Over 400. That’s the answer to the question of how many wineries there are in Napa, California. That doesn’t even take into account neighboring Sonoma. That means that if you visited 10 wineries on every trip you took to Napa, then you’d just have to visit 40 times to see all 400. So how do you know which wineries to visit in Napa and Sonoma when there are well over 500? Well some of it is a question of taste. However, if you’re like me, then a wine tasting trip is about more than just wine, but the experience itself. So if you’re looking for a more unique, yet classy wine tasting experience in Napa and Sonoma, I’ve got you covered with the following wineries.
J Winery and I are on a first-name basis with the number of times I’ve picked up a bottle of their bubbles at the store or walked into J Winery’s tasting room. While their tasting room in Sonoma County is classy in and of itself, J Winery’s Bubble Room is where the magic happens. Open Thursday through Sunday, the Bubble Room features multiple seatings a day for their 3-course food and wine pairing. The exclusive tasting takes guests on something of a boozy journey of the senses, featuring rare library wines, small-production wines, and of course my favorite, bubbles. Make sure you contact J Winery ahead of time to make your reservation. It doesn’t necessarily replace a meal, but makes for a nice light lunch or midday snack break before a big dinner in nearby Healdsburg. The food and wine pairing is $75 per person, but $60 for Club J members.
Dry Creek Vineyard
“You know Morgan Freeman drank this wine,” I often turn to my neighboring wine drinkers to say whenever I’m in the tasting room at Dry Creek Vineyard. That’s because Dry Creek Vineyard has been the official wine of the Screen Actors Guild Awards for over a decade. But you don’t need your favorite celebs to tell you about it, when you can experience Dry Creek Vineyard for yourself. Located in Sonoma, just outside of Healdsburg, Dry Creek Vineyard has a number of new tasting experiences, including “Meritage: The Art of the Blend,” which makes guests into something of a winemaker. Visitors are taken into the cellar for a private tasting experience, in which they get a hands-on take of the world-renowned Bordeaux-style blend, measuring and tasting the five noble red grape varietals to get the right blend. The experience is $45, taking place only on weekends with reservations being required.
Now we head to the Napa Valley to Chandon, which is something of a destination winery that you could easily spend the entire day at, be it enjoying a bottle of wine on the terrace, treating your better half to dinner at étoile Restaurant (Napa’s only fine dining restaurant within a winery), or walking the grounds of the property. There are several different tastings and tours, although the étoile Prestige Tour & Tasting is the most all-encompassing. It gives you a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery, where guests learn that Domaine Chandon became the first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the U.S. It ends with guests being lead through the prestige étoile tier, finishing with a taste of the étoile Tête de Cuvée, the pride and joy of Chandon’s sparkling wines. The tour and tasting is $40 and is offered daily at 10:30 a.m.
Viewfinder Tip: Exercise caution and hire a drive for a day of wine tasting.
Food and wine pairings were relatively foreign to me before moving to California. I mean how much can wine actually enhance the taste of food? Evidently, a lot, judging from how much I now cook with wine and find myself diligently looking at wine labels to read what they pair well with. At Napa’s Vineyard 29, they have a couple different wine and food pairing experiences, all of which require reservations. My first visit to Vineyard 29 had me in the cellar, first trying several of their wines by themselves, before then having freshly-prepared items paired with the same wines, each one complementing the food. Their latest tasting experience, “Essentials Tastings,” is even more hands-on, beginning out in the vineyard with winemaker Keith Emerson, before continuing on to the tasting, each of which includes a seasonal food pairing.
I did a double-take upon walking into Cliff Lede’s tasting room, nearly walking out, thinking that I must have walked into a dive bar when I heard the sound of Led Zeppelin jamming overhead. That’s where the dive bar comparisons end. Cliff Lede is unique in that each of their vineyard blocks are named after classic rock songs, a theme you see (and hear) throughout the winery, from rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia dotting the walls, to wines named after rock songs, to the VIP members-only tasting room, Backstage (and yes, you actually get a backstage pass). To get this members-only access, visitors just have to sign up for Cliff Lede’s wine club (no cost to join), and then book an appointment. Once backstage, guests have access to food and wine pairings, most of which aren’t available in the public tasting area. Access to the Backstage starts at $60, but goes up from there for more customized tastings and older vintages.
What have been your favorite wine tasting experiences?