You’ve done it! You’ve finally decided to take that trip to Napa and Sonoma and explore wine country. There’s no shortage of options, but if you only have two days to explore, you need a little guidance. With so many world-class wineries all in a row, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
You need a local wine country expert, a consultant who understands the geography, logistics, and character of the best wineries in the area.
We’ve put together efficient itineraries – one day in Napa and one day in Sonoma – that give you a range of experiences and a variety of outstanding wines. You’ll taste wines from large, highly regarded wineries, as well as from small, family-owned outfits. You’ll see vineyards, sample delicious food that’s expertly paired with wine, and you’ll get a behind the scenes glimpse of how wine is made.
One of the biggest mistakes new visitors to wine country make is trying to do too much in a single day. You simply can’t do it all, and we’ve built your itinerary with a combination of appointments as well as recommendations for ideal impromptu stops if time permits.
Let’s get started!
Day 1: Napa Valley
Believe it or not, Napa Valley has 16 different sub-appellations, but for your first visit, we’re going to explore just one: St. Helena. You’ll be in the narrowest part of the valley between the Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges, so you’ll enjoy dramatic views of vine-covered hills.
Your day will take you years into the past, exploring the families who made Napa Valley great, though your travels will only cover about ten miles total.
10:00 A.M. – Burgess Cellars
Your day will begin at Burgess Cellars with an appointment to taste astounding Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, as well as some more unusual varieties. Tom Burgess founded the winery in 1972, and it’s still family-owned to this day. Tom works with his sons, Jim and Steve, to cultivate and bottle the best of mountain grown fruit.
12:00 P.M. – Madrigal Family Winery
Your second stop will give you a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll have an appointment to have lunch with Chris Madrigal, himself. Chris will tell you about his family’s winery, you’ll eat a delicious boxed lunch, and you’ll get to taste his award-winning Cabernet, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Sauvignon Blanc. Hot Tip: Madrigal’s consulting winemaker is Ed Sbragia, so the wines are simply outstanding.
While you come back to earth after your lunch with a winery owner, you can head just a short distance south to a couple of wineries before your last appointment of the day.
In 1948 Mario and Mary Trinchero left the East Coast and purchased the abandoned Sutter Home winery in Napa Valley. You’ll learn about one of the families that made Napa Valley what it is today, and you’ll get to taste a few of the current releases. Trinchero produces Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and even some Petit Verdot, and their wines regularly receive outstanding ratings from the major wine publications.
Talk about history! Charles Krug was the very first winery founded in Napa Valley, and today it’s proudly owned by the Peter Mondavi family. Peter and his sons, Marc and Peter Jr, are hands-on owners. The tasting room was built in 1872, and has been lovingly restored, resulting in architectural awards and producing a tasting experience unlike any other. You’ll sip Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and keep an eye out for their Vintage Selection Cabernet and their Generations – a red blend that Marc Mondavi first made against his father’s wishes.
4:00 P.M. – Beringer Vineyards
Your final appointment of the day is at another landmark winery. Founded in 1875, Beringer produces a staggering number of different wines, ranging from their Private Reserve Chardonnay and Cabernet to special regional designates to their affordable Founders’ Estate line. You’ll enjoy the Legacy Cave Tour, which will take you through the old winery and the historic tunnels dating back to 1877. You’ll taste three of Beringer’s wines, and wrap up your Napa tasting day to prepare to move on to Sonoma.
Day 2: Sonoma County
Like its counterpart on the other side of the Mayacamas Mountains, Sonoma County also has 16 sub-appellations, and your day focuses on the Sonoma Valley AVA. You’ll spend your time between the Mayacamas Mountains to the east and the Sonoma Mountains to the west as you travel just over eight miles in your wine trek.
11:00 A.M. – Benziger Family Winery
Your first stop introduces you to a new aspect of winemaking – the care and preservation of the vineyard itself. You’ll have an appointment and take a tram tour through Benziger’s biodynamically farmed vineyard, learn about the extraordinary measures the family takes to give back to the land, take a peek in their wine caves, and taste some extraordinary wines. Benziger’s range is impressive: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and an array of luscious blends as well.
A relative newcomer compared to some of the wineries you’ll visit, stop in at Ty Caton if you have time before your next appointment. Founded in 1997, owner and winemaker Ty Caton focuses on making high quality estate wines (which means the grapes all come exclusively from his vineyards.) In addition to the usual suspects, Caton plays with some less common varieties like Petit Verdot, Riesling, a rosé of Syrah, and a dessert wine made of Petite Sirah. Many of the wines you’ll taste are made only in tiny quantities.
1:00 P.M. – Landmark Vineyards
Get ready to soak up the beauty of the mountains as you arrive for your appointment for a tasting, followed by a gourmet picnic lunch in the courtyard. You’ll sample Landmark’s elegant Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and have time to relax as you savor your lunch in a lovely setting. Landmark’s wines are made from vineyards in Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Monterey Counties, capitalizing on the unique soils and microclimates of each growing region.
Though Chateau St. Jean stands out for its lush Mediterranean-style gardens, the single factor that most distinguishes this winery is its head winemaker for more than thirty years: Margo Van Staaveren. Her overriding philosophy is that great wines begin in the vineyard, and she led the winery to become one of the pioneers of vineyard designated wines. Her skills run both broad – encompassing a staggering array of grape varieties – and deep – resulting in countless awards and stellar scores for her wines. Stop in and try some of the winery-only offerings.
Finish up your day with a stop at St. Francis to taste through their offerings in the friendly visitor center (open until 5 p.m.) that opens onto a terrace with lovely mountain views. Zinfandel is the headliner here, though the winery produces a number of different varieties in a wide range of prices. Founded more than forty years ago, St. Francis zealously preserves natural resources so many generations in the future can enjoy wines from Sonoma Valley.
Wineries small and large. History. Stewardship of the land. World class wines. Simply Driven effortlessly guides you through your initiation to Napa and Sonoma wine country.
You can use Simply Driven’s itinerary and make appointments on your own, or you can book a driver through Simply Driven and let them arrange your visit while you sit back and enjoy a safe, relaxing two-day exploration of the wonders of Napa and Sonoma.