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Napa Valley Gastronomic Tour – Understanding Napa Valley Regions

Napa Valley Gastronomic Tour – Understanding Napa Valley Regions

Napa Valey Wine Tasting You have to  visit Napa Valley at least once before you die to enjoy the beautiful scenery, word-class wine and delicious food. In order to truly enjoy  your experience in Napa Valley, a little planning is helpful to maximize your experience. This post will provide you some guidance on selecting wineries to fit your schedule and your tastes. Lets face it, you will not have time to try every winery in the valley and I guarantee you miss many wineries on your bucket list  Planning ahead makes a big difference, especially since some wineries require reservations.  

If you have no idea where to sample wine, this blog post will help plan your trip. This series of posts on Napa Valley will be split into three posts

1) Primer on Napa Valley Growing Regions and selecting wineries (this post)

2) Napa Valley Gastronomic Tour – Top 10 Winery Experiences Part 1

3)  Napa Valley Gastronomic Tour – Top 10 Winery Experiences Part 2

Napa Valley Vines

Napa Valley offers great wines and scenic drives

First a primer on Napa valley geography. Napa valley is commonly referred to as an appellation, which is a protected region where wine grapes are grown. Napa Valley is a dry Mediterranean climate, which helps to create great consistency from vintage to vintage of wine. Napa has 14  distinct micro climates  known as sub-appellations, which create distinct characteristics on the wine grapes grown there.  I am covering the main areas that most tourists will visit along highway 29 and some points south.

Napa Valley Wine Growing Appellatians

Napa Valley Wine Growing Appellatians

Napa Valley ArtesaLos Carneros is the southernmost region in Napa Valley is cool from the marine winds with temperatures rarely exceeding 80 degrees F. This region is unusual for Napa due to its cool climate, resulting in some nice Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Chardonnay. An interesting fact is that both Napa and Sonoma share the Los Carneros growing region.    The winery that I really liked in this region is Artesa because of their Pinot Noirs and stunning views. 

NApa Valley Goose Cross

Yountville is a great region for wines,  a short distance from Downtown Napa.  This region has a moderate climate and a cool marine influence that keeps summer temperatures in check. Yountville is known for their superior Cabernet Sauvignon, although they produce many different types of wines because of the favorable conditions.  Notable wineries in this area include Domaine Chandon and Goose Cross Cellars. Goose Cross is on the Silverado trail, which has a  a slightly different temperature. You will find many Cabernet based blends in this region, Goosecross makes my favorite. 

Napa Valley Opus One

Oakville is the Hollywood of Napa Valley, with big name producers. Located just north of Yountville, this region has a moderately warm climate, with temperatures in the mid-90s in the summer. The morning and night fog in Oakville keep the temperatures from getting too hot.   This region is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.  Wineries in this region include rockstars like Robert Mondavi and Opus One. The Cabernets in this region are impressive and are known for sharing a scent of mint and cedar in the wines. At Robert Mondavi, go for the reserve tasting,  so that you can taste their best wines not available in stores.  Tasting at Opus One require reservations and a single pour of a vintage will cost you $40. If you do this you will be living the rock star lifestyle. 

Napa Valley Map

Napa Valley Map

Napa Valley Cakebread Cellars

Rutherford  is a moderately warm region and the grapes are influenced by cool morning fog. Temperatures  swing from day to night. This region is known for Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Zinfandel. Wineries in this region include Cakebread Cellars on the southern side and Grigich Hills to the North. Rutherford is my second favorite growing region due to the balanced flavor profiles of their wines. If Oakville is the Hollywood of wine regions, then Rutherford is home of the “Cult Wineries.” Loyal wine lovers come from all over the world to experience Cake Bread and Grgich Hills at the mother ship. 

Napa Valley Flora Springs

St. Helena is a warm micro-climate because it is protected by western hills and thus prevent fog from rolling in and the narrowing valley floor reflects more heat onto the hillside.  Food and Wine magazine said that this region is still, “Struggling to find its identity, but Cabernet is the district’s most important grape.”  Although hot temperatures can create strong tannins, the valley is producing elegant Cabernet Sauvignon and other wines like  Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and Viogner. This region is home to Duckhorn, Spottswoode and Flora Springs. This is my favorite wine growing region because I love Cabernet based blends. I have never had a bad glass of wine from St.Helena. 

Napa Valley Wineris

Opus One Winery on Hwy 29

Sonoma Valley Gundlach BundschuIf you have time, Sonoma  is located on the other side of the Mayacamas Mountains and is a separate appellation. We dipped into the Sonoma side of the Los Carneros region to try out Gundlach Bundscchu. This winery is at the cross-roads of Sonoma Valley, Los Caneros and Napa valley agricultural regions. Since Gundlach Bundschu is relatively close to  Downtown Napa, it makes a great side trip.

Tips for Selecting Wineries in Napa Napa Valley Wine BusIf you are planning on driving yourself from Winery to Winery, consider visiting no more than 3-4 in one day. There is always the urge to visit as many wineries as possible, although your palate will be destroyed and you run the risk of drunk driving. CHP is known for monitoring these roads, so use common sense. I also recommend visiting one region per day. For example, make a day out of visiting St.Helena Wineries so that they are close to each other. Plan on having lunch between tastings. Also pack some food, snacks and water for impromptu picnics. Consider making dinner reservations in the region where you will be wine tasting. 

