Best Winery Tours and Tasting in California!

by Master Sommelier David Glancy

I am regularly asked what wineries are the best to visit in California. With over 3,800 wineries in the state and American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in 43 of the state’s 58 counties it can be hard to choose. Below are my picks for Napa and Sonoma with other regions to be discussed in future weeks. Just these two counties have over 900 wineries between them so it’s still a challenge to narrow it down. These are my selections based on the winery visit experience. There are many wines that I love but did not list either because they do not allow public visits or I just haven’t visited them yet.

Napa - Before You Go

Here's a 2-minute video overview of what to look for in Napa Valley. You could even take a Napa Valley workshop with us in South San Francisco before you head to wine country. Also check out Napa Valley Vintners maps and information.

Napa Valley - Right Down the Middle

Here are my picks for wineries that are open to the public everyday with no appointment along highway 29 South to North from Yountville to St. Helena.

  • Chandon
    They are one of the first wineries you reach heading into the valley and it's always nice to start with bubbles. The tour teaches guests all about sparkling wine production and you can enjoy your favorite bottle relaxing on the lawn.
  • Robert Mondavi
    Robert Mondavi was one of the most important figures post-prohibition in shaping today's Napa Valley as a global wine center. The tour is educational and they pour a wide variety of wines.
  • Beaulieu Vineyards
    Smack in the center of the valley, the tasting ranges from value varietal wines to the always amazing George de la Tour Reserve Cabernet.
  • Hall
    This is a relative newcomer with a modern, splashy tasting facility and some crisp Sauvignon Blanc and big, rich Cabernet.

Napa Valley - Off the Beaten Path

All of these wineries require an appointment but are definitely worth a little advanced planning. They are also quite far apart but there are clusters of wineries near them to create a regional tour.

  • Pride Mountain
    Pride Mountain straddles the county line between Spring Mountain in Napa and Fountaingrove in Sonoma. It is a breathtaking spot atop the Mayacamas Mountain Range with some great Cab and Merlot. Some of their neighbors include Barnett, Schweiger and Cain.
  • Schramsberg / J. Davies
    Schramsberg is one of the best sparkling wine producers in the state and have also converted most of their Diamond Mountain vineyards to Cabernet bottled as J. Davies. Some of their neighbors between St. Helena and Calistoga include Stony Hill and Von Strasser.
  • Viader
    This quiet tasting room is just below Howell Mountain between Deer Park and Angwin. They specialize in Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux style blends. Some of their neighbors include Arkenstone, Cade and Ladera.
  • Quintessa
    This is a magnificent winery cave, beautiful grounds and one of the best Bordeaux style blends in all of California. They are easy to find on the Silverado Trail just outside of Rutherford. Some of their neighbors include Mumm and Joseph Phelps.

Sonoma - Before You Go

Here's a 2-minute video overview of what to look for in Sonoma. You could even take a Sonoma workshop with us in South San Francisco before you head to wine country. Also check out Sonoma County Vintners for maps and information.

Sonoma - Dry Creek Valley
Dry Creek Valley is just northwest of Healdsburg and has many wineries.

  • A. Rafanelli
    The tasting room is rustic but they consistently produce beautiful Zinfandel and Cabernet.
  • Lambert Bridge
    Merlot is on the decline in Sonoma but Lambert Bridge continues to make solid Merlot and Cabernet.
  • Quivira
    They make great Zinfandel but their benchmark is the Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Dry Creek Vineyard
    They have a simple tasting room fitting the region and a wide array of wines from Chenin Blanc to Cabernet but they make some of the more age-worthy Zinfandel around.
  • Mauritson
    Their most exciting wines come from their Rockpile vineyards but the tasting room and many of their other vines are in Dry Creek.

Sonoma - Russian River Valley
Russian River is just south of Healdsburg and also has a large number of premium wineries.

  • J Vineyards
    J is a unique tasting experience giving food an equal role in their many tasting flight options.
  • Iron Horse
    Iron Horse is a pioneer in the Green Valley, the coldest portion of Russian River. Their sparkling wines are wonderful and it is delightful to sit in the gazebo in middle of the vines enjoying the serenity of their remote location,

David Glancy, MS, CWE is the Founder & CEO of San Francisco Wine School, the largest wine school in the country. In addition to global wine studies in the classroom and online, in 2012 they created the first and still only industry credential program dedicated exclusively to California wine - California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). 

Have you enjoyed visiting any of these wineries? What other Napa & Sonoma wineries do you like? Which hotels & restaurants should be included in a tour of these regions?

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San Francisco Wine School strives to open up the world of wine to serious students and enthusiasts everywhere while helping people of all levels break into the wine industry, advance their career, or simply pursue their passions. Founded by Master Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator David Glancy, San Francisco Wine School is the largest wine school in the U.S., offering the most thoughtful approach to wine study. Their inspired educational programs and workshops are taught in their state of the art wine education & events center and their cutting edge virtual classroom by industry-leading instructors from all major educational disciplines. San Francisco Wine School’s curriculum features the best content in the business: expert course materials, carefully conceived wine flights, and in-depth blind tasting exercises designed to engage students, illuminate course content and enhance learning. Their brand new sunlight-filled wine education & events center is conveniently located just 5 minutes from San Francisco International Airport and boasts 16-ft high coved ceilings, eight 12-ft tall arched windows, and gorgeous 180 degree views of the San Bruno Mountains, South San Francisco City Hall and the San Francisco Bay, making it the perfect place to enjoy classes, industry seminars and tastings and host a wide variety of private events—from serious educational programs for wine/hospitality industry staff to team-building and other fun, social, private events for wine enthusiasts.

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