According to experts, the best time to visit wine country is during harvest season, which also coincides with the region's busiest time of year. Between the months of August through October, the region hunkers down to begin the long days and nights of picking their upcoming harvest. It's a race against time as the grapes readiness lasts just a few weeks. During this busy time, you can expect high prices for just about everything.
Despite being a San Francisco-Bay Area native, Napa and Sonoma feel quiet foreign to me. So, I decided to plan a trip with a good friend of mine, who also owns a winery in Calistoga called Work Winery. Having a guide could not have been more helpful for my intro-weekend.
While I'm certainly no wine savant, I found it fascinating how my wine tasting experiences varied, which could not have been more true between the brands I visited, Hall Wines, Castello di Amorosa, and Elhers Estate. I'm going to venture out of my aviation passion for a moment to share a few Napa newbie realizations.
Walking onto Hall Wine's 33-acre St. Helena compound, you're quickly met with a rather mass-produced and manufactured feeling. It's not to say the rolling hills and endless rows of grape vines weren't gorgeous, because it was, but the property lacked warmth and personality, which could not have been more evident in their wine tasting experience.
Hall Wines offers a few options when it comes to wine tastings, private tours, and VIP experiences. You'll find information on their tastings and tours, including pricing, directly on their website. I had the pleasure of a private wine tasting in the Bergfeld: Founder's Cellar. The space was elegant, sophisticated, yet homey.
Unfortunately, our host spent very little time explaining the composition and backstory behind each bottle, which I consider to be a big missed opportunity. I was yearning for our host to express her passion for the brand and her personal love of wines. Between the ultra-modern, all-glass wine tasting building and large production facilities, I left Hall Wines realizing this wasn't the right wine club for me.
Arguably one of Wine Country's more popular, if not the most popular, winery is Castello di Amorosa. The highlight of this 170-acre winery is unfortunately not their wine, but a 17th-century medieval castle which draws inspiration from numerous historic and iconic castles throughout Italy, including a small castle near Florence, a medieval monastery near Siena, and a Medici palace in southern Tuscany.
Driving up the driveway and seeing the castle will immediately transport you back to ancient roman times. It is absolutely breathtaking and fascinating to see founder-Dario Sattui's vision brought to life, with such immaculate detail and integrity.
Dario has done such a wonderful job creating this locale, that it unfortunately draws in busloads of tourists, making it not the most pleasant of experiences. Be prepared for the large crowds and theme-park lines for a tour of the castle and a taste of Dario's wines. While I was pleased to see this famous landmark, I was quite happy to skip the wine tasting altogether.
Lastly, my experience at Elhers Estate was absolutely spectacular. Elhers Estate is spread across 19-acres, who's claim to fame is their family of estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignons, all of which are produced in very small quantities. The winery is tucked away off the side of Highway 29, just north of the city of Calistoga.
Upon entering the intimate wine tasting room, we were greeted by Bradley, who's bubbly personality, deep wine knowledge, and outright humor elevated our experience. Once seated, you'll quickly grow to appreciate the history behind the estate, taking in the beautiful stone and unique local paintings. The space was the perfect canvas for a private wine tasting.
Over our 2-hour tasting experience, we sampled 6 glasses of delicious wines, 1 white and 5 reds. Bradley did a wonderful job guiding us through the journey, helping us translate the complex flavors into poetry. The experience never felt stuffy, instead, the wines were approachable and welcoming, despite the $175 price tag.
I will certainly be returning.
All things considered, both Hall Wines and Elhers Estate offer relatively equal experiences. Each welcome you to enjoy a private wine tasting session, offering a sampling of top-tiers wines. But the warmth and intimacy at Elhers Estate gave Hall Wines a run for their money. For those who prefer a curated and personal session, I would recommend visitors take some time to seek out Estate Wineries, particularly Elhers Estate, who pride themselves on offering you a memorable experience.