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Napa’s Best Winery Experiences: Unique Stops and Beyond

Like a long pilgrimage to the motherland, oenophiles' vacations often revolve around a chance to visit the place where their favorite wines are made.

There is something special about tasting through a winery’s portfolio under its very own roof, guided by a resident expert as you sniff, swirl, and sip to your heart’s content.

For wine lovers, it’s a momentous occasion, but taking a trip to wine country’s best and brightest doesn’t have to be an activity reserved only for those who live, dream, and breathe grapes. From breathtaking architectural details to a wide range of non-wine-related fun and games to gardens that Martha Stewart couldn’t help but praise, these wineries have a little something for everyone.

Soar through the Sky at Sterling Vineyards

In addition to an unflaggingly classic bottle of Cabernet, guests at Sterling Vineyards can also pick up a pretty memorable change in perspective.  Sterling’s gondola ride is the only one of its kind in all of Napa Valley.

Sterling Vineyards Gondola - Napa Ca -

Sterling Vineyards Gondola – Napa Ca – WineGeographic

The enclosed car transports guests high into the hills, where they’ll disembark and have a chance to calm any residual nerves with a complimentary glass of wine. If the view itself isn’t intriguing enough, keep in mind that the winery’s tours include several art galleries, scenic overlooks, and motion-activated flat screen TVs that impart interesting tidbits of information to give guests some insider info on the winemaking process.


Be Treated Like Italian Royalty at Castello di Amorosa

In a region filled with buildings oozing an intriguing combination of rustic charm and contemporary chic, the authentically-styled Tuscan castle at Castello di Amorosa does a terrible job blending in — and the result is magnificent. Designed in the image of the homes belonging to 13th-century Italian royalty, the winery’s stone façade and turrets are majestic, and it’s not hard to imagine the castle guard patrolling along the walls. [youtube url=”” autohide=”0″ fs=”1″ hd=”1″]General admission allows you to roam freely through the bilevel winery and main tasting room or opt for a guided tour and a chance to sample Castello di Amorosa’s coveted reserve wines. A small warning: Although there is both a drawbridge and a moat, the winery is strictly BYOT — bring your own tiara.

Experience Avant Garde Architecture at Quixote Winery

There isn’t a straight line in sight at Quixote Winery, and that’s just how the architect wanted it. Viennese architect Freidensreich Hundertwasser was known for his interesting design aesthetic, and the building he crafted for Quixote is the innovative anti-modernist’s only North American creation.

Color abounds, with pillars shellacked in shiny swaths of red, orange, and blue, earth tone tiles from wall to wall, and numerous mosaic collages on pretty much any surface Hundertwasser saw fit to embellish. Far from a box-like structure, the building’s eaves swoop and curve, each round corner punctuated by a ball-topped spindle. Much like a Kandinsky painting come to life, the entire property is captivating and practically exudes energy.

Visit a Persian Palace at Darioush

The very epitome of Old World splendor, Darioush’s pillar-strewn grounds are absolutely transportive. It’s hard to stroll across the lush lawns, skirting around the pillars and flower-shrouded pools, without feeling like you’ve left Napa for someplace much more exotic. The main building’s interior is no different. Persian verses are carved over the massive marble fireplace in the foyer, with two stoic statues standing guard on either side.

Founder and owner Darioush Khaledi built his fortress as a sort of tribute to the ancient cities of Shiraz and Persepolis, and the influence of centuries of tradition is evident in the plethora of fascinating artifacts. From the intricate woven carpets to the carved panels on the sideboards to the oddity-filled gift shop, Darioush — both the man and the winery — is proud to be different, and that enthusiasm is contagious.

Tiptoe Through the Tulips at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery

Ferrari-Carano wines are not exactly a well-kept secret; their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular are widely popular and are fairly easy to find on restaurant menus as well as on grocery store shelves. Take a trip to the winery, though, and you’ll soon discovery that the biggest draw is a long way from the cellar. The vineyard’s grounds are nothing short of exquisite. Every spring, more than 10,000 tulips and daffodils bloom into a cacophony of jaw-dropping color, a sight only properly appreciated in person. Relax in the more park-like atmosphere of the Enclosed Garden, where trees, shrubs, and a mixture of flowers coexist in carefully cultivated bliss. All in all, there are more than 2,000 species of flora and fauna at Ferrari-Carano, including Portuguese cork and Japanese cherry blossom trees, as well as foot bridges, fish ponds, and some stunning complementary architecture. You may have come for the wine, but you’ll come back for the gardens.

Satisfy Your Inner Cinephile at Francis Ford Coppola Winery

The Coppola name is practically synonymous with an incredible tradition of classic filmmaking, something the powers that be at the Coppola winery decided to embrace rather than ignore. It would be easy to want to escape the Hollywood influence in these vineyard-dotted hills, but instead of trying to shift focus to the winemaking, the family’s two passions exist side by side — to the great benefit of interested guests. In between trips to the tasting room and winery tours, visitors can check out the Movie Gallery, a room filled to the brim with movie memorabilia. There are Academy Awards, of course, but movie buffs will be more enthralled by Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather and the actual automobile featured in Tucker: The Man and His Dream. The artifacts aren’t confined to one room, either; you’ll find more memorabilia throughout the property, turning each visit into sort of a self-guided scavenger hunt. Just don’t look for any horse heads — we hope.



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About The Author
Alana Luna
Alana is a freelance food and wine writer currently living in Las Vegas, NV. She is a lifelong hospitality enthusiast, having been born into the industry and raised in restaurants (and perhaps the odd bar or two…). Prior to writing full time, Alana worked on the Las Vegas Strip where she was lucky to learn from some of the leading wine professionals in the world while tasting some of the very best bottles wine country (in the broadest sense of the term) has to offer. Above all, she believes in the power of a really good story, and stories involving food and wine are her very favorite tales to tell.

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