Where to Taste in Wine Country
Sip vino at Napa and Sonoma’s newest—and newly renovated—wineries and tasting rooms.
While many great wines get better with age, it’s the new kids on the block that often turn heads these days. Wine Country is booming, with more places to sip and savor than ever before, making it an ideal destination for East Bay residents seeking a fun weekend getaway. From stunning views and musical soundtracks to delicious bites, these hot spots in Sonoma County and Napa Valley offer it all.
If walls could talk, the 130-year-old winery at Freemark Abbey would have more than a few stories to tell. 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.
In 1949, Freemark opened one of the first tasting rooms in Napa Valley. Today, visitors to that same tasting room can enjoy winery exclusives inside an iconic stone building, 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.
Featuring vintages dating back to the 1960s, the library at Freemark Abbey houses one of the largest and most extensive wine collections in the United States. 3022 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena, (800) 963-9698, freemarkabbey.com.
Drink: The 2012 Bootleg Cabernet Sauvignon is filled with notes of black currant, dark chocolate, dark cherry, and oak spices.
Taste: Savor a bottle of wine with your meal at Two Birds/One Stone, the on-site restaurant that features California-inspired yakitori. There’s no corkage fee on your first bottle of Napa and Sonoma County wines.
Do: 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.
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 while. 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.
Upscale and country chic, the tasting room boasts an assortment of wood used for everything from floors to finishing details, giving the space a relaxed feel.
This family-owned winery welcomes guests by reservation only. The Terrace Tasting, hosted by a wine educator, pairs a seated tasting with small bites: Plan on spending at least an hour enjoying. 4060 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, (707) 942-0700, davisestates.com.
Drink: The 2013 Davis Estates Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon offers aromas of ripe blackberries and currants, along with tastes of chocolate and cedar.
Taste: 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.
La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard
La Crema spent more than three years planning and renovating its winery estate located in the former home of Saralee and Richard Kunde, who were admired for their support of the Russian River Valley’s wine and farming communities.
Originally built in 1900, the barn was used for everything from drying hops to housing hay, horses, and eventually, the Kunde family. Guests are greeted with a glass of Pinot Noir rosé, one of four wines produced from Saralee’s Vineyard’s vines planted by the estate’s former owners.
Toward the back of the barn, the main tasting bar is modern, with a veranda that overlooks the vineyards. 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. 3575 Slusser Rd., Windsor, (707) 525-6200, lacrema.com.
Drink: Fermented in oak, the 2013 Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay delivers Meyer lemon, vanilla, and baking spice flavors.
Taste: Snack on local cheeses and meats, as you enjoy a glass of wine and a view of anywhere on the estate.
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.
Last November, Lokoya started 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 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. All are available for tasting at the Lokoya estate by appointment only.
Taking advantage of the original stone winery built on the property in 1970, Lokoya’s redesign added no new buildings but delivers a new look. Stained glass windows that once restricted mountain views have been replaced by glass windows from Italy that take full advantage of the stunning Napa Valley scenery. 3787 Spring Mountain Rd., St. Helena, (707) 948-1968, lokoya.com.
Drink: The 2013 Lokoya Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon boasts a beautiful floral aroma and bold flavors of blueberry, blackberry, and black raspberry.
Taste: The private tasting experience allows you to sample a customized flight of Lokoya’s luxurious Cabernet Sauvignons in an intimate setting. The curated selection features current and library vintages, as well as a gourmet food pairing.
Do: Sip your wine in the cozy tasting salon or out on the terrace, where you can enjoy the breathtaking vistas of the surrounding forests and vineyards.
The 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. Do: 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. It features 10 wineries and customizes tastings for every guest. Do: 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.
Trujillo Wines, St. Helena
The tasting room may be new, but Michael Trujillo has been making wine in Napa Valley for more than 30 years. Casual and dog-friendly, the tasting room’s large, open floor plan has a down-to-earth feel. Do: 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.
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. Do: Take your glass to the outdoor veranda complete with a fire pit. 3070 N. St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena, (707) 963-1160, trincheronapavalley.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. Just a short distance from downtown, Yao Family Wines’ tasting room is decorated with photographs and memorabilia from Yao Ming’s basketball career. Do: Grab a bite at neighboring Gott’s Roadside restaurant after tasting. 929 Main St., St. Helena, (707) 968-5874, yaofamilywines.com.
Goosecross Cellars, Yountville
A showstopping 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 reservation only but can sometimes accommodate same-day appointments. Do: 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. Do: 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.