California's Napa Valley produces some of the world's best wine, on par with centuries-old vineyards in warm Mediterranean regions. Known for its wine, the area is also home to famous Michelin starred restaurants, and local gourmet food due to the county's excellent growing conditions. Napa Valley is easily reached via major cities Sacramento and San Francisco.
With about 800 square miles of land in Napa County and over 400 different wineries within, it can be hard to know where to start, especially if you're new to the area. Here are 10 of the best Napa vineyards for first-time visitors. Don't worry if you're not a wine connoisseur at these wineries, they won't judge you for not telling your oak notes from your florals.
10 Beaulieu Vineyard, Rutherford
Beaulieu Vineyard is one of California's oldest wineries, having opened its doors in 1900. When the de Latour family bought the vineyard, they established their own unique winemaking process that is still in practice today.
Beaulieu offers a number of tasting experiences. Visitors can opt to taste indoor at the bar or on the outdoor patio, with views of the vast expanse of grape fields. Cabernet fans will especially enjoy Beaulieu's famous cabernet sauvignon varieties.
9 Castello Di Amorosa, Calistoga
If you wanted to go to a European vineyard but couldn't quite make it, Castello di Amorosa is for you. Dario Sattui, owner of the vineyard, completed this replica of a medieval Tuscan castle in 2007 with all the features of a 13th-century fortress, including an operating drawbridge, dungeon, and hidden chambers.
But the castle's best features are undoubtedly its wine cellar and tasting rooms, where guests can taste some of Napa's best Italian-inspired wines. You can choose to do a wine and chocolate or cheese pairing experience, or even bring the kids along (grape juice provided).
8 Far Niente, Oakville
A product of John Benson's fortune in the California Gold Rush, Far Niente was founded in 1885. Above ground is a massive estate with impeccably landscaped gardens, while underneath is an intricate system of caves where the wine is stored and aged at the perfect temperature.
Both red and white wine fans will enjoy Far Niente's tastings. They're famous for their cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, as well as the cave collection, for which you can book an exclusive tasting and tour.
7 Beringer, St. Helena
With a history of over 144 years, Beringer Vineyards is California's oldest operating winery, and they've had a lot of time to perfect their wines. Beringer's website claims to be the most awarded American winery, having received a number of awards from Vinous, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine Spectator, among others.
You really can't go wrong with a tasting and tour at Beringer. With its beautiful Victorian estate and patio, you'll have the most idyllic experience tasting some of their best wines. You can also take the underground tour of Beringer's hand dug tunnels.
6 Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville
Robert Mondavi's winemaking process revolutionized modern wine culture and gave way to some unique and innovative new practices. Founded in 1966, Robert Mondavi Winery represents the modern attitude towards the growing, fermenting, and aging process.
To Kalon vineyards, where the winery grows its grapes, has achieved worldwide fame for its cabernet sauvignon. It also grows famed sauvignon blanc grapes, from which comes Mondavi's signature Fumé Blanc wine. If you still can't get enough, book the gourmet picnic lunch with your tasting.
5 Silver Oak, Oakville
Silver Oak winery was established in 1972 with the exclusive purpose of creating cabernet sauvignon. Formed by friends Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer, the property remains in the Duncan family to this day. They still produce only cabernet sauvignon, aged in American White Oak barrels for their signature vintage flavor.
You can take Silver Oak's tour of the winemaking process in their cellar, or take a tour of both Silver Oak and Twomey, Silver Oak's sister winery. Alternatively, Silver Oak does offer walk-in tastings if you forgot to book but are crazy about cabernet.
4 Inglenook, Rutherford
Founded in the 1870s, Inglenook Winery was well established as one of America's best when Francis Ford Coppola bought it with the fortune made from The Godfather films. It turns out Coppola not only creates brilliant films but outstanding wines as well. The Inglenook name is as celebrated now as it was in the Victorian era.
Your experience could be as simple as a tasting in the parlor, or as extravagant as a private event, but wine enthusiasts should take the Inglenook Experience, a guided tour of the vineyards with a tasting in one of its caves.
3 Chateau Montelena, Calistoga
For an American wine that impresses even the French, head to Chateau Montelena. In 1976, at the Judgement of Paris wine tasting, an impressive list of established wine connoisseurs awarded Chateau Montelena's chardonnay the winner, surprising all the French judges on the panel.
You can still get Chateau Montelena's award-winning chardonnay on their tastings and tours, or by the bottle for those a little more indulgent. They offer a variety of experiences but make sure to take advantage of those that include tours of the estate, its cellar, and the elaborate Chinese gardens on the property.
2 Stag's Leap, Napa
Stag's Leap owes its name to a native Wappo legend about a stag leaping to evade hunters, and lots of legends regarding the property and its wine ensued. A favorite among Hollywood stars during the mid-20th century, Stag's Leap has been popular since its founding in the 1880s.
Stag's Leap produces a wide variety of wines, but try the 90+ point cabernet sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot. You won't find a more romantic winery, so honeymooners take note and enjoy the scenery and estate as much as the wine.
1 Hall Napa Valley, St. Helena
Hall Napa Valley is perhaps the most modern of Napa's most famous wineries. Here, the grapes are all sustainably grown, the estate's modern architecture is stunning, and owner Kathryn Walt Hall's impressive contemporary art collection is on display for you to admire while sipping Hall's finest.
Hall, who grew up on a vineyard and later became the U.S. ambassador to Austria, bought the St. Helena property to revive her family's winemaking techniques against a contemporary backdrop. Stroll the organic gardens and revel in the modern engineering of the production facilities on a tour, or relax in the bar for a tasting.