Explore San Francisco

The Napa and Sonoma Wineries to Visit, Based on Your Wine Tasting Personality

A tasting guide with picks for everyone, from first-timers to cult collectors

In recent years, visitors have flocked to Wine Country in greater numbers than ever before. But as attending various regional events and booking winery tastings becomes mainstream, there are still plenty of diverse ways to experience the cultivated vineyards that cover Northern California’s rolling hills and gently sloping valleys.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor, an art aficionado, a food lover or a collector of hard-to-find cult wines, the cornucopia of working vineyards and tasting rooms across Napa and Sonoma counties has something special to offer every visitor.

A tasting at Donum Estate
A tasting at Donum Estate (©Margo Moritz)

There’s a first time for everything

The Mondavi name has long been synonymous with Northern California Wine Country. At the Robert Mondavi Winery, guests can enjoy guided tours in English and Mandarin Chinese and sip approachable merlots and fume blancs selected for folks trying out wine tasting for the first time. Pop over to nearby V. Sattui to pick out a bottle of the winery’s popular rosé. Then, stock up on picnic supplies from V. Sattui’s gourmet deli and enjoy dining al fresco on the vineyard’s beautiful grounds.

Natural sculptures outside Hall Wines St. Helena
Stickwork art sculptures outside Hall Wines St. Helena (Courtesy Hall Wines)

Inglenook offers a special experience for newbies and wine lovers alike. The daily Heritage Tasting, led by knowledgeable wine educators, showcases several of the winery’s finest wines with a cheese pairing. Oscar-winning film director Francis Ford Coppola and his film royalty family own Inglenook, and while you probably won’t see a Coppola on the grounds, their commitment to fine craftsmanship is infused into the property’s every detail.

Some sparkling wine lovers say fellow bubbly sippers shouldn’t miss Scharffenberger. While that’s certainly good advice, Breathless Wines offers another opportunity to sparkle. Founded by three sisters, this beautiful tasting room also offers visitors the option to tool around the grounds in a restored vintage Vespa complete with a sidecar for one lucky passenger.

Art for art’s sake

Winemakers have exceptional taste, so it’s no wonder many collect and display their own art acquisitions at their wineries. Mumm Napa, renowned for its delicate bubbles, displays fine art photography in a gorgeous gallery designed for that exclusive purpose. 

Sculptures at Donum Estate
Sculptures at Donum Estate (©Anthony Laurino)

You can drink in the famous art collection at Hall Wines before you even set foot on the property’s rich soil. The shiny stainless steel “Bunny Foo Foo” sculpture leaps above the lane, and all across the property, visitors encounter more delightful large-scale sculptures while enjoying Bordeaux varietals, including cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.

Donald Hess has spent his life collecting art from masters like abstract painter Robert Motherwell, and at the Hess Collection Winery and Art Collection, you can soak in the eagle-eyed collector’s exquisite taste. And at Donum Estate, a newer collection features some of the biggest names in the art world. Reservations are required to visit the estate and sip its signature pinot noir. The sculptures by superstars Ai Wei Wei and Louise Bourgeois only further enhance the experience. 

Mumm Napa Tasting Room
Mumm Napa Tasting Room (Courtesy Mumm Napa)

Feast for the senses

Most tasting rooms offer basic cheese and wine pairings, but in the agriculturally rich regions of Northern California, many wineries employ award-winning chefs and offer dazzling culinary experiences to enhance the flavor and enjoyment of their wines. One of the best examples is Ram’s Gate Winery, renowned for its palate pairings. Available by reservation, chef Taylr Benhnam begins with five single-vineyard wines and prepares culinary delights to compliment each. 

Gallery at Ram's Gate Winery
Gallery at Ram's Gate Winery (©Rocco Media)

Known for its zinfandel, Seghesio Family Vineyards is also beloved for its food-driven wines. To experience both in a beautiful setting, check the calendar for specials, or request your own private experience with chef Peter Janiak, famous for his delicate pastas that pair perfectly with the winery’s Italian varietals.

Historic Simi Winery is one of the nation’s oldest wineries and offers private lunches and dinners by reservation. Chef Kolin Vazzoler crafts casual picnics and three-course seated meals to share and enjoy with the winery’s finest estate wines, including bright pinot noirs and an aromatic late harvest riesling. 

Join the cult

Some of the country’s finest winemakers won’t sell their bottles to just anyone. Only the most dedicated fans, who travel to the winery or visit the few restaurants pouring the wines, can enjoy these highly coveted, limited-edition offerings. One of Napa’s newest reservations-required estates, Alejandro Bulgheroni, focuses on handcrafted small production cabernet sauvignon. 

Kosta Browne Winery (©Mitch Rice)

From grapes grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Ceritas Wines produces limited-edition chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Email to inquire about a tasting at the Healdsburg winery, one of the only ways to enjoy the Ceritas experience. Arnot-Roberts, also with a reservations-required tasting room in Healdsburg, has a wide portfolio of exquisite, rare wines, including bold syrahs and French oak barrel-fermented chardonnays.

Kosta Browne’s acclaimed portfolio focuses on pinot noirs and chardonnays. While still retaining its elusive charm, the esteemed winery will open its first hospitality space in the spring of 2018, located in its new small-lot fermentation cellar and offering reservations to non-members seeking the chance to experience the winery.

A display of large format wines at Kosta Browne Winery
A display of large format wines at Kosta Browne Winery (©Mitch Rice)

Take your furry friends 

While many wineries keep animals on the grounds and do not allow visitors to bring their pets, some encourage dogs to accompany their owners for wine tours and tastings. Benziger Family Winery, St. Francis Winery and Vineyards, and Larson Family Winery all welcome dogs. Dutcher Crossing Winery even has its own winery pup, Dutchess.