With May 25th being National Wine Day, we thought what better way to celebrate than to compile our favorite wineries in Napa Valley to visit. California, of course, is a renowned destination for wine lovers, and the middle of the harvest season is an especially exciting time to be in the Golden State. From the end of August to the beginning of October, the grape vines are ripe with fruit, and wineries throughout the region are bustling with activity. So read through this thoughtful guide, and when you’re done, consider finding one of this area’s gorgeous Napa Valley rentals for your own slice of paradise.

Napa Valley Wineries’ History

Sommelier tasting different sorts of wine at table indoors.

Before we share the Napa wineries that fall on our shortlist of favorites, allow us to give you a little backstory on the moment California wines obtained international recognition at the Paris Tasting of 1976.

  • Before the 1970s, the booming wine industry primarily revolved around French wines.
  • Several Americans saw potential in Californian wine, but most international wine experts doubted its excellence. As stated in a 1976 Time feature, a formal wine-tasting contest was held in Paris, moderated by nine French judges.
  • Four white blends from Burgundy went head to head with six white blends from California, while six Cabernet Sauvignons from California were put to the test against four red blends from Bordeaux.

The French judges tried their hardest to differentiate Californian wine from French wine during the blind tasting. After careful deliberation, the results shocked the masses. The leading white blend was a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena in Napa. The three runner-ups were a 1973 French Meursault-Charmes; a 1974 Chalone from Monterey County, California; and a 1973 white blend from Napa’s Spring Mountain. To add to California’s credibility, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Cellars in Napa was also awarded the top red blend at the contest.

By the end of the Paris Tasting of 1976, four winning wines selected by the judges were from California — with the leading red and white blends originating from Napa Valley. All the doubters were put to silence, and this changed the game completely.

The 5 Best Wineries in Napa

Since the Paris Tasting of 1976, word has continued to spread, and people from all over the globe have aspired to come to Napa to taste the rich flavors of California. Today, there are over 400 wineries in the area, making it quite a challenge to decide where to start. Here are our top recommendations for wineries in Napa it would be a crime to miss.

1. Chateau Montelena Winery

Three people clinking glasses together with white wine.

  • Starting with the home of the internationally recognized 1973 Californian Chardonnay, you’ll find the grand estate of Chateau Montelena near some of our favorite Calistoga rentals.
  • This winery was also featured in the Hollywood film Bottle Shock, depicting the story behind the blind taste test of 1976.

Montelena offers a variety of wine tastings and tours ranging from $45 to $95 per person. Because of the winery’s increasing popularity, reservations in advance are highly encouraged. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by a stone castle covered in greenery, a Chinese garden by Jade Lake, and the chateau’s interior immaculate as ever while preserving its old-school charm.

Pro Traveler Tip: Tastings fill up quickly and are held at different intervals; therefore, planning ahead is a good idea. Get your tickets booked online and be sure to taste the wines you’re interested in. The Library Tasting is one of the best.

2. Grgich Hills Estate

Red wine in a glass next to a cheese plate.

  • If Chateau Montelena is all booked up, this second alternative is just as impressive. Let us introduce you to the Grgich Hills Estate, founded by Mike Grgich, the legendary winemaker who crafted the award-winning 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.
  • Following his big win in 1976, Grgich left Chateau Montelena to pursue his dream of owning a winery. He opened the Grgich Hills Cellar just one year later, in 1977, and never looked back.

Grgich continued to make a name for himself in Napa’s rapidly growing wine culture, earning his winery a reputation as the “House of Chardonnay.” Today, you can visit Grgich Hills Estate for tours, wine, cheese tastings, and even grape stomping! You’ll also find recipes to pair with Grgich wine on their website. After almost 50 years in business, you can still feel the passion that lies within Grgich Hills, making it well worth the visit.

Pro Traveler Tip: Wine tastings are held on the estate’s patio and cost $60. We’d suggest adding a cheese plate to your tasting experience for an additional $25. There isn’t anything better than the Grgich Estate Chardonnay with some cheese and crackers.

3. Castello Di Amorosa

A gorgeous scene highlighting the stone work of the Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga.

  • Next on our radar is the magnificent Castello Di Amorosa — translating to Castle of Love — awarded as USA Today’s #1 tasting room nationwide.
  • At first glance, the castle dominates the landscape and makes you feel like you’re staying in a lavish Tuscany rental instead.

