Have you ever driven through a fancy neighborhood like Beverly Hills and dreamt of being invited inside one of the homes for a glass of wine? Well, tasting wine in Napa is like stepping into a world where that fantasy becomes reality. There are some wineries that not only pour exciting and delicious wines but also offer hospitality that parallels a cozy afternoon on a dear friend’s patio. Last month, I explored the charm of Paso Robles,CA and compared it to a visit with your favorite Auntie. But Napa? Napa is like stepping into the lavish home of your rich auntie—the epitome of luxury and indulgence. 

If you’re planning a visit to Napa and share your plans with others, you may hear two things: it’s overrated and expensive. End your friendship with these naysayers immediately. To Napa being overrated, I call bull- it’s fabulous. To it being expensive, I say, “truth,” but it’s worth it. Save your pennies and check out these five wineries that you simply can’t afford to miss. 

 Where to taste:

Bouchaine Vineyards

After years of traveling to wine country as the press, where we are being fed gourmet food and wines for 12 hours straight, I have learned to pace myself. Mostly spitting wine (after tasting), or taking small sips and eating half of my meal. However, something happened on my recent visit to Bouchaine. I don’t usually do this, but I drank all the wine and ate all the food. YES, all of it! It’s not my fault, there was a healer in that kitchen.  Jesse McQuarrie of Bay City Catering. was cooking up soul nourishing plates that were the colorful backdrop for the drama that is Bouchiane wines. These wines, especially the pinot noirs, live rent free in my head. If these wines were a television series, they would be the show “This Is Us;” Intense, surprising, relatable and haunting.    

Located in Carneros, AV, Bouchaine offers a variety of wine tasting experiences; check out the Vine to Vessel Tasting  ($120) where you taste “wines out of concrete eggs, large French oak casks, acacia barrels, and even clay amphorae.” You can also sip in their garden ($45) or try their  falconry demonstrations. There is so much to do and taste. 

Cliff Lede Vineyards

A few years back, I had the pleasure of meeting Jason Lede during his visit to Chicago where he met with wine writers and buyers. That’s when I got my first taste of Cliff Lede Vineyards- it was love at first sip. Fast forward to a recent trip to Napa in February 2024, and I got to dive deeper into the vibe of Cliff Lede. There’s something special about falling for a wine on three levels – tasting it, hearing its story, and strolling through the vineyards. Walking through those vineyards was where I really felt the winery’s passion for music. Each vineyard’s name has musical roots; inspired by musicians, bands, or songs.  It’s clear the team at Cliff Lede are not just making wine, they’re making connections. They’re saying, “Hey, wine isn’t just a drink, it’s part of life, just like music.”

Now, let’s talk about Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa’s Stags Leap District, founded by Cliff Lede back in 2002. They’re all about crafting Bordeaux-style wines that really capture the essence of the region. And with Christopher Tynan at the winemaking helm, you know you’re in for something special. As a level 3 sommelier, I often feel pulled to describe wines in the language of WSET– but there is no heart in that language- and I am all heart. When I tasted the Cliff Lede 2019 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon ($375), my heart skipped a beat  and the words, “this is fire.” was all I could utter. 

Poetry Inn 

But wait, there’s more! If you’re dreaming of a luxe getaway, Poetry Inn (owned by Cliff Lede Vineyards) is your ticket to paradise. Truly heaven on earth. Picture yourself in a plush suite with a crackling fireplace, a deep tub, outside shower and a balcony overlooking the valley. Ah, now that’s what I call wine country bliss.

Photo credit Poetry Inn

Photo credit Domaine Carneros

When you’re in Napa, California, don’t miss Domaine Carneros! It’s a first-class estate winery known for its superb méthode traditionelle sparkling wines and estate Pinot Noir. This property is owned by the renowned Champagne house Taittinger, blending champagne sophistication with California sunshine. Their tasting room is straight out of a French château, complete with a fabulous patio for sipping in style. And let’s talk about experiences – they offer sparkling wine and caviar pairings, cheese tastings, and even sabering lessons! An excellent pause from Cabernet tasting, their sparkling wines are a palate-refreshing delight. Perfect for a bubbly outing with friends or a romantic date, especially with their “Bubbles & Bites: A Journey to Southeast Asia,” pairing experience. And if you are craving adventure and a dash of history, don’t miss the Art of Sabrage experience!

Gamble Family Vineyards

Photo credit Gamble Family Vineyards

I was excited to be introduced to Gamble Family Vineyards, a gem in the heart of Napa Valley. A small production, family-owned winery founded by third-generation farmer Tom Gamble. Known for producing stellar wines, farming excellence and a deep-seated commitment to the land. The winery is dedicated to sustainable farming practices and environmental stewardship. Certified Napa Green, (and certified supper yummy) the winery and vineyards “reflect a holistic approach to viticulture, ensuring a harmonious balance between nature and nurture.” The property is gorgeous and inviting. They are not open to the public, however you can request a 75 minute private tasting. Among the star lineup of wines is the 2022 Gamble Sauvignon Blanc. If you can’t get an appointment, order their wines here.

Sullivan Rutherford Estate

Photo credit Sullivan Rutherford Estate

I met my people! As an unapologetic fan and self proclaimed Merlot Ambassador, Sullivan is one of my happy places in Napa. Located in the Rutherford AVA, Sullivan Winery specializes in beautiful Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Founded in 1972 Sullivan’s 26-acre estate became home to its first Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines in 1978, under the guidance of legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff. They offer a few tasting options, but I highly recommend the Merlot Mastery tasting experience, priced at $350. This immersive multi-Merlot wine tasting paired with bites offers a rare opportunity to taste some of the world’s most coveted Merlots.

Where to stay:

Carneros Resort and Spa

Photo credit Carneros Resort and Spa

What a delightful surprise this property turned out to be! Picture this: charming, standalone luxury cottages that felt like a fancy Mayberry. My own cottage had a welcoming front porch with  a pair of rocking chairs, but any small-town vibes vanished the moment I stepped inside. The room was spacious with a cozy fireplace and heated floors in the bathroom – talk about luxury! And let’s not forget the baller outdoor area, complete with a dining table, a tub, a shower, and a fire pit – pure tranquility. With an apiary, multiple restaurants, a world class gym, and several pools to enjoy, there’s never a dull moment here! 

Lavender Four Sister Inn, Yontville, Napa 

What a gem of a find! Lavender Inn stole my heart with its cozy charm and luxurious feel. Located in Yountville, this Four Sisters Inn blends Napa warmth with French country flair, creating a perfect retreat for wine lovers. Take a morning stroll or use one of their bikes to nearby restaurants, but don’t miss the chance to enjoy your own patio – I sipped coffee and devoured a good book before my leisurely morning walks. Steeped in history, this inn started as a farmhouse in the 1850s, making it one of Napa Valley’s oldest homes. In the 1980s the property made it on the National Register of Historic Places and after careful renovation,  joined the Four Sisters Inns family in 1999.

Photo credit Lavender Inn

Poetry Inn 

But wait, there’s more! If you’re dreaming of a luxe getaway, Poetry Inn (owned by Cliff Lede Vineyards) is your ticket to paradise. Truly heaven on earth. Picture yourself in a plush suite with a crackling fireplace, a deep tub, outside shower and a balcony overlooking the valley. Ah, now that’s what I call wine country bliss.

Photo credit Poetry Inn

Watch the Recent Daytime Chicago NAPA Segment 

Want more? Here is an article I wrote a few years ago for AFAR Magazine