A wine country crawl often means hopping from winery to winery, standing at a counter, and tasting old favorites and new releases. This is a fine entry into tasting, but seasoned wine crawlers are demanding more elevated experiences that heighten their connections to—and understanding of—wine.
A number of Napa Valley wineries lead the way in curating winetasting adventures. From sip-and-walk tours to cave visits and the chance to create your own wine blend, here are four great tasting experiences to consider on your next Napa wine crawl.
Conn Creek winery’s barrel blending experience
Play winemaker for the day
- Reservations required. $150 per person.
Every wine lover fantasizes about moving to wine country and making their own signature blend. A quick Google search for the asking price of a vineyard in Napa Valley, though, will alarm most out of that dream. Don’t give up so quickly, because St. Helena’s Conn Creek winery’s Barrel Blending Experience gives guests a chance to be winemakers for the day.
It includes a lesson in Napa Valley AVAs (or American Viticultural Areas). Each AVA produces different styles of wine with distinct personalities. To fully experience the uniqueness of each AVA, guests are guided through a tasting of cabernet sauvignon samples from various Napa AVAs then introduced to the art of blending wines. Once guests understand the strategies and secrets to blending, they create their very own custom wine to take home.
Merryvale Vineyards’ outdoor experience
Enjoy wine among the vines
- Reservations required. $295 per person.
Merryvale Vineyards in St. Helena invites visitors to step outside of the tasting room and into the vineyard. Its Profile Estate Picnic Experience pairs wines with a lunch set at an Instagrammable scene: precise rows of fertile vines that rise and dip as far as the eye can see. Hosted on the estate deck, this elevated food and wine affair serves groups of four to eight.
Guests choose from a varied menu of gourmet selections featuring seasonal ingredients, such as mushroom sandwiches with the option of gluten-free bread, or Caprese or Cobb salads. Lunch is complemented by a guided tasting of Merryvale Vineyards’ Silhouette chardonnay and four vintages from its Profile Collection wines. The afternoon ends with a walk to witness spectacular views of Merryvale’s grounds.
Sequoia Grove Winery’s cabernet and food experience
Reimagine the wine and food pairing
- Reservations recommended. $125 per person.
It’s common knowledge that the flavors in cabernet sauvignon enhance those of a fatty rib eye. Meat and wine lovers relish the chemistry when the fat in the steak interacts with the tannins in the wine. But the varietal is good with more than red meat; there are other, maybe even better partners than filet for cabernet sauvignon.
An innovative food and wine pairing event at Sequioa Grove winery invites you to put down your serrated knife and explore some unfamiliar matches. Chef Britny Maureze serves a four-course menu that breaks standard pairing rules. One such bold move is serving the winery’s 2017 Christian Vineyard cabernet sauvignon with a grilled stone fruit salad. Tannic red wines are rarely accompanied with this kind of dish, for fear that the wine may overpower the fruit. However, Maureze grills the fruit to bring out more sweetness and complexity in order for a seemingly unexpected pairing to be the perfect match. The menu changes seasonally.
Celestial Tour & Tasting at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Walk where wine sleeps
- Reservations required. $125
Walking through a winery’s caves is a memorable experience for oenophiles. There’s magic in the quiet of the place where wine sleeps and matures. The smell of the barrels, the dim lighting, and the coolness of the subterranean location together feel as majestic as an old European church.
In 2020, the famed Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, located in the heart of the Stag’s Leap district, completed its Napa wine caves designed by noted Barcelona-based architect Javier Barba. Included in the extensive list of winetasting experiences is a special cave tour, which begins with a 30-minute walking tour of the cave. Among the highlights in the 34,000+ square feet of tunnels is the chance to see a Foucault pendulum stationed at the center of the cave’s Round Room. Attached to the ceiling, this work of art watches over the wines.
A walk in the caves sharpens the appetite. Thankfully the experience includes a seated tasting of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ estate grown wines matched with appetizers from chef Travis Westrope that include oysters stuffed with a mix of pineapple, cucumber and apple and a corn fritter small plate with ricotta and blackberry.