Hmmm, well, with "1" being someone who considers a $3 box of white zinfandel a treat, and "10" being someone who can tell you about the quality output of hundreds of wineries over the last several decades, I'd probably come in around a 3.5. I've got a couple friends who know their stuff, and I've learned a lot from them in the last couple years, but I don't have the finances or the time to develop significant expertise.
I'm going to be there 10/18 for a week, it looks like most of the festivities are over by then.
Alexander Valley Vineyards Fieldstone Simi Sausal Kenwood Rodney Strong Francis Ford Coppola (actually I haven't visited here but it's a must for HT types) Hop Kiln (picnic area) Rochioli (not on above map - next door to Hop Kiln) Korbel Champagne (IIRC picnic area)
The most interesting place is sadly off-limits to the public: Gallo Sonoma, who crush 1/3 of all the grapes in Napa/Sonoma. I only snuck in once because I knew someone who worked there.
Are you a AAA member? Get their "Sonoma and Napa Counties" and "San Francisco Bay Region" maps.
If you want a family style Italian dinner, don't miss the Union Hotel in the tiny town of Occidental.
Sonoma county was once the border between Russian America and Spanish America, and there still are some fortifications to prove this e.g. Fort Ross. It's not called the Russian River for naught.
Coppola's winery has been transformed into an upscale winery with just about every traces of his movie memorabilia removed from the premise. I would say skip it unless you like snooty atmosphere with high entrance fee.
My recommendations (I visit Napa few times a year):
V. Sattui: It's a prime spot for lunch time stop over, with good selection of wines for tasting, great selection of picnic food, desserts, and non-alcoholic drinks, and nice picnic ground. Great great cup of joe across the street at NY-based Dean & Deluca.
Peju: Beautiful winery.
Goose Cross: Friendly staff, great wines, classes.
Beringer: They were renovating the main building the last time I visited (around March), so you might want to call ahead. Although I am not a huge fan of their wines, they have pretty good tour and beautiful buildings.
Sterling: If you are more of a do-it-yourself type, Sterling provides self-guided tour of wine making process. Personally, I don't think this approach is all that effective but the winery is amazing view of Napa Valley (you enter the winery through a cable car up in the hill).
Oh, and don't forget the restaurants (e.g., Mustards Grill, French Winery, Ad Hoc).
For something higher-end, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars (not to be confused with Stags' Leap Winery...). It's famous for "the Judgment of Paris", when its Cabernet Sauvignon beat out French first-growths in blind taste tests, the first time a "New World wine" beat out the "Old World".
I grew up near Napa and have spent far more time at wine tasting than I am prepared to admit. I don't consider myself a connoisseur, nor do I want to, but I do enjoy the tasting process immensely.
My two strategies for tastings at Napa are as follows;
#1 (favorite) Hire a limo. Notify the company in advance that you will tip well up front (at least $100 and probably double) if the driver will set you up for wine tastings at some of the smaller more personal and intimate wineries. He will use his connections to set you up at locations you never would have found on your own. I always make an effort to buy at least one bottle at each stop both as a souvenir and to assuage my feelings of freeloading. Best part of this strategy - you are not getting loaded then driving on unfamiliar roads (full of loaded people driving on unfamiliar roads). Downside - a bit pricey.
#2 (not as favorite as #1 but still favorite - and cheaper) Go to a few wineries and take the tour. SCHMOOZE the guide as much as you can. (It is helpful if your partner is attractive and young) At the end of the tour tell them how much you enjoyed their tour and ask them if they could refer you to any others - especially the smaller lesser known ones. Rinse and repeat. Using this strategy I eventually ended up in an owner's livingroom sipping their wine and petting their cat. This couple owned 50 acres and bottled their wine as a family operation. That was cool.
Yes - I have an affinity for the smaller vintners. I like them because you get the feeling of discovery - the prices can be more reasonable - the tasting more intimate - and I've even found a few that eventually grew to well regarded names. (which then became too expensive so I had to go back to Napa) I figure I can taste the wines from larger wineries just about anywhere.
Also - a tasting strategy - when you taste wines start with the 'lighter' wines first and move to the heavier ones. Chenin Blanc then Chardonnay, Shiraz then Bordeaux. When I have a wine tasting at home we will often pick ONE variety - for example Merlot. We will buy two bottles then tell our guests that they must bring two bottles of Merlot with them. (Trust me - it is more fun if they bring wine - they have 'a horse in the race') We then will taste them in no particular order and enjoy the differences within the single variety - and believe me - it is VERY noticeable.
One place which I MUST RECOMMEND highly - to the point of flying out there and driving you there myself if I have to - is Artesa Vinyards. It is easily the most beautiful vineyard I've been to. It is built inside a hill and has many patios with breathtaking views of the Caneros Creek area. After a full twelve hours of air travel we received a much needed respite there compliments of our Napa limo driver. Promise me you go. Artesa Vineyards & Winery - Virtual Tour The wine's not bad either.
I second Kornell champagne grounds and tour. I also seem to remember a place - either Keystone or Cakebread - which had a very long but quite informative and educational free tour. If you have the time take it - just be prepared to spend about 45 minutes before you taste a drop of wine.
All this talk of a wine tour has me thinking it's for me to take a little drive out there again. I live about an hour from Napa/Sonoma and can't remember the last time I was out there. Shame on me. I don't drink much but the scenery is worth the trip.Please, please, please hire someone or have a designated driver. Don't drive yourself if you plan on taking a sip at each location. It add's up in a hurry and the roads are very dangerous around there. Especially 116, 121 and 37. Many accidents.
Also, even though sometimes it gets very warm (hot, even) and occasionally it rains a little, Sept and Oct. (Indian summer?) are the best weather months in the Bay Area. Warm days, cool nights. Enjoy yourself. I'm going to. Bring your wallet ($$$!).
Heh, a couple years ago when I went to Napa, we didn't eat there (figured we couldn't get in) but were at another French bistro-style place nearby whose name escapes me at the moment (and I can't ask the wife as she's gone to bed already), and the food was excellent. Halfway through our meal, the guy at the next table was paying his check, and told the waiter it was "much better than that snooty place up the street", obviously referring to The French Laundry...