Where to Taste in Wine Country
With an explosion of new—and newly renovated—wineries and tasting rooms, Wine Country offers even more must-see destinations.
Courtesy of Freemark Abbey
While many great wines get better with age, it’s the new kids on the block that are turning heads these days. Wine Country is booming, with more places to sip and savor wines than ever before. From stunning views to musical soundtracks and delicious bites, these hot spots in Sonoma and Napa Valley offer it all.
If walls could talk, the 130-year-old stone winery at Freemark Abbey would have more than just stories to tell: It would have legends. An extensive renovation has modernized the estate—one of Napa Valley’s original Cabernet houses—and preserved its history.
The winery took root in 1886, when Josephine Tychson built the original redwood winery on the property, becoming the first female winemaker on record to own and operate a winery in California. Her story, along with other winery milestones, is showcased throughout the estate.
In 1949, Freemark Abbey opened one of the first tasting rooms in Napa Valley. Today, that same tasting room is where visitors get a look inside the iconic stone building and enjoy winery exclusives, without needing an appointment.
The winery’s lower level is home to the original Barrel Room and houses the Market Café and Courtyard. Seated tastings boast charming views of the estate, and encourage folks to slow down while sipping wines and munching on cheese and charcuterie plates.
With vintages dating back to the 1960s, the Library at Freemark Abbey is one of the largest and most extensive wine libraries in the United States.
Drink: The 2012 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is filled with red fruit, dark cherry, blueberry, and oak spices.
Buy: Savor a bottle of wine with your meal at Two Birds/One Stone, the on-site restaurant featuring California-inspired yakitori. There’s no corkage fee on your first bottle of Napa and Sonoma County wines.
Do: Take a few moments to learn about Freemark Abbey’s place in Napa Valley’s wine-making history. It’s effortless, thanks to an array of historical photos with easy-to-digest descriptions showcased around the winery. 3022 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena, (800) 963-9698, freemarkabbey.com.
After five years of construction, Davis Estates is shiny and new, but drive by, and you might think the winery has been around for a long time. With a restored 100-year-old barn as inspiration, the estate blends into the hillside it calls home.
As you make your way to the tasting room entrance, the sparkle of the new slowly makes itself known. There’s a quiet fountain in front, and when the doors to the tasting room swing open, the estate shows off its Napa Valley views.
A family-style table handcrafted from monkeypod wood divides the room and points the way to panoramic views of the estate grounds.
Upscale and country chic, the tasting room boasts an assortment of woods used for everything from floors to finishing details, giving the space a relaxed feel.
Davis Estates welcomes guests by reservation only. The Terrace Tasting, hosted by a wine educator, is a seated tasting paired with small bites: Plan on spending a good hour at this tasting.
Drink: The 2013 Davis Estates Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon offers aromas of ripe blackberries and currants, along with tastes of chocolate and cedar.
Buy: The Historic Tour and Tasting allows you to take in the property’s wine caves. You’ll taste flagship wines paired with seasonal delicacies. Proprietor Mike Davis often leads the tour himself.
Do: Sit in a porch swing on the tasting room terrace, but be warned: You will not want to leave. 4060 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, (707) 942-0700, davisestates.com.
La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard
La Crema spent more than three years planning and renovating its new winery estate located in the former home of Saralee and Richard Kunde. Admired for their support of the Russian River Valley’s wine and farming communities, the Kundes’ legacy was carefully preserved during the modernization of the historic barn built in 1900.
Originally used for everything from drying hops to housing hay, horses, and eventually, the Kunde family, the four-story barn makes an impression. So does arriving at La Crema’s new home, where guests are greeted with a glass of Pinot Noir rosé, one of four wines produced from Saralee’s Vineyard, a storied stretch of vines planted by the estate’s former owners.
The entrance feels like the home it once was, but toward the back of the barn, the main tasting bar is a bit more modern, with a veranda that overlooks the vineyards, heritage oaks, and redwoods. No appointment is needed to sip through one of La Crema’s signature tasting flights, which include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or the Best of Both.
The Nine Barrel Tasting, wine and cheese pairings, and a number of other VIP options are available by appointment. Saralee’s Vineyard Tour takes guests through the estate on a golf cart, with a tasting afterward.
Drink: Fermented in oak, the 2013 Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay delivers Meyer lemon, vanilla, and baking spice flavors.