If you don’t want to drive around Napa, you can either join a wine bus tour or hire a private driver. I have mixed thoughts on the wine bus tours because of the no stress experience, picnic lunches and positive energy from fellow tourists. What I don’t like is that the tours will often take you to a mix bag of wineries, including “not yet ready for prime time” wineries. The other option is private or semi-private tours. These small business operators will provide a custom wine tasting itinerary. The best private tour operators will go into the tasting room with you and create opportunities with the winery staff. 

About Tom Holmberg

Tom grew up in a cultural diverse neighborhood and a culturally diverse family, so he has learned to appreciate all types of food. "I am not a Chef, nor do I play one on T.V., but I have learned to appreciate food from years of eating and cooking." Tom also spent 10 years in the restaurant industry in various roles, from Prep Cook to server.


  1. Thank you Tom, you’ve brought back pleasant memories of my travels and experiences in Napa Valley years ago.

  2. Hi Tom! Thanks for the terrific overview of Napa – lots of great ideas here for planning the perfect day! As a Yountville producer, we appreciate you including our appellation in your piece. Like most of the producers in that area, our winery & tasting room in located outside the town of Yountville, since real estate there carries a hefty premium. If your readers are looking for an excellent boutique winery experience featuring Yountville wines, I can recommend Rocca Family Vineyards and Keever Vineyards & Winery on Vineyard View Dr. Thanks again!

  3. Alexandra McAllister

    WOW! Thank you for sharing your tips, pics and guidance on selecting wineries to fit our schedule and our tastes. You are right, Napa Valley is definitely a place to visit. :)

  4. This is great- Napa is on my bucket list!

  5. Good tips and ideas! I can’t wait to do this tour!!!

  6. Barbara Griffin Billig

    What a motivating post! I am getting my group together to come up to visit. Live is too short to miss this! Thanks.

  7. Thanks for all the great info Tom! I am definitely putting this on my bucket list! I love good wine and had no idea why I like some better than others! Also, I am a big fan of winery tours! I’m glad there are some out there too!

  8. Explode Your Business ONLINE @Norma Doiron

    Hey Tom! What are you doing in a picture with Daniele??? :) Great post as usual, loved the visual trip! Thanks.

  9. Meryl Hershey Beck

    Napa Valley sounds lovely. Thanks for all of the great information.

  10. Tom, I would love to visit Napa valley. For me, I think there would be a lot of advantages to joining a wine tour…it sounds like it would be a lot of fun!

  11. I have always wanted to see the beautiful Napa Valley! Maybe one day . . .

  12. Tom, the maps and descriptions of the regions and microclimates are super helpful. Thank you! I love the Napa Valley, especially Yountville. Now that I no longer live in California I drink Calistoga whenever I can find it just as a reminder of good times and beautiful places. Great post!

  13. Oh how I love Napa Valley. I want to go back. NOW.

  14. So beautiful and for sure on my bucket list! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience :)

  15. Lisa Frederiksen - BreakingTheCycles.com

    My gosh – I live on the Peninsula and never really understood Napa Valley as you’ve described it. Thank you for a fun, informative read. I look forward to future Napa Valley visits with a new perspective!

  16. We visit the Napa Valley frequently because our daughter & family live in Calistoga at the top of the valley. It is actually a very beautiful part of California.. great climate, too. Thanks for your article.

  17. Thank you for this tour. Sounds interesting.

  18. This looks like a gorgeous place! I definitely need to plan a trip here for sure :)

  19. Elizabeth Maness

    Now this is a detailed outline! I would love to visit and see all of Napa Valley. This is a great Guide Tom, Thank you!

  20. Thank you for sharing. It looks like an awesome place to visit.

  21. Great details…definitely would feel prepared if I were to head to the area for a vacation…thanks so much!

  22. You have painted a beautiful picture! I want to go there!

    Yvonne Brown

  23. Definitely on my bucket list now! Thanks!

  24. Sounds like you nailed a great trip. Thanks for including Cakebread Cellars; great picture of you and Brian at the winery.

    • Dennis,
      We had a great time at Cakebread Cellars, and took home some great wine. I am publishing a second article this week with a focus on several wineries in Napa including Cakebread Cellars. I will send you a link when it is up.

  25. Great article! We truly had the most beautiful trip! What fabulous wineries and great descriptions my love!

  26. Thanks so much for sharing and describing so much about Napa Valley! It looks like a wonderful place to visit.

  27. Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Great information here. I live just south of Napa Valley, so love to hear about your favorite wineries and locations. It is a beautiful place and always fun to visit.

  28. Now you’re tempting us with good wines? That’s not fair, Tom! Especially when geography keeps us from being able to follow in your footsteps. 😉 Enjoy, my friend!

  29. Really does look like a fabulous place to visit!

  30. Delia @ Blog Formatting

    WOW! Napa Valley looks fantastic from your description and the pictures, wonderful post!

  31. Carl Mason-Liebenberg

    This brings back some great memeories of trips to Napa!Love that region..always visited there then wandered over to Carmel…awesome places!

  32. Gary Hyman (Social Media for Entrepreneurs)

    Now Napa valley on my bucket list. I will get there before I die. Thanks for sharing this detailed information with us.

  33. Napa Valley Properties

    The tip about visiting a different area of Napa every day is a good one. There is so much to see in beautiful Napa!

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