saint Helena, CA 94574 Phone Number: 707-963-2000 Tasting Hours: 10am – 4pm, Monday – Sunday Tasting Fee: $75 for the 1.25 hour tasting and $150 for the two-hour, four-course lunch/tasting
Founded by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn in 1976, Duckhorn Vineyards has been crafting classic Napa Valley wines for nearly 40 years. Duckhorn has been pioneering and perfecting Merlot as a premium varietal, and now makes several elegant Merlot and distinctive Cabernet Sauvignons. Duckhorn is also known for its Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnay. With advanced wine tasting reservations, guests are invited to experience Duckhorn wines in a personalized fashion with seated tastings and individualized attention from its wine educators. A charcuterie plate is available for an additional fee; I highly suggest you order one as it completely changes the wine experience…wine and food are meant to be paired together. The Portfolio Tasting features five current release wines from its Napa Valley offering while the Elevated Tastings also include limited wines of the Duckhorn Vineyards Collection. Personally, I’d go with the Elevated Tasting…the wines at Duckhorn are outstanding and to have the chance to sip limited vintages is truly elevating. For more on Duckhorn’s history and wine, see my interview with Renée Ary, the winemaker at Duckhorn. Location: 1000 Lodi Lane, Saint Helena Phone Number: 707-963-7108 Tasting Hours 10am – 4pm Tasting Fee: $30 for the Portfolio Tasting; $60 Elevated Tastings
Robert Mondavi Winery
Robert Mondavi introduced the art of public wine tasting experiences in Napa Valley, today you can still stop in for a general tasting (with out an appointment) or reserve a space in a variety of offered wine tours/tastings. Robert Mondavi Winery is one of my absolute favorite wine producers and tops the list of the best wine tasting experiences I’ve had so far. To me, a stop into Robert Mondavi Winery is essential for anyone visiting Napa. Not only for the wine, but for the history and impact its founder and namesake has had on Napa Valley and California wines. There are several different types of wine tours you can take at the Robert Mondavi Winery and there is no appointment necessary for a general wine tasting. The gardens around the winery are amazing so if you’re limited on time do a quick tasting then do your own little tour around the grounds. For a more informative and intimate experience make reservations for one of its private tastings, these Napa Valley wine tasting reservations are well worth it.
- The Wine Tasting Basics ($20) is a 45-minute tasting led by one of the Mondavi Wine Educators. Guests will learn how to read wine labels, why we swirl wine in the glass, and how to smell, taste and describe wine.
- The Signature Tour & Tasting ($35) is approximately 90 minutes in length, this winery tour follows the path of the grape from the vineyard to the cellar to the finished wine. Guests view the famous To Kalon Vineyard and the inner workings of the winery, including fermentation and barrel aging. The tour concludes with a seated educational tasting of three wines.
- The Exclusive Cellar Tasting ($55) includes an hour tasting a variety of limited production, reserve and older vintage wines in an exclusive private setting with a Wine Educator. This experience also includes an artisanal cheese and charcuterie selection. (This is one of my favorite wine Napa Valley wine tours!)
- Lunch & Dinner Experience ($100-$350) there are a few choices to select from the main different being the types of wines sampled and the number of food courses – either a single meal, three course or five course. Each options includes a one-hour tour and an hour and a half wine and food pairing prepared by in-house chef Jeff Mosier.
Location: 7801 St Helena Hwy, Oakville, CA 94562 Phone Number: (888) 766-6328, ext. 2 Tasting Hours: 10am – 5pm Tasting Fee: free up to $350
Chateau Montelena Winery
You may already be familiar with Chateau Montelena, its Chardonnay was the white wine that beat its French counterparts in a blind tasting back in 1976, putting it and all of Napa Valley, on the map. The movie Bottle Shock is based on the story. While you do not have to make wine tasting reservations at Chataeu Montelena I highly suggest you do; Chataeu Montelena is a popular place…much thanks to the movie “Bottle Shock”. When I’ve visited – without a reservation – it has been so busy I haven’t able to really enjoy the wine or my time there. Which was very disappointing since the wine is outstanding and the tasting room is an experience. The tasting room is on the top floor of a stone castle carved into a hillside overlooking a Chinese garden and lake and vineyards reaching out to the base of Mt. St. Helena. The Chateau was originally built as a barrel aging facility but remodeled into a residence in the 1950s after being purchased by the Frank family. A visit to Chateau Montelena is simply stunning, this along with the wines and types of tastings/tours make it one of Napa Valley wine tasting reservations worth making.
