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Napa Valley Wine Tours – Pictures, History
With maps to wineries in California’s Napa Valley
Napa Valley wine tours and wine tasting are probably the most popular of the many California wine region tour options.
There are many reasons for the popularity of the Napa Valley as a wine touring destination. Effective marketing has certainly played a part, but proximity to San Francisco, scenic landscapes, panoramic views, the opportunity to discover, taste and purchase quality wines and a wide variety of touring, tasting and educational options all contribute to the valley's reputation
The majority of people who visit San Francisco also tour the wine country and one way to do so is with an organized tour such as those listed in the sidebar to the right.
Napa Valley Wineries
With so many wineries—of nearly every imaginable size, architectural style and number of and type of amenities—in the Napa Valley we've organized our listings by geographic location. Use the interactive map on the left, blue nav bar to the right, or the links in the descriptions below, to explore.
Interactive winery locator maps, listings of wine tasting and touring options—whether winery, wine bar or wine shop—including photos, signature wines, history, hours of operation, contact information and more are provided for each destination.
About half the wineries in Los Carneros—Carneros AVA which straddles the southern end of both the Sonoma and Napa valleys—are within Napa County. This is the closest wine region to San Francisco.
City of Napa Wine Tasting
Napa wineries, wine bars and wine shops with tasting options are in a relatively concentrated area with dining, shopping and cultural activities close by. Learn about Napa history and view photos of Napa’s historic homes, Victorian inns and B&Bs.
Silverado Trail Wineries
Silverado Trail wineries tend to be spaced further apart than those in Napa or on the other side of the valley and include some of the most famous and architecturally interesting in the valley.
We list nearly 50 wineries—requiring a wineries map divided into north, center and south sections—along this scenic, two-lane winding road that travels along the eastern side of the Napa Valley from Napa to Calistoga.
Yountville Wine Tasting
Known for world renowned restaurants (largest concentration of Michelin stars per capita in the world) such as the French Laundry, Yountville features several wine bars, wine shops with tasting and winery tasting rooms along Washington Street in addition to another half-dozen plus wineries outside the downtown area.
Shopping, historic sites, the Napa Museum, Napa River Ecological Reserve and Veterans Home of California, Yountville are additional draws.
Oakville & Rutherford Area Wineries
Oakville and Rutherford—two unincorporated communities—are known today primarily for the world class wineries established in this area of the Napa Valley.
St. Helena has a charming historic downtown, world-class restaurants and historic wineries.
Located near the center of the Napa Valley, St. Helena strives to maintain a small-town atmosphere in what is frequently referred to as "The Heart of the Napa Valley."
The northern-most city in the Napa Valley, Calistoga is known for warmer weather than the southern end of the valley, natural hot spring spas, and small town ambiance.
Developed and named by Sam Brannen, of San Francisco gold discovery fame, visitors enjoy shopping, dining and visiting art galleries in addition to wine touring.
A Brief Napa Valley History
A unique combination of plate tectonics, volcanoes, erosion and other forces came together millions of years ago to create the soil conditions that allow Napa Valley vintners to produce world-class wines.
Long before grapes were grown and wine was being made in the Napa Valley, native Americans roamed the area, living in a virtual paradise. The Napa River, running through the valley, provided fish to eat and fresh water. Deer, bear, elk and other wildlife were plentiful as were fruits nuts and berries.
The first settlers (see Yountville history) came to the Napa Valley in the 1830's, with land grants from the Mexican Governor. They brought civilization to the Napa Valley along with diseases like smallpox that nearly wiped out native tribes such as the Wappo. The native American population in California dropped from 175,000 in 1848 to fewer than 30,000 in 1870, primarily due to diseases for which they lacked immunity.
Most major California historical events also impacted Napa Valley history. The California Gold rush, beginning in 1848, had almost everyone in the Napa Valley leaving to join the search for gold. Discouraged miners soon realized that growing produce to sell at high prices to the miners was a good way to make a living. Napa was one of California's original counties in 1850.
A silver rush, ten years later, brought mining to the north end of the valley and the town of Silverado City grew to 1,500 people. Meanwhile tourism flourished with families summering at Calistoga, and later Soda Springs — natural sulphur hot springs where numerous resorts were built.
The Hitchcocks, a San Francisco family, purchased 1000 acres in the upper Napa Valley between St. Helena and Calistoga in 1883. Nearby Lillie Hitchcock Coit set up a home site and named it "Larkmead."
In 1884 young Anton Nichelini, who had been working as a stone mason for wine making pioneer Joshua Chauvet in Sonoma County, applied for a homestead in Chiles Valley. He began what is now the oldest family owned winery in Napa Valley. Thus began the transition of Napa Valley agriculture to what is today an almost exclusive emphasis on a single crop—wine grapes.
While Prohibition caused many growers already discouraged by the Phylloxera epidemic and dropping wine prices to switch to walnut, olive and fig trees several vintners outlasted Prohibition and the great Depression by making sacramental and medicinal wines.
The history of wine making, wine touring and wine tasting in California's Napa Valley wouldn't be complete without mentioning the Paris Tasting of 1976, the year of the US bicentennial. In a comparative blind wine tasting that pitted French wines against California wines, French wine experts ruled that California wines were superior to what Bordeaux and Burgundy had to offer.
The “Judgment of Paris” received lots of publicity, especially in the US, and helped to educate people about the quality and availability of premium wine from California's Napa Valley. It also shattered the belief that first-class wines could only be produced by French soil and encouraged wine makers not just in the Napa Valley but around the world.
Annual Napa Valley Wine Events
The annual Napa Valley Wine Auction a charity event begun in 1981 and always carefully orchestrated to promote Napa Valley wines caps a week of fancy dinners and hospitality events. The annual auction generates tremendous publicity when astronomical prices are paid for wines by bidders/philanthropists.
Another annual event The Napa Valley Mustard Festival began in 1993 and promotes travel to the Napa Valley in the 'off season' with a number of events celebrating food, wine and art. The yellow mustard flowers that blanket the Napa Valley every spring set the theme for over a dozen dinners, wine tasting, art exhibits and other events.
The bright yellow flowers are said to have originated in California when Father Juniper Serra made his first exploratory trip north through the state scattering mustard seeds as he went. His return trip the following spring was then guided by a path of blooming mustard.
The 2003 Napa Valley Mustard Festival lasted through the months of February and March beginning with a Mustard Magic Mascarade! grand opening event at the Culinary Institute at Greystone in St. Helena and culminating with The Mumm Cuvée Napa Photo Finish at the end of March. My panorama shot in Mumm Cuvée's vineyard on the Silverado Trail, not fifty yards from the exhibit location, was selected as the best entry in the Silverado Trail category one year. The photo exhibit continues through May each year.
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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2013 Lee W. Nelson