With so many aromas and varietals always coming from the Napa Valley region, there really isn’t a bad time for a visit. But seeing as how the sweet smell of freshly pressed grapes is getting more fragrant and lines of visitors at area vineyards are getting less lengthy, late summer/early fall makes for the perfect time to come in for a closer whiff. We toast to seven wineries that are providing unforgettable experiences right now.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Napa
There’s an inviting warmth to the Robert Sinskey experience, even before you taste your first glass of pinot noir from the organic grapes—perhaps it’s the hearth-style oven that anchors the tasting room. Gardeners and chefs will enjoy the Farm to Table Tour ($75), which has you ducking under fig branches and stepping through a pumpkin patch as you walk along the organic garden. Wind through the volcanic rock caves before you stop on the cozy patio, where you’ll find bountiful plates of salumi, housemade jam, Marcona almonds and plenty of stellar wines.
Schramsberg Vineyards, Calistoga
Reservations are essential if you want to explore this pioneering sparkling-wine house with the oldest wine caves in Napa Valley. These spooky caverns built next to a quaint Victorian house were hand-dug into the mountain by Chinese laborers in the mid-1800s. Along the tour ($45), you might see winery workers placing the 2.7 million individual bottles of sparkling wine into the caves by hand as they have for nearly 150 years. Bubbly lovers will be in heaven sipping the Blanc de Noirs that’s often mistaken for French Champagne; others will be impressed by Schramsberg’s balanced J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon.
You know there has to be something magnificent on the inside when you’re greeted with a brazier full of flames and soaring sandstone columns topped with horses. Owner Darioush Khaledi’s magnificent winery is inspired by the architecture and culture of the ancient Persian city of Persepolis. It’s an artful marriage of ancient and modern inside—not to mention a boutique filled with Fornasetti and Missoni Home. The newest experience takes you into Khaledi’s private cellar gardens for vino, lunch and a chat with a raconteuse who happens to be one of world’s leading wine historians.
Raymond Vineyards, Saint Helena
Take a walk on the wild side in this historic winery that’s been transformed by new owners Jean-Charles Boisset and his wife, Gina Gallo. The first tasting room looks straight out of a luxury home catalog. But stroll into the Crystal Cellar and prepare yourself for Parisian chic—this room is glammed up with Baccarat chandeliers, gleaming stainless tanks and mannequins hanging from the ceiling on trapeze swings. For the ultimate experience, don a modern jumpsuit and be a winemaker for a day ($100). You’ll take home a bottle of your own red wine blend with a custom label. Dog lovers will want to stop into Frenchie, the über-canine-friendly winery on the same site, with a “doggie wine bar” (it’s just water) and portraits of Gallo’s French bulldogs dressed as Marie Antoinette and George Washington.
Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga
Imagine a 13th-century Tuscan castle — from tower to dungeon — and you’ll have a good idea of what Castello di Amorosa is all about. Dario Sattui (of V. Sattui Winery fame) spent about $36 million and 14 years planting Italian varietals and importing every stone, nail and furnishing to complete his dream winery, which was featured in the movie Bedtime Stories. You’ll feel as if you’re touring a vineyard in the rolling hills of Tuscany, yet you’re in the heart of California’s Wine Country. Trying to expand your cellar? Spring for the Wine Aficionado tour, where you’ll taste high-end reserve wines and, of course, check out the castle.
Medlock Ames, Healdsburg
This is as delightfully granola as it gets with farm tours, all-organic vineyards and sustainable practices at this mostly solar-powered winery. After all, getting back to the land is what a trip to Sonoma is all about. The low-key Bell Mountain Ranch tour ($45) takes you through key portions of the cabernet sauvignon and merlot vineyards, the sprawling gardens where you might snag a late-season raspberry or cherry tomato off the vine and the sun-drenched production facility. Mosey over to the clean-lined winery around 4:30 p.m. to see the indie-style art exhibit capturing the grounds through the year. You’ll be in the right place when the Alexander Valley Bar opens at 5, serving garden-fresh libations like the ginger-thyme martini.
Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, Yountville
Set in a stone house at the edge of the commercial strip in the deliciously tony enclave of Yountville, Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley is a mash-up of a wine-tasting collective and art gallery. Locals love it for its relaxed service style and the fact that you can taste wines from 19 boutique labels led by star winemakers like Aaron Pott and Jeff Ames ($15 to $35 a flight) in a lovely garden filled with sculptures of dancing sheep, a bust of Einstein and gnarled olive trees. Stop here before heading off to dinner at one of the town’s renowned restaurants run by famed chefs Thomas Keller, Richard Reddington, Michael Chiarello or Perry Hoffman.
Photos Courtesy of Robert Sinskey Vineyard, Kelly Fleming Wines, Tina Wong, The Wandering Eater and Medlock Ames Winery