Napa Valley is known worldwide for its wealth of magnificent wineries. But how did it get that way? When you visit these favorite pioneer tasting rooms, you’ll get a delicious taste of why – these are some of the wineries that put this incredible region on the map.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards
It’s secluded in the Spring Valley area, and owned by the man who built Souverain Winery in the 1960’s. That would be Joseph Phelps, who in 1973 bought his own 600-acre property and built this bucolic jewel graced with elegant hillside terraces overlooking the vineyards. As one of the first Napa vineyards to embrace a green approach, the property adopted entirely sustainable vineyard practices in the early 1980s, and now is gradually but steadily employing biodynamic farming. Phelps still personally oversees and manages his winery, producing Insignia, Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and many other premium wines. The must-do is the terrace tasting, limited to six guests per party, in a casual, self-paced tasting of six flagship wines.
200 Taplin Rd., Saint Helena, 707-967-9153, jpvwines.com.
Perched 300 feet above Calistoga, Sterling Vineyards features the only aerial tram in Napa Valley, offering stunning views as visitors ride up to the winery. Upon disembarking, guests are greeted with a glass of wine to enjoy while they stroll through art galleries, overlooks, and elevated walkways allow an insider’s look at the winemaking process from grape to glass. Along the way, motion-activated flat-screen televisions provide detailed explanations, for a leisurely, self-paced tour. Yet for all its high tech amenities, the winery is steeped in history. Built in 1964, the architecture was modeled after that of the Greek island of Mykonos, where Sterling founder Peter Newton once lived. The winery’s towers house eight bells from London’s Church of St. Dunstans-in-the-East, originally founded in the 10th century, destroyed by fire in 1666, rebuilt, then destroyed again during the bombing of WWII. Today, the rich tolling of these ancient bells sounds down through the valley on the quarter hour. Be sure to try the Merlot – in 1969, Sterling produced California’s first-ever vintage dated Merlot.
1111 Dunaweal Ln., Calistoga, 800-726-6136, sterlingvineyards.com.
When you see a giant cast bronze thumb poking out of the earth, you know you’re not at any ordinary winery. This special place captures the spirit of Bacchus: equal parts divine and joyfully down-to-earth, in its pairings of lovely wines and beautiful art and sculptures all throughout. It’s all the dream of founder Jan Shrem, who established this stunning winery in 1983. Construction was completed in 1987, including 20,000 feet of aging caves, sculpture gardens, and galleries displaying some of the world's greatest twentieth-century works of art. For a relaxing visit, purchase some artisan cheese in the Visitor’s Center and enjoy a bottle of your favorite Clos Pegase wine in the picnic area shaded by a 300 year old Oak Tree.
1060 Dunaweal Ln., Calistoga, 707-942-4981, clospegase.com.
The Robert Mondavi Winery
In 1966, this iconic winery’s first harvest was celebrated with the first Blessing of the Grapes ceremony. Now, the brand is renowned world wide. This is one of the first wineries to offer tastings and tours, expanding into rich culinary programs and educational curriculums. Tour the Spanish-Mission style buildings, the breathtaking winery production facility and the signature vineyards, either guided or on your own. You can also take in often-scheduled events such as concerts by leading name performers, art exhibits, and theatrical plays.
7801 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville, 707-226-1395, robertmondavi.com.
This estate has its claim to fame by its former names, the Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery and The Rubicon Winery, and its history of founding, first acquired in 1879 by a Finnish Sea Captain Gustave Niebaum for his Inglenook Winery. It is owned by the filmmaker Francis Ford-Coppola who purchased the property in 1975, and who, in 1995, reunited the vineyards to their former expansive estate. Today, the elaborate mansion-style chateau that overlooked its expansive valleys for almost two centuries is once again part of its legendary wine making process. As you prowl the dark, carved wood hallways and the lavish, European style decorated rooms, you’ll breathe history once again.
1991 Saint Helena Hwy., Rutherford, 707-963-9099, inglenook.com.
Tip: Tour history in the comfort and style (and modern green approach) of a Pure Luxury Transportation private limo or Town Car.