Exploring Wine Country with Wine Me Away Tours
Wine tasting trips have been part of our DNA as a couple. Each year, we select a new-to-us wine region to dive in as part of a bigger journey: wine tasting in La Rioja during our journey through Basque Country, a Croatian adventure on the Peljesac Peninsula, wine tasting in the Cyclades for an unexpected twist on a traditional Grecian adventure, wine tasting on the Franschhoek Wine Tram in South Africa, and so many more. It’s only natural that our journey back to Northern California to see family involved wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma with my family. Add to the fact that may parents, who have lived in California virtually their entire lives, had never been properly wine tasting in the region (I know!). To bring it to life, I reached out to Melyna from Wine Me Away Tours to help organize a car and driver to whisk us away to our planned locales. We had places in mind for our itinerary, combining a Sonoma County winery with Napa Valley, but Melyna and team also craft itineraries if Napa Valley is a new-to-you destination where you need some guidance.
Folks who visit the region and know the wine landscape of Northern California will tell you that Napa and Sonoma have different feels. While it’s a bit of a generalization and there are of course exceptions to the rule, I find that Napa tends to be more commercialized, a bit glitzier in some ways, and definitely more expensive. Sonoma still retains the essence of California winemaking origins in many ways; a bit of the cool kid farmer making great wines. Less suit and tie; more short sleeve shirts and shorts. Again, this is a broad generalization though I find this rings true in many instances. Now, that’s not to say either of these is ‘better’, but to note that I find that they’re different so combining them is actually a beautiful way to experience both areas. In the itinerary we created we designed it with what I found to be a great cross-section: a Sonoma winery, a tasting room (vs. a winery), a classic Napa Valley winery, plus a Port-style focused Napa Valley option. If you’re a first time taster to the area looking for an itinerary that highlights the breadth of what’s on offer in the region, read on for our itinerary for wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma.
👉🏼 Read more about our adventures in Food & Wine.
📍 LEDSON WINERY, 7335 CA-12, Kenwood, CA 95409
💲 Wines priced by the glass
1First stop: Ledson Winery. Our choice for Ledson was mostly out of convenience given we were staying just down the street in Kenwood. That said, it ended up being a great start to our day with a low-pressure option for those that are less than keen on wine tasting for breakfast. If you’re staying in the Sonoma County area, starting with a nearby winery can be a great way to go. We drove to our first winery and left our car there (continued on with private driver and collected our car the following day). Options for wineries are plentiful in Sonoma (check out Sonoma County Vintners site for more) and Sonoma’s varietals are a bit different from what you find in Napa, offering a bit of diversity so you’re not exclusively focused on bold Cabs for your day of wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma.
Ledson offers a tasting at their bar (standing, guided), a seated tasting (guided) at a bit of a premium, or the option to visit their deli and wine shop to purchase wines by the glass or by the bottle to enjoy at leisure outside. The latter approach doesn’t involve a guided tasting, but the somm at the wine shop is knowledgeable and helpful with guiding your choices. We opted for different wines: some opted for Grenache, others for a Ledson blend, and my mom (a dessert wine lover) for their Late Harvest which they were kind enough to open and offer. Armed with glasses of vino, we headed out to the picnic tables under 100-year-old oaks facing Ledson’s castle. We were fortunate with perfect weather in August (mid-80s during our day of wine tasting) but the shade from the oaks is perfect to enjoy the outside space even on warmer days. For those opting for indoor tastings with something more formal, the property is beautiful with an old mansion feel and grand spaces for tasting inside.
Our driver, Aundrea, picked us up from Ledson at 11:15AM for onward travel to Napa.
⏰ 12:00PM Noon
📍VINTNER’S COLLECTIVE, 1245 Main St, Napa, CA 94559
💲 USD 50 per person for a flight of 5 wines
2Scott and I discovered Vintner’s Collective during our last trip to Napa. We stumbled in on our first night there and went back every night thereafter. The vibe is laid back and informative/educational and the hosts are fantastic. It was such a standout experience for us that we made it a mission to go back on our day of wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma despite the fact that it’s a tasting room vs. a winery. Vintner’s Collective represents a host of small wineries so the tasting experience is rather unique and can be catered to individual tastes. A standard tasting includes a flight of 5 wines ($50 per person) out of a huge selection available. We all started with the same wine but quickly adjusted so we ultimately each finished with a different foursome depending on our tastes. Scott and I had some bold Cabs in the mix (one of which we bought to take home!), while my mom opted for whites and dessert-style wines.
