The first time I visited Napa was just after I graduated from college. The biggest lessons I learned from that trip is that Napa can be hilly and locals drive like they are in the Monaco Grand Prix. For me at least, wine+hills+F1 hopefuls= not the most relaxing tasting experience. Here, I hope to go give you some pointers on how to have a more enjoyable trip to Napa than I did.
I strongly recommend booking a tour to get the best out of your Napa experience. I put together this list of the best Napa wine tour options to help you: from budget-friendly to Instagram worthy experiences. I also try to tailor tours for beginners and experienced tasters.
(Note: Within the industry generally tasting fees are not included in tour prices)
Before we get into the thick of it, I wanted to go over some of the jargon you may run into when checking out some of the links below. Firstly, wineries can offer winery tours and tastings. A “winery tour” at an individual winery includes an in-depth tour of the facility (production, caves, barrel room…and tasting) and takes about 1-2 hrs to complete. A “winery tasting” is where you go into the tasting room and pay a nominal fee to taste the wines being poured. It could be possible to book a “winery tour” that consists of entirely wine tastings. Depending on the experience you are looking for it can be a point of confusion. If it is unclear, just ask the tour company and they should be able to help clarify. Now on to the fun part…
Best Customizable Tour Options
- Beginners- If you are thinking of going with a group Noble Wine Tours offers a rate by car not the person. They currently have luxury vehicles in their fleet that hold anywhere from 6-13 people comfortably. There is a minimum of 6 hr reservation and the itineraries are completely customizable. If you have a group of 6 you could be looking at around 85$ per person for a day of personalized wine tasting.
- Experienced Tasters- Even as an experienced taster you get the same perks and rates on transportation but if you may end up paying higher tasting/winery tour fees depending on the itinerary you choose. Don’t fret if you have more than 6 people in your group they have different rates for larger vehicles. I recommend reaching out to them for additional support if you are interested. The staff incredibly responsive and fun to work with, they have an incredible array of options to choose from.
Best Packaged Tour Options
- Platypus Wine Tours offers both Join-In and Private wine tour options. Customer reviews indicate that people love the conviviality and atmosphere. At 110$ per person with a picnic lunch included the price, Platypus delivers an entertaining and approachable first trip. This group specializes in making everyone feel welcome and comfortable in a what can be an overwhelming and technical environment.
- Experienced Tasters-
- The Bottle Blending Experience at Judd’s Hill Winery will add a new dimension to wine appreciation. They offer the opportunity to create your very own Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot) all grapes are sourced from the Napa AVA. This experience will better help you to understand the role of each grape in the blend and help develop your palate.
- As an additional note, there are several wineries in the area offering a similar blending experience. Depending on your style preference they run from fun-and-casual to educational and intense. Most of these are “up valley” so technically in St. Helena.
- Conn Creek: Their package is priced at $125, includes barrel tastings and some education on blending 8711 Silverado Trail, St. Helena, (800) 793-7960Franciscan Winery: Their package is priced at $50 for an hour-long blending class. 1178 Galleron Road (at Highway 29), St. Helena, (707) 967-3830.Joseph Phelps Vineyards: This would be your most intensive and immersive blending experience. They currently off 5 different classes all at $100/class. 200 Taplin Road, St. Helena, (707) 963-2745.Judd’s Hill Winery: Prices vary per size of group you would need to contact the winery for a price point. As an added plus, you will get to take home a couple of bottles of your award-winning blend. They also offer a mail order blending kit. 2332 Silverado Trail, Napa, (707) 255-2332.Raymond Vineyards: This winery offers daily classes at $100/ person, and reservations required. 849 Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena, (707) 963-3141.
Bonus: The Most Instagram Worthy
- Napa Wine Trolley
- If you don’t have a larger group a pre-planned package may be a more economical choice. The Napa Wine Trolley offers the unique experience of wine tasting from an open-air trolley car. I recommend the Up Valley Winery Tour for a couple reasons: A visit to the Castello di Amorose is included in the ticket price and the tour typically includes tasting at some of the most iconic Napa wineries (Charles Krug, Markham Vineyards, Franciscan Estates, and Berringer)
- Napa Wine Train
- You are going to want to break out the fedora and polish up on your Jay Gatsby impression for this experience. This is truly one of the most luxurious ways to see Napa. They have several themed cars all circa 1915, that evoke the glamour of the roaring 20s. If you are a foodie this may be the best option for you. They intermix winery tours with perfectly paired gourmet food to make an all-around gustative experience. As an added bonus for those of you looking for a more family-friendly way to see Napa, they offer a Santa Train. Think Polar Express plus vineyards and you’ll be pretty close to this magical Napa experience.
- Wine and Ballon Tour
- There are several companies offering a unique 1000 ft view of Napa combined with the opportunity to sample some of the best wines the area has to offer. Napa Valley Balloons offers the Classic Ballor Ride experience, this consists of a 1-hour balloon ride followed by breakfast at Domain Chandon for 239$ per person. Platypus Wine tours and Napa Valley Balloon Inc have a paired up to offer the morning balloon and bubbly followed by a classic join in winery tour of Napa for 349$. The second option is a full day of wine adventuring but be prepared to have a once in a lifetime Napa experience. This is a full day of food, wine balloons, and fun.
I hope you found this short summary helpful in deciding on how to approach the tours and experiences Napa has to offer. There truly is a tour for everyone, from seasoned wine traveler to a newbie- Napa has a so much to offer and a gang of helpful enthusiastic professionals to help create your ideal trip. I know that some of you may be looking to rent and drive yourself. While this may be one of the most budget-friendly options, you should be aware that the traffic can be LAish on a bad day and the local police have been known to write a ticket or two for those who over-imbibed. On some weekends it must be like shooting fish in a barrel, don’t be the fish.