Inside the winery, you’ll notice intricate paintings that fill the dining hall’s walls, and you may even be surprised to find out that the castle was built in 1994 rather than hundreds of years ago. Wine tastings start at an affordable price of $60, and children can also explore the castle for $25. Castello was brought to life by Dario Sattui, the grandson of the visionary behind V. Sattui, another well-known winery in Napa. The love for vino has been passed down the Sattui lineage for generations, and any of the wineries owned by this family would be a wonderful place to visit.

Pro Traveler Tip: Splurge for the chocolate upgrade for another $6 and enjoy a chocolate truffle with some of their world-famous Cabernet. Reservations are required and must be made in advance. Get more details here.

4. Francis Ford Coppola Winery

An outdoor table filled with formal trappings and wine glasses near a vineyard.

  • Make sure you head to Francis Ford Coppola Winery, which is located near a nice selection of Geyserville rentals to choose from.
  • Owned by Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola, the winery is decorated with authentic memorabilia, such as his Oscar trophies and props from his most famous films, including Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather. It’s a museum and a winery all in one.

Everything about the property is phenomenal, from Coppola’s personalized gate and the inviting outdoor pool to the beautifully arranged wine selection at the main bar. There, you’ll find exclusive wines from his Director’s Cut and blends by his daughter, Sofia. Coppola loves wine so much that he even owns a second winery an hour away called Inglenook in Rutherford. If you’re fascinated by his personal winery, you can visit Inglenook to experience the restored estate in all its glory.

Pro Traveler Tip: Enjoy wine and bocce ball with you and your guests at the winery. The cost is $50 per person, including wine and access to the estate’s massive outdoor patio. Get reservation details and other options here.

5. Domaine Carneros

The château at daytime.

  • California may have stepped up to the plate against France in the wine department, but we have to give credit where credit is due: France knows how to go all out regarding luxury.
  • This takes us to our fifth Californian winery, Domaine Carneros, which was inspired by the architecture and layout of Château de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France.

This elegant estate resembles a piece of France in California. Reservations are required to experience the beauty of this mansion, and tastings start at $25 per person. You can enjoy a wine tasting with lake views, vineyard views, or inside the château. Domaine Carneros also hosts lavish monthly events for wine club members, such as caviar tastings and a Château Society cruise on a yacht. Talk about getting a taste of living in luxury! Be sure to come hungry, as this winery is one of the few that offers table service.

Pro Traveler Tip: Be warned that if you’re traveling with children, you’ll have to make special accommodations, as anyone under 21 is not allowed into the facility and tastings. And any pet other than a service animal is also not permitted to enter the grounds.

Where to Stay

The sun setting on rolling hills covered in vineyards.

Napa vacation rentals offer some of the very best experiences in California, with a range of budget selections and chateaus in the middle of grape country with expansive views. However, during the harvest season, booking your accommodations well in advance is essential, as this is a popular time to visit.

While you may be tempted to stay in the heart of Napa, we’d encourage you to explore some other towns around the valley:

  • Check out Yountville rentals for some luxurious villas and gorgeous single-family homes. This community has a ton to offer, including some of the best restaurants in the area.
  • Calistoga rentals are some of the more budget-friendly choices in the area, offering lovely apartments and lofts as well as some cute boutique hotels. For a couple looking for romance, Calistoga is a great option.
  • And finally, for the large family traveling to this beautiful valley, we’d suggest considering Oakville rentals, which is full of spacious homes big enough to house even the largest of families. There are also some great kid-friendly dining options in the area.

What to Eat

Vintage wine dinner for two.

Napa Valley is home to some of the best restaurants in the country, with a focus on fresh, local ingredients and farm-to-table cuisine. During harvest, many restaurants offer special menus featuring seasonal produce and wine pairings. Some popular options include The French Laundry, Auberge du Soleil, and The Restaurant at Meadowood.

If you’re looking for a more casual dining experience, check out the Oxbow Public Market, which features a variety of vendors selling everything from artisanal cheese to handmade pasta. For a sweet treat, visit Anette’s Chocolate Factory, which offers tours and tastings of its decadent chocolates.

Getting Around

Hands holding red grapes.

While it’s possible to drive around Napa Valley, hiring a car service or taking a guided tour is highly recommended to ensure that you can fully enjoy the wine tasting without worrying about driving. Some popular car services include Napa Valley Wine Country Tours and Beau Wine Tours.

Enjoy Your Trip to These Napa Vineyards!

Taste some vino and discover the rolling hills of this iconic valley. Whether traveling with loved ones, with a large group, or alone, something appeals to everyone in this gorgeous slice of paradise. Are any wineries calling your name? Plan a trip with VacationRenter!