Here’s the key to doing a tasting like this with a group and having an amazing experience: honesty. It’s better to not do the same flight of five wines as a group unless you really do all have the same palates. Our group represented such a range of tastes and given the diversity represented on the menu, anyone can find something they’re keen on here if you can articulate what you want and like. Scott and I opted for different wines so we could try each other’s as well. Mom leaned towards sweeter options, my sister included a rosé that she was keen on, and dad included some great reds. Everyone ultimately left finding wines they genuinely enjoyed which is the benefit of a tasting room like this vs. a wine tasting at a winery with a pre-set selection of wines.
The bar was set high from my memories of Vintner’s Collective from our past experience but it lived up to expectations and wowed everyone. Fantastic experience all around with such a beautiful selection of wines to try!
📍 STAG’S LEAP CELLARS, 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
💲 USD 75 per person for the Estate Collection Tasting Flight
3Our third stop of the day was the most classic Napa tasting experience of our selection. Stag’s Leap is a beauty, with gorgeous bold reds that are representative of the region. We opted for the Estate Collection Tasting Flight which started with a Chardonnay and then continued on with a selection of Cabs. The team was kind enough to pour a Sauvignon Blanc for mom in lieu of a red given her preferences, and they set us up with gorgeous cheese plates — we could have skipped lunch had we realized!
This experience felt very personal and super VIP, seated in our own private tasting room with valley views and led by our personal host, Aaron, who took us under his wing for the 90 minutes that we were with him. For me, a tasting like this – classic, sophisticated Napa Valley – is a must to include as it’s very representative of the region and it was a contrast to what we experienced otherwise.
For Cab lovers, you’ll be spoiled with options here with a few really excellent pours sampled during your tasting!
For anyone planning this day, note that there are two Stag’s Leap wineries in Napa (it can be confusing). One is Stag’s Leap Cellars (where we tasted) and the other is Stags’ Leap (apostrophe after the “s”) which is different. Stag’s Leap Cellars is now part of the Antinori family’s collection so was a must for us as we have a connection with them in Italy!
Prager Port Works
📍 PRAGER PORT WORKS, 1281 Lewelling Ln, St Helena, CA
💲 USD 40, includes Prager wine glass
4My discovery of Prager came purely out of my mom’s love of dessert wines. She adored our time wine tasting in Alsace because she readily found her fair share of sweet wines, but she’s not a huge wine lover aside from light whites, ports, Sauternes, and other after-dinner faves (yes, a bit of a challenge when wine tasting in Napa). Enter Prager Port Works, one of the only wineries (the only?) focused on delivering Port-style wines in Napa Valley. When we entered shortly after 4PM, we were the last tasters of the day with a delicious and casual tasting led by two brothers who lead production and hospitality here (their 89-year-old mother makes the pecans that you’ll try during your tasting). This is a contrast to that glitzy commercialized Napa vibe that I alluded to; a casual, down-to-earth approach to winemaking with a cool unique production of wines that are a contrast to what you’ll find elsewhere. We tasted a white port, a Vintage Port, a couple of Tawny ports, plus their sole dry red, a Petite Syrah.
For Port lovers, this place is a must. We walked away with a few bottles and everyone in our family – my 98-year-old-grandmother included! – loved the wines on offer. It’s also the perfect way to end the day, with a final sweet sip before heading home!
Our day of wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma included a total of four stops, which I think was perfect for us. We could have easily cut one out and included a seated lunch somewhere instead but everyone enjoyed our approach and the diversity of our tasting experiences, plus it allowed us to maximize our day. I wouldn’t include more than 4 unless you ended with a tasting room where you could sip a glass vs. doing a full tasting/flight.
Would I have changed anything? We were all very happy with our flow. Depending on your focus, you could easily substitute the first winery with a sparkling wine option like Domaine Carneros.
Worth noting that this was fully dedicated to wine tasting, which meant that while we visited downtown Napa for this tasting, we didn’t have time to explore downtown Napa. If you’re in the region and planning to spend a day in Napa, you could easily incorporate a place like the Vintner’s Collective into a day given it’s in town and appointments are not necessary for a simple tasting (advised with a group though). Also worth noting, Wednesdays (the day we tasted) can be a bit challenging as many wineries were closed. Scribe, for example, was at the top of our list for Sonoma wineries, but Wednesdays are their closed days. Options are plentiful so you can easily pivot but if you are set on specific wineries, consult their schedules to make sure they’re open!
What wineries in Napa and Sonoma would be on your recommended list for visitors to the region?