Planning a Wine Tasting Weekend in Napa Valley

Karen Frazier
Woman drinking wine, Mountain Vineyard, Napa Valley, California

As the top wine vacation destination in the United States, Napa Valley is the perfect place to plan a weekend of wine tasting. With more than 400 wineries spread throughout the region's roughly 30 mile by 5 mile area and six towns (Calistoga, Napa, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Yountville), you can pack as little or as much as you'd like into a Napa Valley wine tasting weekend.

Best Times to Visit Napa Valley

Nearly 4 million visitors flock to Napa Valley each year. Whether you prefer to visit when everyone else does or wish to avoid huge crowds, and whether you prefer hot temperatures or cooler weather, you can plan your trip at a time that will suit your preferences.

Napa valley infographic

Things You Need to Know Before You Go

When planning your visit to Napa Valley for wine tasting, keep the following in mind.

  • Over half of the wineries in Napa Valley only offer tastings by appointment, and many are seated tastings with scheduled start times.
  • Most wineries charge a fee for tasting flights, ranging anywhere from about $10 or up. As of 2019, according to the Napa Valley wine tasting index, the average fee is $30.50 for drop-in tastings.
  • Some wineries will waive the tasting fee if you buy a certain number of wines or spend a minimum dollar amount on wines.
  • If you plan to buy wine while you taste, keep in mind that hot temperatures in vehicles can quickly damage wine, so you'll need to take some type of insulated storage with you or plan to have the wines shipped.
  • If you're on a self-guided tour, plan ahead. You can use the interactive Napa Vintners winery map to plan your visits so they make sense geographically.
  • Reserve hotels and tours several months ahead during peak seasons. Hotels and popular attractions fill up quickly during the high season, so it's important you make reservation weeks or months in advance depending on the time of your visit.
  • Weekend volumes are always higher than weekdays; so if you can plan visit midweek, you'll likely encounter fewer crowds, although some of the tastings and experiences may not be available midweek during the off-season.

Napa Valley Places to Stay

Places to stay fill up quickly in Napa Valley, so you'll want to book your reservations several weeks or months in advance, particularly during peak months or special events.

Hotels

LoveToKnow Travel offers a list of 12 hotels in Napa Valley to fit every budget. Of course, you can think beyond hotels and tailor your wine country experience to your budget and interests. Budget hotels start at about $100 per night, and the cost goes up from there. As of 2018, the average daily hotel room rate in the Napa Valley was just under $325.

Inns and B&Bs

In many cases, inns and B&Bs are less expensive and cozier than hotels and may offer more amenities. Plus, staying in a cozy and romantic B&B just seems like the perfect way to escape for a getaway wine weekend in Napa. Wine Country Media lists more than 50 B&Bs and inns starting at about $100 per night and rising from there depending on location and luxury. Many require a two-night stay and a deposit of the first night's fees.

Resorts and Spas

If you're looking for the ultimate in luxury, pampering, and plenty of on-site amenities and activities, then consider visiting one of Napa Valley's 20+ resorts and spas. While this type of lodging tends to be more expensive, you'll often find they have much of what you need without having to leave the premises. Many are located on vineyards with working wineries, spa services, wine receptions and tastings, and a few different fine and casual dining options. Prices start at around $200 per night and can go upwards to several hundred dollars per night.

Camping

If you prefer to spend your downtime in the great outdoors, then consider one of Napa Valley's campsites.

  • Boethe-Napa Valley State Park is located between St. Helena and Calistoga. You can make reservations up to six months in advance, something to consider especially during busy season. The park has sites to accommodate trailers up to 24 feet or motorhomes and campers up to 31 feet.
  • Skyline Wilderness Park in Napa has available tent and RV camping. Call (707) 252-0481 for reservations.

Wineries

With more than 400 wineries in Napa Valley, it's impossible to list them all. Many have licenses from the state that require them to only offer wine tasting by appointment, and others aren't open to the public. Therefore, it's essential that you do your homework before you visit; otherwise, you may miss out on your favorite wineries if your plan is to drop in. Making reservations will also help you beat the crowds somewhat because the wineries can better control crowd volume. During the busy season, you'll probably want to make your reservations as far in advance as you can.

Welcome to Napa Valley sign

No Appointment Necessary

There are wineries that allow walk-in tastings. In these experiences, you'll likely stand among a crowd at a tasting bar to sample pours of their standard flight current releases. Below is a listing of some of the wineries that have walk-in tastings available.

