Some of the best food and wine in Napa can't be found at restaurants, but at wineries. You’ll have to reserve ahead, but these splurge-worthy tours offer gastronomic experiences that go far beyond the swirl, sip, and spit routine you’ll find at most tasting rooms. Some programs offer a meal while others serve simple bites to accompany a flight of wines, but either way, it makes for a very memorable wine country experience.
Palmaz Vineyards is located close to downtown Napa, in the Coombsville region. Family run with a cave dug into the mountain, the winery offers superb views of the vineyards and is a blend of super high tech and artful elegance. The Private Tour & Tasting ($80) begins with a walk through the cave with an ambassador who explains how the wines are made using state-of-the-art gravity-flow winemaking methods and an introduction to the proprietary Fermentation Intelligence Logic Control System, which tracks the wine at a molecular level, allowing for a greater level of precision, such as adjusting temperatures in different parts of the tanks.
Following the tour, guests have a guided tasting with five wines, each paired with a small hors d’oeuvre such as a smoked salmon canapé paired with Napa Valley chardonnay “Amalia,” smoked magret duck breast with crème cheese; fig preserves, and chives paired with cabernet sauvignon; and a shortbread cookie with goat cheese, almond, and dried mango with muscat canelli “Florencia.”
Del Dotto Vineyards
Del Dotto has vineyards in many regions of Napa where they produce cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, sangiovese, and sauvignon blanc. They also have vineyards on the Sonoma coast where they produce pinot noir, chardonnay, and limited amounts of syrah and sauvignon blanc.
The winery has two locations open to the public, and their premier tasting, Delicacies by Del Dotto program ($95) takes place at their St. Helena Estate Winery & Caves location. The tasting experience begins in the caves with a barrel tasting of four wines followed by five luxurious bites, each paired with wine. The food is prepared by executive chef Joshua Schwartz, whose pedigree includes stints at The French Laundry, Bouchon, and Per Se. While just nibbles, the menu typically includes a mini Maine lobster roll, a foie gras terrine, and American Wagyu beef truffle slider paired with a range of wines from a Sonoma sparkling wine to chardonnay, cabernet, and pinot noir.
B.Cellars makes 18 different wines in all but has very small production, about 9,000 cases per year, and 80% is sold direct to consumers. Their Napa Valley facility was built specifically to give people the experience of wine paired with food.
The Chef’s Garden Pairing ($135) is the most extensive experience and allows guests to dine in the garden overlooking the vineyards. The two-hour journey, available daily at 11 am, begins with a brief tour hosted by a wine guide and educator to see the winemaking facility as well as the olive grove, beehives, and chickens on the property. Food is served family style at a communal table with five wines and four courses crafted from ingredients sourced from local farms and growers, as well as the farmers' market. The meal generally starts with a flatbread from the wood-burning oven, then a salad with local cheese and preserves, followed by house-made pasta, then a meat entrée that’s elegantly prepared with vegetables from the garden and ending with local cheeses and handmade chocolates. Wines served might include a Barrel Select chardonnay, Juliana sauvignon blanc, and St. Helena cabernet sauvignon.
Franciscan Estate Winery
Franciscan is known for nuanced and lush cabernet sauvignon and merlot as well as one of the first meritage blends in Napa, Magnificat. The winery, which opened in 1973, also produces an excellent wild yeast-fermented chardonnay called Cuvée Sauvage.
Every Friday Franciscan Estate gives guests the VIP experience at a luxurious three course Reserve Lunch ($135). The meal is served in an elegant dining room, hosted by a wine educator and prepared by the winery chef. Chef Brett Young prepares dishes such as potato gnocchi with pancetta, black trumpet mushroom, and butternut squash; beef rib rye and short rib with grits, vegetable ragout, and sauce au poivre; or lobster Caesar salad, each expertly paired with wine.
Long Meadow Ranch
Long Meadow Ranch is a rare endeavor in Napa. The Hall family raises cattle and lamb, farms organically, makes olive oil, and keeps bees in addition to making fine Bordelais-style wines from grapes grown at Mayacamas, Rutherford, and Anderson Valley.
Their premier tasting is the Chef’s Table ($135), which takes place at an outdoor garden table or indoors at the Hospitality House at 12:30 pm for lunch and 6 pm for dinner, lasting 2 hours. The estate chef sets the menu based on what has been freshly harvested from the farm and often features either their grass-fed beef or lamb. The four-course menu might start with warm local asparagus soup with an olive-oil poached egg, morel mushrooms, and Meyer lemon served with a Rutherford sauvignon blanc, and an entrée such as pastured lamb loin with celery root, spiced red cabbage, and rosemary-kumquat marmalade, served with a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco–based food and travel writer and cookbook author. She has written for Shermans Travel, Frommer’s, Recipe.com and Epicurious, as well as 7×7, Cheers and Gastronomica magazines. Follow her @cookingwithamy