California Wine Country guide: Wineries & vineyards in Napa, Sonoma & Paso Robles

These past few months, I’ve been exploring California’s wine country hard.  Helped by the covid-19 pandemic, which has limited my air travel, and encouraged by the fact that you can be in warm, scenic wine country in just over an hour from San Francisco (if going north to Napa / Sonoma; Paso Robles is a bit more of a project, at 3-4 hours).

So the fruits of my labour: Multiple mini guides to the many areas of wine country, grouped by area – since it’s important to consider proximity and drive time when booking a wine country excursion, to ensure you can maximise the time spent drinking wine while minimising travel time!  I’ve included nearby hotels and restaurants too, to help you make a weekend of it, along with the per person tasting fee (accurate at time of publishing).

And of course: everything in this list is deeply researched, tried and tested, and to the high design standards you have come to know and expect from me!

My wine country planning process is to select a few wineries all within ~30 mins drive of each other, plus a hotel and restaurants, and then carefully slot together a weekend based on location and availability.  I like to book a morning tasting (around 10:30) then have lunch (around 12:30), and then do one more tasting after lunch.  You could potentially fit in two tastings post-lunch, if nearby, but I like to take my time at each stop, and not have any time pressure – and wineries are expensive, so you want to spend the time and get your money’s worth!  For our weekends in wine country, we’ll often do one Friday afternoon tasting to kick us off, then two tastings each on Saturday and Sunday.

If you know where you want to go, jump to section:
– Napa Valley: St Helena | Yountville | Calistoga
– Sonoma Valley: Healdsburg | Carneros | Sonoma
– Paso Robles

Napa Valley

St Helena

Wineries

Progeny
Impeccably curated furniture in a high design piece of architecture. Food/wine pairings also available.
Tasting fee: $85 pp

Joseph Phelps
A repurposed bridge becomes a winery, and the effect is spectacular – as are the views!
Tasting fee: $85 pp

HALL
A modern winery, stuffed with artworks – including in the tank room!
Tasting fee: $40 pp

To eat

Farmstead @ Long Meadow Ranch
Rustic barn-style dining, perfect for lunch or dinner. Also a cafe on site, for morning coffee and light breakfast fare.

Charter Oak Restaurant
Upscale farm-to-table dining with a gorgeous interior and patio. Highly recommend the set Family Dinner, which showcases top dishes.

To stay

Napa Farmhouse Inn ($$$)
Rustic farmstay in St Helena, with home-grown fresh-cooked breakfasts and beautiful gardens for exploring.

Southbridge Hotel ($$)
Affordable option from the team behind Meadowood, in the heart of St Helena, with a spa nextdoor.

Rancho Caymus Inn ($$$$)
Rutherford’s answer to Soho Farmhouse! Beautifully designed, with a pool and hefty price tag.

Yountville

Wineries

Stewart Cellars
Stunning design and architecture, filled with design icon furniture, conveniently located in downtown Yountville.
Tasting fee: $30 pp

Clos du Val
Great design, indoors and out, and vineyard views.
Tasting fee: $75 pp

To eat

RH Yountville
“RH” stands for Restoration Hardware – i.e. the big name rustic/industrial interior design company – and this restaurant is an interior design lover’s dream (if a little OTT, with all those chandeliers!). There’s also RH Wine Vault which offers tasting flights from $50 pp.

Calistoga

Wineries

Trinchero
Architecture and interior design on point.
Tasting fee: $60 pp

Clos Pegase
Larger than life, award-winning architecture and delicious wines.
Tasting fee: $40 pp

T Vine Winery
Friendly and rustic, with vineyard views and cheeseboards.
Tasting fee: $25 pp

Olabisi tasting room
Beautiful, cosy downtown tasting room.
Tasting fee: $30 pp

To do

Oat Hill Mine Trail, a 14 mile trail (out and back) with a good bit of incline and some great views. Be sure to check the fire risk before heading out.

To stay

Calistoga Motor Lodge ($)
Calistoga is known for its hot springs, and the Motor Lodge capitalises on this, with multiple naturally heated pools, plus the Moonacre Spa. It’s a conveniently located, affordable, trendy motel.

Calistoga Bungalows ($$$)
Super cute bungalows, some with kitchenettes and lounge areas, right in the centre of Calistoga.

Indian Springs ($$$)
Upscale hotel with pool, spa and a variety of rooms/cottages, adjacent to Sam’s Social Club restaurant (below).

To eat

Sam’s Social Club – great for brunch or dinner, with high-ceilinged interior and outdoor seating with firepits.


