The Best Appointment-Only Tasting Experiences in Napa and Sonoma Wine Country

To experience the best of California wine country, you'll need a reservation.

Photo: Billy Hustace/Getty Images

The best Sonoma and Napa private wine-tasting experiences require some extra planning, meaning you have to make an appointment in advance. But they're well worth the effort. Below, we outline some of the top wineries in both counties that accept reservations.



Out of a shared passion for fine wine and classical music — the label features the manuscript of Beethoven's Arietta movement from his last Piano Sonata, Opus 111 — Fritz Hatton and his wife Caren partnered with winemaker John Kongsgaard and his wife Maggy in 1996 to form Arietta. In 2005, the Hattons bought out the Kongsgaards and invited Andy Erickson — who previously made wine at Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, and Ovis, to name just a few — to become the winemaker. At Arietta, Erickson produces Bordeaux-style blends in minuscule quantities — 100 cases here, 300 cases there — ranging in price from $45 to $575. Tastings are held at the Hudson Winery, a ranch which Arietta has purchased grapes from since the very beginning. Tip: For those familiar with Auction Napa Valley, you'll know Fritz: for a long time he's been the gifted auctioneer wielding a gavel at Christie's and Zachys.

Wheeler Farms Winery

Wheeler Farms Winery, the brainchild of Bart and Daphne Araujo, houses a handful of Napa's best producers, including Accendo Cellars, Arrow & Branch, Bella Oaks, Kinsman, Roam, TOR, and Vice Versa. For visitors, that means rare opportunities to experience both the wines of Wheeler Farms, made by Nigel Kinsman, as well as the chance to book appointments with any of the aforementioned brands. Guests tasting Wheeler Farms wines are greeted with a non-alcoholic drink and a tour of the chicken coop, orchard, and gardens. With the 90-minute J.H. Wheeler Wine Experience ($145 per person), you'll get to tour the estate gardens, visit the winery, and enjoy a private tasting of four J.H. Wheeler wines.

Covert Estate

Situated just on the outskirts of downtown Napa, smack in the heart of Coombsville, the drive to Covert Estate is beautiful and will take you off the beaten path of Highway 29 and Silverado Trail. Step inside the tasting room at the entrance of Covert's caves and you'll be handed a glass of Azur rosé, which is just as stunning as the twisted-silver-and-gold-metal chandelier that holds court over the room. Covert was founded by three families, including French winemaker Julien Fayard, one of the valley's youngest and sought-after consultants, who grew up in Provence and cut his teeth working at Lafite Rothschild and Smith Haut Lafitte. Guests will enjoy a formal seated tasting of Covert's Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Tip: Ask about the library tasting and opportunities to sample wines from the barrel.

Stewart Cellars

While the tasting room accepts walk-ins, the Nomad Tasting Experience is by-appointment-only and features six single-vineyard Cabernets from each of Andy Beckstoffer's famed Heritage Vineyards. You'll sample a couple of old vintages of Stewart Cellars' flagship Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which go back to 2001, along with a tasting of their current release and one library release of their Nomad Beckstoffer Las Piedras Cabernet Sauvignon. The 90-minute tasting ($150 per person) is a seated experience in the Nomad Library and includes a cheese plate.

Mi Sueño Winery

Lovers of deeply rich, golden-colored California Chardonnays will revel in Rolando and Lorena Herrera's luscious, tropical-fruited, rich-baking spiced Carneros beauties. Mi Sueño Winery also produces Russian River Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Tempranillo. Three flights are offered: the 25th Anniversary Flight ($55 per person), the Cabernet Terroir Flight ($65 per person), and the Herrera Family Flight ($70 per person). Tip: If you can't make it to California, ask about their virtual tasting experiences.

Frank Family Vineyards

Landing a seat on the back patio is the appointment-only experience you're after here. Frank Family is a tried and true Napa institution all thanks to Rich Frank, a former president of Disney Studios. Tastings occur outdoors or in an updated Craftsman home, made beautiful by designer Erin Martin. Guests reserve the Estate Tasting outside ($60), the Craftsman House Tasting indoors ($60), or the Wines of Winston Hill Tasting ($80), which features wines that all share a common source of origin. Winemaker Todd Graff joined Frank Family in 2003 after a lengthy stint at Schramsberg and produces a wide range of still and sparkling wines. Tip: Ask about Rich's father who was a World War II veteran who "The Patriarch" wine honors.

