North America / Travel There

5 Must-Visit Wineries in Napa Valley

Black Stallion Winery

Planning a trip to Napa Valley is the most overwhelming trip I’ve ever had to plan. First of all, there are like a ZILLION wineries to go to with varying different things to offer: seated tastings, tours, tours followed by tastings, tours while tasting out of the barrels, etc., so you want to get some variety with the places you visit. Secondly, I was trying to stick mostly in the Napa region on the Silverado Trail, which was a challenge too. Also, finding the perfect schedule of wineries is hard to manage — we did two one day and three the next, and it was the perfect amount, lucky for us.

I plan on writing more about the logistics of Napa, since that was another challenge of planning things (Is there Uber? How much do things cost? Etc.), so stay tuned for that.

Those five wineries we visited ended up being the perfect mix of places — we ended up loving every single one of them. And here’s why.

Black Stallion Winery

We stayed at a private cottage on the Black Stallion property, so it has a special place in our hearts! We took thousands of photos in their vineyards that are just so picturesque. You can do either a tour or a tasting — or a tour AND a tasting. We opted for just a tasting, which was pretty traditional: we walked up to a bar and they poured us a few wines to try. Reservations aren’t required, and there are a few different tastings to choose from (all red, mixed, premiere) ranging from $20 to $50. I recommend doing a tasting on the terrace. My favorite wine I had was their Sauvignon Blanc (we killed a couple bottles of that in our cottage).

Robert Mondavi Winery

I had never heard of Robert Mondavi, and I realized I am in the minority. Now, I see their wine everywhere — even in CVS, how did I miss that?

We were told that Robert Mondavi is the go-to winery for a good history of Napa. The winery was established in 1966 after Robert Mondavi had a tiff with his brother, a winemaker more interested in making money than good quality wine. Robert took his inheritance and found 12 acres of land which would become the heart of Napa Valley. He acquired more and more land to expand his empire and then later made up with his family before passing away.

We had Roberto as our wine guide — and he was the absolute best. We did a walking tour that went from the vineyards, to the wine making room and even down to the cellar, where we had a VIP tasting that I will literally never ever forget! Such great wines and such a great time — from stuffing our faces with the charcuterie to posing on the barrels of wine that will later become the 2018 vintage! Don’t tell anyone, but Robert Mondavi was my favorite — don’t miss it!

Goosecross Cellars

Goosecross Winery

Goosecross was another traditional type of tasting. We had an appointment and rolled up just before they opened at 10. The property is absolutely stunning and, being from Houston, we thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous red, orange and yellow leaves strewn all over the grounds. We had our tasting at a little table on the patio, so we had a great view of the vineyards. We actually ended up being seated next to TWO different tables of Houstonians. Small world!

We tried five or so wines while we learned about Goosecross from our wine guide, Rachel. Basically, the small winery started by a few wine experts with a pre-established career in Napa and named the winery after the geese who called it home!

I loved this winery. It was chill and gorgeous and I loved every wine I tried.

Mumm Napa Winery

Mumm was our much-anticipated bubbles break! We were excited about this tasting because, a. We’d been drinking a lotta red so far, b. The property is absolutely stunning, c. At $35, it’s a pretty cheap tasting. No reservations were required, but upon checking in, we were told we’d have to wait a half hour or so. It felt very much like a restaurant-style tasting (we waited for a table, then sat down with a server who had other tables too), but the only thing on the menu was sparkling wine.

While waiting, we took tons of pix and walked around a mini art gallery, and the time flew. We got our table and ordered the tasting. Our waitress/wine guide was super sweet and brought us crackers (plus nuts for our GF friend!) and three champagne flutes. They were slightly smaller than normal ones — maybe half the size — but for the tasting, she filled them up to the tippy top. It was a pretty generous tasting!

The only thing I didn’t LOVE about Mumm’s tasting logistic was that you pay on your way out, which ended up being a v long, v slow line held up by two groups of people buying a thousand bottles of wine each. Other than that, Mumm Napa is a quick trip and a always-welcomed bubble break you need on your Napa itinerary.

Del Dotto Vineyards

Del Dotto Winery

Del Dotto was by far the most different of our winery visits for two reasons: 1. WINE CAVES!! 2. BARREL TASTING! There are three different location — two have wine caves, one is just food and tastings. We went to the St. Helena Venetian Estate Winery & Caves.

When planning, it was a top priority of mine to visit a winery with caves, and it did not take me long to find the alleged best one: Del Dotto. $75 gets you a cave tour and barrel tasting (note: you will be in a group of 10-15 strangers people). Del Dotto’s reputation is “Del Blotto” because you probably will get kinda tipsy — we tasted 10 wines in 90 minutes!

We rolled up to the property and only spent about a minute above ground appreciating the building and the vineyards (although, we were kind of vineyard-ed out) before walking down the steps to enter the winery — this building, tour and tasting was all done underground. Immediately, we were greeted and filled out a form (they later gave it back with all the wines we tried listed and their bottle prices). We were poured a glass of rose to start, and we wander around. Our lovely wine tour guide, Rachel, took our bags and jackets for the duration of the tour.

During the tour, we were in this dark wine cellar/cave. Del Dotto is super extra we learned. The family, which started and still runs the winery, had bricks from a Roman road shipped from Italy and reassembled in their wine cave (I could tell because it was very uncomfortable to walk on, which was my biggest complaint in Rome when I visited!) Mr. Del Dotto also had parts of a villa in Italy shipped and reassembled to make the wine cave’s ceiling (he even hired Italian builders to do it, to make it extra authentic (next level extra-ness).

The tasting was really cool. We tried wines right out of the barrel (the remaining wine in the barrels will eventually be bottled and sold!). We tried SEVERAL and were challenged to taste the differences in each — it was super cool, but a WHOLE LOTTA red wine (cabs). I couldn’t keep up and was thankful for the dump buckets, water pitchers and bread stick baskets spread out in the cave. We also met the dried meats specialist, Paul, and then later we ate his meats!

The tastings just got fancier and fancier, and by the end of it, we were drinking $200-bottle wines. After our cave tour, we were greeted with pizza, salumi, bread and oil, chocolates and, obviously, more wine tastings. We closed the winery down, actually, since we never wanted to leave!

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  1. Pingback: What I Wish I’d Known Before Visiting Napa Valley | It's Not Hou It's Me | Houston Lifestyle, Food and Culture Blog

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