Sonoma Valley

Healdsburg

Wineries

Flowers Winery
Beautiful: outdoor tastings in cabanas; indoors is all Mid Century Modern.
Tasting fee: $45 pp

MacRostie
Incredible hilltop views, great vibes and super friendly. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay focus.
Tasting fee: $35 pp

Medlock Ames
Gorgeous tasting room and olive grove – they also offer picnic baskets.
Tasting fee: $25 pp

Aperture Cellars
Brand new, super modern, with a young celebrity winemaker.
Tasting fee: $50 pp

Kistler Vineyards
Expensive but so so worth it for a truly exclusive experience, tasting (mainly Chardonnays) beneath the live oak.
Tasting fee: $100 pp

To stay

Wildhaven Glamping ($)
Affordable glamping option just outside of Healdsburg, right by the river – but be warned: tents are close together, and it’s family friendly (i.e. there may be kids!).

Harmon Guest House ($$$$)
Swanky downtown hotel.

The Sandman Motel ($$) / Astro Motel ($$)
Affordable, trendy motels in Santa Rosa – just a 20 min drive from the wineries of Healdsburg, making it a great lower-cost option, amidst Santa Rosa’s trendy restaurants (check out The Barlow) and cafes (Land & Water for coffee, Grossman’s for breakfast!).

To eat

Barndiva
Local, seasonal, farm to table fare, with lovely garden seating. Great for lunch, brunch or dinner – with great cocktails!

Chalkboard
Fab spot for dinner – small plates and cocktails, with patio seating.

Carneros

Wineries

Ram’s Gate
Rustic, barn-style winery – with a lunch/wine pairing on offer, too.
Tasting fee: $50 pp

The Donum Estate
A winery where the wine is just as important as the art! The tasting fee may seem high, but this includes a tour of the art installations on the property – expect Keith Haring, Ai Wei Wei and more; impressive, large-scale artworks that blend in to the landscape.
Tasting fee: $95 pp

Cuvaison
Small, modern winery – glass and steel amidst the vines.
Tasting fee: $45 pp

To stay

One of the many hotels in downtown Sonoma is your best bet, such as The Sonoma Hotel, Bungalows 313 or The Cottage Inn & Spa.

Sonoma

Wineries

Hamel Family Wines
Sweeping, striking, considered architecture, and an incredible wine cave complete with soil/rock cross-sections, Hamel Family serves up an unforgettable experience – complete with home-made ricotta and crackers!
Tasting fee: $75 pp

Repris
A striking, turreted building on Moon Mountain – tastings include an ATV vineyard tour and walking tour of the facility – plus cheese/charcuterie pairing.
Tasting fee: $75 pp

Three Sticks
Stylish tasting room in downtown Sonoma.
Tasting fee: $50 pp

Pangloss Cellars tasting room
Polished downtown tasting room serving wines produced by Repris.
Tasting fee: $25 pp

To eat

Taub Family Outpost
We love this corner restaurant – for coffee, brunch or small plates lunch/dinner. Oh and cocktails. And for taking a bottle home.

Valley Bar & Bottle Shop
Trendy bar and restaurant.

El Molino Central
Down-to-earth Mexican taco joint.

To stay

Beltane Ranch ($$$)
A stay at this 5-room guesthouse includes a fab home-grown, home-cooked breakfast. Picnic baskets, cheeseboards, chef’s dinner and wine tastings are all available and can be enjoyed anywhere on the 105-acre property – picnic in the produce garden, wine on the sofas beneath the live oak, or a wander past the chickens in the olive grove. Oh and did I mention that Beltane Ranch produces the best Zinfandel wine I’ve found in all California?

Gaige House & Ryokan ($$$$)
Japanese-style hotel and spa – beautifully designed, if a little pricey.


Paso Robles

Wineries

Torrin
Probably the friendliest wine tasting experience I’ve ever had – and we loved the wines! The wines are a little more expensive than many tastings you’ll find in Paso Robles (which is widely regarded as cheaper than Napa and Sonoma), but we thought it was well worth it.
Tasting fee: $30 pp

Law Estate
More great design, architecture and views.
Tasting fee: $40 pp

Epoch
An awesome old building has been revived to stunning effect – and serving fab wines.
Tasting fee: $30 pp

To stay

Cambria Beach Lodge ($$)
Cute, friendly beachside motel, just a stone’s throw some wonderful blustery beach walks.

Treebones ($ / $$$)
Treebones offers camping ($90/night) – pitch sites are secluded with incredible ocean views. Or you can glamp – yurts, cabins and eco-domes – which are more expensive. Both campers and glampers get breakfast provided, morning yoga and access to the pool.

The Piccolo, Paso Robles ($$$)
Trendy hotel in downtown Paso Robles – right opposite my fave coffee spot, Spearhead Coffee!

Have you been to any of these wineries in California – or any others I should know about? I’d love to know what your favourites are!