Ehlers Estate

Ehlers Estate sits right off Highway 29 in St. Helena on a truly unique "bench," in the narrowest part of the entire valley, smack between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains. The tasting room is eclectic — a rotating art exhibit graces the stone walls, and guests are seated in gathering spaces decorated with a patchwork of vintage furniture. There's also a tasting bar, and in the summertime, an area for those with appointments to picnic. Winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz produces entirely estate-grown Bordeaux-varietal wines, including a dynamite rosé. Tastings start at $75 per person and are limited to six guests per party. Tip: Those visiting from the east coast might ask about their Start Your Day experience ($95 per person), while their hands-on Garden Sensory experience ($125 per person) includes four wines paired with harvested seasonal herbs, flowers, and fruits from the garden.

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Just off Silverado Trail in Yountville, Cliff Lede is a must-visit destination for age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignons, while lovers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can taste FEL label offerings. Guests can choose between a variety of tasting experiences including the Reserved Tasting ($60 per person) on their beautiful veranda, the Backstage Tasting Lounge experience ($90 per person) inside their lounge with rotating art exhibits, The VIP experience ($90 per person), which comes with a view of the Poetry Vineyard from their outdoor lounge, or their Private Tasting ($120 per person), which includes a walk through the estate vineyards followed by a curated tasting in the studio. Inquire about their wines from Savoy Vineyard in the Alexander Valley, which is a world-class vineyard owned by the winery, with a Who's Who of clients that source grapes including Failla, Peay, and Auteur. Tip: If you book a reservation to taste in the Backstage Tasting Lounge, check out owner Cliff Lede's classic rock music obsession on full display in rotating exhibits of some incredible memorabilia.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery

For one of the most authentic and old-fashioned experiences in Napa, make the winding trek up Spring Mountain Road to visit with winemaker Charles Smith or his brother, viticulturist Stuart Smith, at Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery. Take in dramatic views of the valley below through a corridor of 100-year-old olive trees and sample three current releases — Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all grown on the estate vineyards surrounding the winery on the top of Spring Mountain. You'll be regaled with stories of Napa's past and present because the brothers have been growing grapes for over 45 years. Tip: Ask about Smith-Madrone's Cook's Flat Reserve. Each bottle is numbered and only around 1,000 bottles are produced in each vintage.

Robert Foley Vineyards

Robert Foley is the undisputed king of Howell Mountain and until very recently it was impossible to visit his open-air crush pad and winery in Angwin, about an hour northeast of Napa. Foley's wines are the stuff of legend, imbued with the exquisite craft of a winemaker whose CV is almost unbelievable. The founding winemaker at Pride Mountain Vineyards and Hourglass, his deft hands have also crafted Switchback Ridge, Engel Family, and Padis Vineyards in Napa and he's even produced wines for Red Hook Winery, which is based in New York City. His portfolio spans the gamut from bold, rich, opulent reds like his flagship Claret (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend), and his world-class Merlot and Charbono wines to a Carneros Pinot Noir, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a Syrah and a luscious white Rhone-style Pinot Blanc. In the rare moments when he's not making wine, he plays a mean Gibson guitar and tours with The Robert Foley Band. Tip: Guests should know this is a no-frills experience in a working winery and tasting room. Come for the wines, not the show.


This is special. Walking distance from most hotels in downtown Napa, at 608 Randolph Street, you'll find Lauren Ackerman's fully restored Queen Anne Victorian mansion — a place so incredible that if you leave Napa without stopping off, you'll regret it. Guests can book appointments to taste flights of Coombsville appellation current vintages and library selections of Ackerman Family Wines made by Leo Tellez. Tour the Victorian home and taste in the gardens or spacious carriage house. A formal dining room seats 12 comfortably for multi-course meals plated on antique china, paired with wines. Or take in the state-of-the-art kitchen or grand sitting room, which can accommodate parties of up to 50. Tip: Ask to view (or taste) in the intimate mahogany-paneled library stocked with rare, old books, and if there's availability for their food and wine class. Above all, inquire about three upstairs guest rooms.