  • Beaulieu Vineyards offers walk-in tastings, although all of their tastings have reservations recommended with a few tasting experiences requiring them. The winery is located in St. Helena, and the tasting room is open weekends from 10 AM to 5 PM. Tastings range from $30 to $125. Call 707-257-5749 for reservations.
  • Caymus Vineyards is located in Rutherford, and the tasting room is open 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. A five-wine current release flight tasting costs $50. Contact the winery at 707-967-3010.
  • Charles Krug was California's first tasting room, and it is open to walk-in tasters. The winery is located in St. Helena and open from 10:30 AM to 5 PM daily. Tasting fee is $45, and if you like you can make a reservation by calling 707-967-2229.
  • Chateau Montelena in Calistoga is a must-see for its castle-like feel and Chinese gardens. The tasting room is open from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM daily, and the walk-in tasting fee is $40. Groups need to make reservations by calling 707-942-5105.
  • Domaine Chandon in Yountville is a great place to visit if you like the bubbly. The tasting bar is open from 10 AM to 4:30 PM, and the tasting fee is $20 to $35 for a flight. You can also enjoy hosted and group tastings by reservation. Call 888-242-6366.
  • Grigich Hills Estate is located in St. Helena, and the tasting room is open 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Tastings cost $25 to $40 or you can reserve a seated wine and cheese tasting for $50.
  • Robert Mondavi Winery in St. Helena was established by one of Napa Valley's pioneers in the wine industry. The winery is open 10 AM to 5 PM daily with wine flight tastings costing anywhere from $25 to $100 depending on the flight selected. Private and group tastings are by appointment; call 888-766-6328.
  • Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in Napa is open daily from 10 AM to 4:30 PM with the last walk-in tasting starting at 4:15 PM. For $45 you can enjoy the Estate Collection tasting flight. Other experiences and groups of 5 or more require reservations by calling 707-261-6410.
  • V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena is open 9 AM to 5 PM for tastings in the Marketplace. Cost for a flight is $20 plus tax, and you can upgrade and add more tastes for $7. If you'd like to enjoy a more comprehensive tasting with the Reserve Tower Tasting, you'll need to make a reservation. Cost of that tasting is $40 plus tax.
    Couple Winetasting, Tasting Wine Country Winery Bottles Selection by Vineyard

Reservation-Only Wine Tasting Experiences

The above wineries all have reserved tasting experiences as well as walk-in tastings, so for a more personalized experience, consider their private tastings. Other can't miss wineries in the Napa Valley that always require reservations include the following.

  • Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford is open by appointment. Call 707-963-5222.
  • Duckhorn Vineyards in Saint Helena is open by appointment. Tasting experiences range from $45 to $85 and require reservations. Call 707-963-7108.
  • Far Niente located in Oakville offers tours and tastings ranging from $50 to $100 per person. Appointments are available from 10 AM to 3 PM. Call 707-944-2861.
  • Joseph Phelps Vineyards is located in Saint Helena. Tastings and experiences range in price from $85 to $300 and are available starting at 10 AM. Call 707-963-2745.
  • Opus One is located in Oakville. Tastings and hosted experiences are available starting at $75 and reservations are required. Call 707-944-9442.
  • Shafer Vineyards offers tastings at 10 AM and 2 PM. Tasting fee for a sit-down flight of five wines is $85. Call 707-944-2877.
  • Stag's Leap Winery is located in Napa. Estate tours and tastings are at 10 AM, 1 PM, and 3 PM and cost $75 per person. Call 800-395-2441 for appointment.

Transportation and Tours

Whether you plan on experiencing Napa Valley by train, wine trolley, hot-air balloon, or limousine, you can get a unique view of the area, visit wineries along the way, and leave the driving to someone else. Napa Valley wine tours fill up quickly, so be sure to book your reservations early.

Hot air balloons over green landscape, Napa Valley, California

Help With Planning and Booking

There are some great resources and apps to help you plan and book your Napa Valley weekend.

  • Winery Finder is a free app that helps you find wineries in Napa Valley and other wine regions. It also lists current promotions and savings at various area wineries.
  • CellarPass does the planning for you to make your Napa Valley weekend memorable but not labor intensive. It allows you to search wineries, make reservations, and even offers specials and discounts.
  • Find sample itineraries for different types of tastings and geographical regions at Napa Valley Vintners.

Saving Money in Napa Valley

Want to save money? Try the following.

  • Visit Groupon for food and drink deals.
  • Purchase a Napa Tasting Card and taste wines at tasting rooms in downtown Napa for half price.
  • Go during the off-season. The infographic above shows you when hotels are at the least expensive, so it's the best time to visit to save money.
  • Visit wineries with complimentary tastings with purchase and buy a bottle of wine.
  • Split a tasting between two people and share a glass.
  • Buy a Priority Wine Pass for $40 and get 2 for 1 and complementary tastings at participating wineries.

Escape for a Wine Tasting Weekend in Napa Valley

If you're looking for the perfect weekend getaway, then a visit to Napa Valley may be the perfect way to spend your time off from work. With hundreds of Napa Valley wineries to explore and enjoy, you can customize your getaway to suite your tastes and budget.

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Planning a Wine Tasting Weekend in Napa Valley