There are a number of ways to visit Napa Valley. Some want to find smaller name wineries that others haven’t heard of yet. Others simply want to drink good wine, in a nice atmosphere on vacation.
Here are our top 10 wineries to visit in Napa Valley in order to get a sense of history in Napa Valley.
Without a doubt, the biggest household name in American wine. Robert Mondavi quite famously went through a split with his brother and family over the ownership and direction of Charles Krug, that split caused him to start his own winery.
Unlike almost everyone else in Napa at the time, he focused singularly on the quality of what he was producing.
Over the years, Mondavi has come to mean something entirely different, but for many Mondavi still accounts for the first bottle of wine over $10 that they’ll ever try. It was also the first publicly traded wine company in America.
If you order a Merlot, or Cabernet by name in America, it’s because that’s how Robert Mondavi thought wines should be labeled.
Now owned by Francis Ford Coppola, Inglenook was one of the first wineries built in Napa Valley. Like many others, there have been some good times and bad times, especially around Prohibition.
It’s worth a visit for both the Coppola’s personal collection of artifacts, like an Oscar and an Emmy, but also because the winery has a small restaurant on site, a small pool for the kids to race toy sailboats and you can also see one of the first houses built in Napa Valley.
Benessere isn’t a household name, but it should be. These are some of the oldest vines in Napa Valley, especially the Sangiovese. If you’re familiar with 2 Buck Chuck, or Charles Shaw at Trader Joe’s, this is the original property.
The site went through some tough times in the 80’s and the property and trademarks were sold off in parts.
The brand name was bought by a bulk wine company, now sold exclusively at Trader Joe’s, only to see the winery rise again. Benessere in many ways is the next generation of Napa Valley success stories.
4. Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena pulled off perhaps the biggest feat in the history of California wine. In the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976, Chateau Montelena won the Chardonnay competition over its rivals from both Napa, but more importantly, Bordeaux.
Opened in the 1880’s by a Gold Rush millionaire, Chateau Montelena gives visitors the chance to see how the valley has changed over the 40 years since the judgment of Paris tasting.
From free tastings then, to $50 tastings in many spots today, Chateau Montelena has catalogued it all over the years.
Venge is fun to visit for a look into what a multi-generational winemaking family looks like in Napa Valley. This is perhaps the beginning of that class of winemaker in California, something that’s been around in France for generations now.
Nils Venge is famous in the industry for producing Napa’s first 100 point wine. His son Kirk is now a successful winemaker in his own right, perhaps the industry’s favorite winemaker under 50 in the valley today.
Vine age perhaps trumps all others in terms of the quality of wine. Canard boasts some of the best Zinfandel in Napa Valley because their Zinfandel vines are now over 120 years old.
A chance to sit down with the others inevitably leads to stories about when Robert Mondavi used to come up and say hello.
Normally people get to Sterling because of the aerial gondola ride. It’s really one of the most unique looks at Napa Valley. Gorgeous and kid friendly, there’s a certain Disneyland for adults vibe here.
Given that Sterling represents big soda’s first foray into the wine trade, as well as, their first exit, Sterling shows how hard the industry can be for those who aren’t accustomed to it.
8. Alpha Omega
Alpha Omega is in one of the great locations in the valley, kitty corner to Robert Mondavi and right along the historic Highway 29.
But, until this winery moved in, the space had gone through multiple iterations of wineries, none able to make a name for themselves. With a European winemaking team and one of the most comfortable patios in the valley to taste
9. Freemark Abbey
Opened in 1894, Freemark Abbey was perhaps the first women owned winery in California. The general lack of female ownership and female winemakers is an issue in the industry today, so Freemark Abbey offers an example.
An entry on the National Register of Historic Places, Beringer also considers itself the longest running winery in Napa Valley with a history dating to the 1870’s. Having survived Prohibition, Beringer was the first winery in Napa to open their doors to the public after Prohibition ended.
There’s a lot of different ways to see Napa. If you want to see the true history of Napa Valley though, these are the wineries to visit.
From A-Z you’ll see the founding of the valley, the struggle around Prohibition, the success after the tasting of Paris and finally, the world renowned wine region that Napa Valley has become today.
What’s next on the horizon for Napa?
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