Tom Gamble farms roughly 175 acres of prime estate vineyards in Oakville, Mt. Veeder, Rutherford, and Yountville, producing classic Bordeaux-varietal wines that are imbued with Old World structure and elegance, while delivering New World hedonism. The Gamble winery and tasting room are situated in the heart of the valley in Oakville, hidden from those cruising up and down Highway 29. Once at the winery's door, you might meet Koa, the four-legged Gamble staff member, and often Tom Gamble himself. The experience is casual and down-to-earth in an elegant setting, but the wines require serious attention — they are true gems. Tip: If you want an incredible lesson in agricultural heritage and the art of growing grapes in unique pockets around Napa Valley, Tom, a third-generation grower will wow you with knowledge. For instance, after tasting their brilliant Sauvignon Blanc (aged 20 months in French oak) ask how those grapes thrive in their valley-floor location to produce such uniquely Old World traits.


Joe Donelan has ushered in a collection of wines that are about as Rhône and Burgundian-inspired as they come. From small-parcel, cool-climate vineyard sites throughout Sonoma, you'll discover a world of beautifully made wines, which are now under the helm of David Milner, who took over for Joe Nielsen who will continue to consult. Donelan's highly sought-after single-vineyard Syrahs, Rhône blends, and small-lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs, are prized among collectors. Tip: Whatever you do, don't leave without a bottle of the Kobler Vineyard Syrah from Russian River's Green Valley AVA.

Rudd Oakville Estate

Everything about Rudd is inspiring — from the elegantly furnished tasting library to the stunning winery outfitted with concrete tanks inspired by those at Petrus and made by the same mason. The late Leslie Rudd's vision of owning a small jewel on a lake and producing wines of impeccable quality is a realized dream. His daughter, vintner Samantha Rudd, took the helm just before her dad's passing in early 2018. Their breathtaking portfolio includes estate Oakville Cabernets and whites that range from $80 to $250 — made to cellar for decades. An experience here is uniquely special as guests are hosted privately and each visit is tailored to the guest's desires. You might spend time touring vineyards high up on Mt. Veeder and visiting Rudd Farms, or tasting in their boathouse, lakeside greenhouse (designed by architect Howard Backen), in caves, or in one of the most fashionable dining rooms in the valley. From casual to formal, no matter the experience, it will wow. Tip: They produce one of the greatest Sauvignon Blancs ever to come off Mt. Veeder, modeled after Bordeaux's famous examples, which you'll sample when you visit.

Stag's Leap Winery

Stag's Leap Winery is truly a hidden gem in the highly acclaimed Stags Leap District. Located off a long, private road, in a micro-valley within Napa Valley, sits the 19th-century historical stone winery and Victorian-era Manor House, nestled against the Stags Leap Palisades east of the Silverado Trail. Here you are invited to make a reservation and visit this magical place with its beautiful gardens and stylish wines including the award-winning five-acre field blend, originally planted in 1929, Ne Cede Malis, as well as the opulent Leap and Audentia Cabernet Sauvignons. All experiences and tastings are by appointment only due to the semi-private location and historical preservation of the Manor House and its property.

Mending Wall

Five partners including winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown built the Mending Wall Winery in the spring of 2014 in time for that vintage's harvest. With ample space for tanks and barrels, there is "no compromise on quality," said Rivers Brown, who helped design the production space. The tasting room boasts an industrial chic atmosphere with a fashionable bar and plenty of space for small and large groups. Since Rivers Brown was named "Winemaker of the Year" by Food & Wine in 2010, he's produced numerous 100-point wines and earned loads of accolades. Tip: Locals affectionately refer to Rivers Brown as "TRB." In addition to tasting Mending Wall wines, ask about his other projects, which include Tamber Bay, Outpost, and a select group of clients including tiny-production Stone the Crows with its line of beautifully structured, rich and age-worthy Cabernets and Cabernet blends.



Kirk Wesley Hubbard and his wife Denise Mary Selyem founded WesMar in 2000 after having worked for Denise's dad, Ed Selyem of the legendary Williams Selyem Winery. The winery — situated in Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley — was an old apple processing warehouse, and tastings are casual and down to earth in a very raw, working winery space. The duo's primary fruit sources are Hellenthal, Salzgeber, Balletto, and Oehlman vineyards, and a smattering of select Russian River and Sonoma Coast AVA sites. Once grapes are harvested, Kirk and Denise employ very low sulfur usage, and age their Pinots in French Oak for 12 months and then in the bottle 12 months prior to release.