Buy: Grab a picnic basket lunch at the winery, and enjoy it with a glass of wine and a view from anywhere on the scenic estate’s grounds. $75, feeds up to four.
Do: Explore the estate. Richard’s Grove is just a short walk from the barn along a garden path loaded with blooms, butterflies, and a nice mix of shade and sun. Or wander through the vineyards to the estate’s reservoir. 3575 Slusser Rd., Windsor, (707) 525-6200, lacrema.com.
Coming Soon: Lokoya
Twenty years in the making, Lokoya is close to welcoming guests to its new home, a historic 77-acre vineyard and winery estate on Spring Mountain.
Founded in 1995, Lokoya specializes in 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon made with grapes from four high-elevation Napa Valley vineyards on Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, and Diamond Mountain. Made in limited quantities, with as little intervention as possible, the four types of Cabernet Sauvignon are fermented with native yeast and bottled unrefined and unfiltered to reflect the mountain vineyards from which they came.
Lokoya’s renovations began in early 2015. Taking advantage of the original stone winery built on the property in 1970, the redesign adds no new buildings but delivers a new look. Old stained-glass windows that once restricted mountain views have been replaced by new glass windows from Italy that take full advantage of the stunning Napa Valley scenery.
Lokoya’s official opening is slated for November. Tastings are by appointment only, and reservations are now available. 3787 Spring Mountain Rd., St. Helena, (707) 948-1968, lokoya.com.
Best New Tasting Rooms
Jam Cellars, Napa
Channel your inner rock star at Jam Cellars. The tasting room has a state-of-the-art sound system, recording booth, performance space, and fun assortment of music memorabilia.
Bonus: It’s open late.
Don’t forget to: Peruse the record collection, and listen to your favorite tunes while you taste. 1460 First St., Napa, (707) 265-7577, jamcellars.com.
The Wine Thief, Napa
A cooperative tasting room, The Wine Thief showcases boutique and small-batch wines. Ten wineries are featured, and tastings are customized for every guest.
Don’t forget to: Meet the vintner—there’s always one in the tasting room. Don’t be surprised if there’s a winemaker there, too. 708 First St., Napa, (707) 666-2650, thewinethiefnapa.com.
Goosecross Cellars, Yountville
A show-stopping picture window in the new tasting room at Goosecross Cellars opens up to let the outside in, showcasing vineyard views and the Mayacamas Mountains. Goosecross is usually reservation only but can sometimes accommodate same-day appointments.
Don’t forget to: Look up. The tasting room’s light-colored high ceiling, dark wood trusses, and custom three-ringed chandelier compete with the vineyard view for attention. 1119 State Ln., Yountville, (707) 944-1986, goosecross.com.
Durant and Booth, Oakville
Drawing inspiration from Napa Valley pioneers, Durant and Booth pours single varietals alongside fun blends of less common wines like Roussanne and Ribolla Gialla in a restored historic Victorian.
Don’t forget to: Admire history. A replica of the first phone in town—from neighboring Oakville Grocery—is showcased alongside other curious artifacts in the tasting salon. 7856 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville, (707) 947-3180, durantandbooth.com.
Trujillo wines, St. Helena
The tasting room may be new, but Michael Trujillo has been making wine in Napa Valley for over 30 years. Casual and dog-friendly, the tasting room’s large, open floor plan has a down-to-earth feel.
Don’t forget to: Grab a snack at the Clif Family Bruschetteria food truck parked outside of neighboring tasting room Velo Vino. 661 Main St., St. Helena, (707) 965-2943, trujillowines.com.
Yao Family Wines, St. Helena
NBA All-Star Yao Ming has moved from making a name for himself on the basketball court to making wine. Walking distance from downtown, Yao Family Wines’ tasting room is decorated with photographs and memorabilia from Ming’s basketball career.
Don’t forget to: Grab a bite at neighboring Gott’s Roadside restaurant after tasting. 929 Main St., St. Helena, (707) 968-5874, yaofamilywines.com.
Trinchero Napa Valley, St. Helena
The opening of the rustic-style tasting room marks the end of more than 10 years of development and construction at Trinchero Napa Valley. The property also boasts a winery, a hospitality center, wine caves, and a bocce court.
Don’t forget to: Take your glass to the outdoor veranda complete with a fire pit. 3070 N. St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena, (707) 963-1160, trincheronapavalley.com.