Sure, there are numerous wonderful wineries in the Napa Valley, but here’s the question – if you have only one day to visit five wineries, which ones do you choose?
It might be easy to get your first couple, but after that, how do you cut down to just five? This is a great discussion point as people like different things about different wineries. Sometimes its about just the win, sometimes it is about the entire winery.
Personally, you could pick five wineries off my list of 40 or so and I would be content to spend the day at those five. But if I am going to pose the question, then I must be willing to step up and take a stand.
So here you go!
I have one day to visit five wineries in the Napa Valley – where do I go? This is honestly the toughest list I have ever created and except for my top-ranked winery, it was a battle. I made a list of 40 wineries and went from there.
There are still many to visit and this is obviously an ever-evolving list. I look forward to the day of ranking them by appellation!
But here are my top five! Enjoy and let the discussion begin!
No. 1 – Del Dotto: It was more than a few years back when my wife and I were visiting Napa and someone pouring asked if we had ever been to Del Dotto. At that point we had never head of the winery but took the recommendation and off we went to the Winery and Caves off Atlas Peak Road.
One visit was all it took to make it my all-time favorite and still number one on my list. The Del Dotto family has expanded and now not only has the Caves winery, but the Estate Winery and Caves off the St. Helena Highway. They have also opened the Piazza Del Dotto (I have yet to visit) just outside Yountville. You really can’t go wrong with any of the wineries, but I would recommend the original winery for your first visit.
As you go back into the caves, you have a chance to taste wine right out of the barrels before they go into any blending. There is nothing but great wine throughout their portfolio. The Cabs are big and bold offering a variety of oaks and blends, and the Sonoma Coast Cinghiale Pinot Noir is off the hook. Simply, Del Dotto has been my favorite wine since the first time I tasted, and it remains that way today.
While the wine is as good as it gets, the experience is hard to describe and one to remember.
The person who originally recommend Del Dotto to us called it “Del Blotto” and said it was either your last stop or your only stop. It’s a party to be sure and the Del Dotto family leads the way in having a good time. Dave, the father and founder, used to be a regular in the caves and if you were incredibly lucky enough to draw Dave as your guide, it was on!
Now almost 69, Dave picks and chooses his tours, but if you see him around the winery be sure to say hi. I have recommended a visit to Del Dotto to many and have yet to have someone say they were disappointed. It is, without a doubt, worth your time and money. For more information visit www.deldottovineyards.com.
No 2 – Schramsberg: I am a big fan of starting any tasting day with sparkling wine/champagne. There are some high-quality sparkling houses in the Napa Valley, but my go-to place has always been Schramsberg located in Calistoga.
It works logistically as well as you can drive -I mean have your driver – drive all the way up to Calistoga, then work your way back through the Napa Valley. The road up to the winery is barley big enough for one car and the permit for the property allows only a set number of visitors a day, so tastings are by appointment only and reservations should be made well in advance.
The tours include a trip into the old caves where the process of making sparkling wine is fascinatingly detailed for visitors. It is worth the time and the effort to schedule the visit. The J. Schram is the big dog for Schramsberg and at $120 a bottle, it stands toe-to-toe with many of the world-famous champagne houses that put out much more expensive bottles. All the sparkling is top-notch and the red wines are wonderful as well.
One final enjoyment is seeing all the history of Schramsberg on the walls, including the number of State dinners at the White House. Schramsberg was also the sparkling served for President Nixon’s 1972 “Toast to Peace” with China’s Premier Zhou Enlai. Schramsberg has been served at official State functions by every U.S. Presidential administration since. For more information please go to www.schramsberg.com.
No. 3 – Gargiulo Vineyards: The first time we went here was when we saw Gargiulo had the highest selling barrel at the Napa Valley wine auction one year.
We had never heard of the winery but made an appointment.When we arrived at the address on Oakville Crossing, we thought we were in the wrong place as there was no tasting room, just a residence. We tentatively knocked on the door and were greeted by Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo. We were brought into the beautiful kitchen with views of the vineyards where we proceeded to taste wine and enjoy appetizers.
Following the inside tasting, we went out back and enjoyed the view. By the time we left, we had an invite to return and use the backyard whenever we wanted to. The family has come a long way from there in terms of facilities and there is now a tasting room and a staff. It is still appointment only, but it’s a great experience enjoying the wonderful wine created in the Oakville appellation.
As an added plus, Jeff is an avid collector of guitars and he has them on display. The Cabernet Sauvignon is what you would expect from the region, but our persona favorite is the Aprile, named after their daughter April. The wine is 96 percent Sangiovese with four percent Cab. It’s always been among our favorite wine from Napa. For more information, go to www.gargiulovineyards.com.
No. 4 – Stags’ Leap: There are two wineries by the same name, with just an apostrophe the difference in the name. This is the latest winery to make my list as I didn’t have a chance to visit until I went to the region to do a story on the winery following the disastrous wild fires that blew through the region, including buildings on the Stags’ Leap property.
I could make a strong case that this might be the most beautiful winery in the entire Napa Valley. Located in a valley, the property was actually used for some scenes in the 1980’s TV show Falcon’s Crest. It’s an older winery with a tremendous back story, dating back to Prohibition.
When driving out to the property, you get a sense of the history and you almost feel like you are traveling back in time. You can taste in the main house, or outside on the porch with great views of the beauty that surrounds the property.
The Manor house is 19th century Victorian Mansion and while relaxing on the porch, it’s easy to imagine the Great Gatsby era. Since the winery is located off a private road, it is also appointment only, but like the other wineries that are appointment only, it guarantees a controlled environment that enhances the experience.
My favorite wine was the 2015 Stags’ Leap Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah. Stags’ Leap is known for its world class Cabs, but this bottle just jumped off the page for us. If you stick with the Cabs you won’t be disappointed, but don’t miss out on giving the Petite Sirah a chance! For more information go to www.stagsleap.com.
No. 5 – Vine Cliff: One of the more memorable tasting experiences we have had as our guide – it is appointment only – sat out at a picnic table with us tasting wine and telling stories. One anecdote he shared involved decanting cheap wine for his parents and in-laws because they couldn’t tell the difference between a cheap bottle of wine and a very good, expensive bottle, so why waste a good one on someone that couldn’t appreciate it.
That was words to my ears as I had been doing it for a while myself with family and friends, I knew could not appreciate what they were drinking! Great stories aside, Vine Cliff, located off the Silverado Trail, is a hidden gem. There is also a tasting room in St. Helena, but I recommend the Estate tasting.
You will explore the historic estate, caves, vineyards and production facility during the 90-minute tour. It’s quiet, private and just the wine tasting experience you should be seeking in the Napa Valley. The wine is all about Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
The Private Stock Cabernet Sauvignon – 16 Rows is crazy good and is a wonderful bottle to have for a special occasion. We have not been to the winery in some time, but you owe to yourself to give it a shot.
One final story. When Beverages and More started its “Buy one, get one for a nickel,” deal, we went to one. We found the basic Vine Cliff Cab for the deal. I found the store manager, asked how many bottles he had in the back, then bought it all. The manager was the one that rung us up and his comment was, “I was waiting for someone to come in and know what an incredible deal his is.”
That speaks volumes.
For more information, please go to www.vinecliff.com.
By Dennis Miller