- Chataeu Montelena does offer a Current Release Tasting via reservation for $25, it’s one I would suggest you make if you’re planning to visit. You can bypass the crowd and enjoy the tasting in a reserved space.
- Chataeu Montelena also offers a one-hour private Limited Release tasting ($50) in its Library Room as well as a Cellarmaster Tasting ($50), both are amazing opportunities to enjoy and purchase wines not commonly available in the marketplace.
- For those of you who did see the movie Bottle Shock, you may want to check out the Beyond Paris and Hollywood wine tasting ($40) that’s offered. This wine tasting experience provides guests with an insider’s peek at what really happened before, during, and after the actual 1976 Paris Tasting and the early days of Chateau Montelena; a candid appraisal of those events by author George Taber in a taped interview; and a comparative wine tasting to demonstrate what makes today’s Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, 40 years later, an enduring example of world-class winemaking.
Location: 1429 Tubbs Lane Calistoga CA 94515 Phone Number: (707) 942-5105. Tasting Hours: 9:30am to 4pm daily Tasting Fee: free up to $50
Clos Pegase was one of my surprise finds on our last trip to Napa Valley. I had never tried its wines before and walked away from the experience a new fan. Its 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon are two of my new favorites. Clos Pegase does have a public tasting room that does not require reservations, this tasting offers two wine flights. While it is a great tasting designed to give you an understanding of the different wine styles I suggest you do the Connoisseur Cave Tour & Tasting. The experience is so worth the reservation. You will learn about the history of the winery, visit the production area and taste wine directly from that barrel. During the tour you’re escorted through the wine cave, which is filled not only with barrels but stunning artwork and sculptures. When you enter the Cave Theatre you’re greeted with a seated tasting of current and library wines paired with hand selected artisanal cheese and charcuterie. The cave seating/tasting is such a unique and cool experience (literally and figuratively). If you choose to do the general tasting, make sure to walk around the property to soak up the art work. There are some amazing, historic statues and water features that have been brought in from Italy and throughout Europe. Location: 1060 Dunaweal Lane Calistoga, CA 94515 Phone Number: 707.942.4981 Tasting Hours: 10:30am to 5pm Tasting Fee: $20 – $60
If you like bubbles, Schramsberg Vineyards is a must. The vineyard is known for its production of premium methode champenoise sparkling wines. It’s truly some of the best sparkling wine I’ve had. While the wines and educational tour are a treat, the tour and the estate, which is a registered historic landmark makes Schramsberg one of the Napa Valley wine tasting reservations worth making. The Schramsberg estate is tucked into the densely forested slopes of Diamond Mountain, a few miles south of the town of Calistoga. It is home to the oldest hillside vineyards in Napa – 218 acres with 43 acres planted to vines. Not to mention amazing flower gardens and water features every way you turn to look. Interesting Fact: The vineyards historic 125-year underground caves, where all Schramsberg sparkling wines are aged, were hand dug by Chinese laborers when the vineyard got its start. Schramsberg offers tastings by appointment only, in conjunction with an educational tour through its historic caves. During your visit the tour guide will share the rich history of Schramsberg and its historic caves, introduce you to the classic method of producing sparkling wine, and end with a variety of Schramsberg Vineyards wines. Location: 1400 Schramsberg Road, Calistoga CA 94515 Phone Number: (707) 942-4558 Tasting Hours: 10am – 4pm Tasting Fee: $65
Tips & Resources for Making Napa Valley Wine Tasting Reservations
