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  • Alexander Smith

Top Napa Wineries to Visit for First-Timers



I am heading back to Napa in just over a month as part of my annual trip to one of my favourite wine regions in the world and to escape the Canadian winter for a few days. This year I will be attending Premiere Napa Valley, an auction to raise funds for charity. This is a great event which allows trade to bid on cases of unique wines as well as taste through just under 200 different Napa wines. Needless to say I am pretty excited about.


One of the questions I get repeatedly asked is which winery should first timers visit when in Napa. This is a tough question, since there are over 500 wineries, with a range of different styles, tastes, budget, level of knowledge etc. so providing any type of guidance is very difficult. Napa is expensive, and all wineries will charge a tasting fee, and so I will provide what I believe will give you the best experience along with an understanding of the Napa Landscape. Note: None of the following wineries have paid to be on this list


1) Joseph Phelps Winery - A family owned and operated winery located in St. Helena, Napa. Founded by Joseph Phelps in 1973, this winery only produces wines which are estate grown and include Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in their lineup. This has to be one of the most beautiful settings in Napa, their tasting terrace offers stunning views across their vineyards. A range of experiences exist from tasting through their full range of wines including their flagship wine (Insignia), along with a blending experience and a retrospective tasting. Prices range from $85-325.


Joseph Phelps Winery

2) Spottswoode - Estate grown, Organic, Family Owned and frequent 100 point reviews. It does not get better than this little boutique winery. Reservations are required in advance and each appointment lasts 90 minutes which includes a tour and tasting through their ranges of wines including their Sauvignon Blanc which I believe is one the best Sauvignon Blanc from California. Robert Parker once referred to this as the Château Margaux of Napa. Fee is $75

Spottswoode Winery

3) Stag's Leap - Judgment of Paris 1976, Stag's Leap SLV beat the best wines in France. This put Stag's Leap on the map and today they are still making world class wines. Their famous Fay, SLV and Cask 23 receive high critic scores every year and tasting through their wines allow you to fully appreciate the history of this famous estate. Experiences range from a simple tasting to a culinary pairing. Prices range from $45 - 175.


Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

4) Matthiasson Wines - This family owned winery is often overlooked, however it should not be. Steve and Jill Matthiasson produce some of the best wines in the valley including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay as well as some interesting Italian varietals of Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano. All organic! Their wines are highly rated by sommeliers due to their complimentary nature to food. Tasting fee is $50 and the tour lasts 75 minutes, wines are hard to find in the market so buy what you can on site!


Steve Matthiasson

5) Failla - This phenomenal producer focus on cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Their tasting room is in the Napa Valley, yet they produce no Cabernet Sauvignon! For those who need a respite from all of those big style Cabernet, Failla ticks all the right boxes. Their prices range from $30-60 and is waived upon purchasing a couple of their wines.


Failla Wines - Cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir!

What are your favourite places to visit when in Napa?

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