Garden Creek

Roughly a 20-minute drive from downtown Healdsburg, through winding roads, the sky shines blue in this part of Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. Husband and wife team Justin and Karin Warnelius-Miller produce just two wines: a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Incredibly, the Cabernet is held an astounding seven years in their cold, dark cellars on-site, prior to release, meaning the 2014 Garden Creek Cabernet is the current release. Private tastings include a walk in the hillside vineyards Wednesday thru Saturday and are available to members of the winery's mailing list only.

Occidental Wines

Guests fortunate enough to land an appointment at Occidental Wines will experience their own private tour and seated tasting in the state-of-the-art winery on Steve Kistler's Bodega Ridge property, where they'll see the winemaking process from start to finish and sample three wines while taking in Occidental's history, followed by a stroll through the vineyard, winery, and production facilities. Tip: Visits are only given to members of their mailing list. Wines are released just once a year, so if you're visiting sometime in January of 2023 (the next release) you might be in luck.

Small Vines

Small Vines founder Robert Sloan worked at Sonoma's fabled John Ash & Co. as a wine buyer, and later, equipped with a degree in viticulture, landed a coveted position tending to vines on a collection of vineyards under Dutton Ranch. Warren Dutton himself encouraged Sloan to plant his own vines, and today Small Vines is the genesis of all that work and a family affair, with Paul, his wife Kathryn, and their daughters Dakota and Savannah working the land, harvesting, and making the wines. In keeping with the name "Small Vines," the Sloans produce tiny lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Guests will tour the vineyard, see the winery, and sample a lineup of current-release wines (about five to seven tastes) in their tasting barn.

Bohème Wines

Bohème Wines' owner and winemaker, Kurt Beitler likes to host private tasting tours whenever possible. Maybe he picked up some of that personal charm from his grandfather or uncle — that's Charlie Wagner, the founder of Caymus Vineyards, and Chuck Wagner, the current steward, respectively. Beitler has worked for the family at Belle Glos Taylor Lane Vineyard, and today is shepherding his own Bohéme label toward cult stardom. Guests start out with a driving tour into the hills west of Occidental to see Bohème's vineyards, with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. You'll see first-hand just what kind of odds winegrowers are up against in these extreme coastal sites, (hopefully) giving a deeper appreciation for the coastal Pinots and Chardonnays that show off the crystalline purity you'd expect from such sites. The tasting happens around a picnic table in the shade of California redwoods, overlooking the vineyard. You'll return to Occidental for the opportunity to take wines home. Tip: The "Bohemian Highway" runs through the town of Occidental, named for San Francisco's Bohemian Club, which traversed the route in the 1800s.

Inman Family Wines

Kathleen Inman is making some of the finest Pinot Noir right in the heart of Sonoma's Russian River Valley from her humble 100% solar-powered winery and tasting room in Santa Rosa, California. Relaxed tastings are hosted in one of the two small salons or on her patio, and with a glass of Inman Family Wines' mesmerizing Pinot Noir in hand, guests can take in views of perfectly manicured rows of vines. A typical tasting is of five to six current releases with breadsticks provided as a palate cleanser. A no-frills experience, the winery is pet friendly, and the focus is all on these beautifully made Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, rosés, and sparkling wine. Tip: The parking lot boasts two "Level 2" charging stations for electric cars. And visitors curious to stay the night for more Russian River gallivanting should inquire about the three-bedroom Craftsman farmhouse that can be rented.

Patz & Hall

If you've never been to Patz & Hall's winery or tried their Chardonnays and single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Hyde, Pisoni, Dutton, Zio Tony, Hudson, and Alder Springs vineyards, you simply are missing out. For a simple, refined experience and introduction, waste no time in booking a tasting in their Salon at the Sonoma House, which was unveiled in 2014.

Senses Wines

From a truly stunning property situated just outside of Occidental between Sebastopol and Bodega Bay, a trip to visit Senses on the Sonoma Coast is a must. The wines are produced by Thomas Rivers Brown — a Food & Wine "Winemaker of the Year." Small groups are treated to an elegant visit highlighting exceptional world-class Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays produced by "TRB," who is known for his decadent Cabernet wines. Three partners — Chris Strieter, Max Thieriot, and Myles Lawrence-Briggs — have been friends since preschool, grew up in town, and have built Senses from the ground up. Expect great things from this estate.

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