Go Old School With a Printed Wine Map Ok, there are apps upon apps when it comes to maps, but when you’re setting up your wine tasting route nothing beats an old school printed out map. At least not yet. There are several different wine maps of Napa Valley you can find online, many of which don’t provide all the Napa Valley wineries. That’s maddening to me… The best ones I’ve found so far are on NapaValley.com and VisitNapaValley.com You can download and print maps from both sites for easy access (see SonomaValley.com for maps too). If you plan ahead, you can also order the map from VisitNapaValley.com and they will mail it to you for free. The one thing I like about the map on NapaValley.com is the labeling on the map that notes if the wineries require reservations or have public tasting rooms. This is a huge help when you’re trying to be “spontaneous” with your Napa Valley wine tastings. All in One Reservations Want to make your Napa Valley wine tasting reservations all in one place? Think OpenTable but for wineries. There are a few companies I’ve found that provide this online service – CellarPass, VinoVisit and Kazzit. I did find CellarPass to be the most comprehensive, however I only tested these sites for Napa Valley wine tasting reservations. Kazzit claims to have an extensive international offering and VinoVisit has an awesome mapping itinerary feature. (Stay tuned as I plan to review these in more detail.) Go Ahead and Try You can probably still get in for a wine tasting even if the winery states it requires a reservation. Now, this is not going to be the case during peak season or on the weekends. But, you have a pretty good chance on a Wednesday afternoon in March. Just call and check. Track Your Tastings I adore Vivino the mobile app. It’s been the perfect way for me to easily track the wines I sampled along with my tasting notes. Just snap a picture of the wine label, the app finds the wine, you rate it and share your tasting notes. If you want to try to purchase the wine via the app, it tells you where you can find it locally or order it. The purchasing feature comes in handy when you’re not in Napa Valley and simply want to try to find that bottle of Rose you remember loving during that picnic on the side of the road. (Want to see my tasting notes? Follow me on Vivino.) Visit Napa Valley Mobile App Based on location, the Visit Napa Valley app provides visitors with area accommodations, dining, things to do, wineries, wine shops and tasting rooms, offers and events. Nearby businesses are sorted by distance; search for what you’ve got in mind and save favorites you’ve discovered.
Bonus Round: Wine Tasting Reservations Worth Making in Alexander Valley
Seeing as I spent much of my time in Alexander Valley I had to include two of my new favorite vineyards in this article – Stuhlmuller Vineyards and Lancaster – both are perfect for my fellow cab lovers.
Since the 1970’s the Stuhlmuller’s have been producing world-class grapes, supplying such notable wineries as Chateau Souverain, Cronin, and Page Mill with fruit for highly praised single vineyard wines. But, it wasn’t until 2000 Stuhlmuller Vineyards began producing its own wines; roughly 10,000 cases of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon annually, with the recent addition of extremely small allotments of estate Zinfandel. The Estate Tasting ($15) features a rotating selection of estate-grown wines. The vineyards wine educators will guide you through a tasting of wines with carefully selected fruit from its Estate. The Artisan Cheese Pairing ($29) includes the same tasting but adds the artisan cheese pairings to complement the wines. I’ve included Stuhlmuller Vineyards as a reservation worth making solely because of the wine. The tasting room is terribly small and if there’s a large group it’s very loud. There is outdoor seating with a few picnic tables surrounded by lovely gardens where can enjoy the wines as well. This is a very modest establishment with simply amazing wines. Location: 4951 West Soda Rock Lane, Healdsburg, CA 95448 Phone Number: 707.431.7745 Tasting Hours: 10:30 am – 4:30 pm (by appointment only Tuesday-Thursday) Tasting Fee: $15-$30
Fodor’s Named Lancaster Estate as #3 on its Best of the Best One Day Tasting Tour in Sonoma County, and for good reason. Not only are the wines remarkable but there are a variety of wine tours offered. I suggest making a reservation for the Estate Tour & Tasting Experience. Led by a representative from Lancaster, you’ll trace the evolution of its wines from grape to glass. Guests can look forward to a tour of the vineyards, production facility and wine caves of Lancaster Estate followed by a seated educational tasting of four of its estate wines. (The vineyard only produces five wines.) Location: 15001 Chalk Hill Road Healdsburg, CA 95448 Phone Number: 707.433.8178 Tasting Hours: 10am – 5pm Tasting Fee: $35
Do you have other Napa Valley wineries people should consider making reservations to visit? Let us know which ones and why in the comments.
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