Top Wineries | Highlights from Napa Valley

Best Wineries in Napa Valley – Castello di Amorosa, CADE Estate & Palmaz Vineyards

Winter in most places isn’t terribly beautiful or comfortable, unless of course you’re in Napa Valley! My partner and I were married on 12-13-14 and on the 27th of December we made a trip to Napa Valley to celebrate our honeymoon. We chose to stay at the beautiful Carneros Inn in Napa.

Best Wineries in Napa Valley

The lounge chairs outside of the Hilltop Restaurant at The Carneros Inn

Because we were mostly kicking back and celebrating, I wasn’t planning on doing any write-ups like I might normally do. Having said that we were fortunate enough to visit some pretty special wineries and I felt compelled to share these amazing spots with you! Ranging from spectacularly touristy to just plain spectacular, the following are some of the Best Wineries in Napa Valley we visited during this trip. Before we get into them, if you’re interested in going on a hot air balloon ride in the region, you should check out this website for more information.

Best Wineries in Napa

One of five defensive towers at Castello di Amorosa

Castello di Amorosa – Best Wineries in Napa Valley

If you’re looking for a lesson in medieval architecture, wine-making, or just some good old-fashioned wow-factor, then Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley is not to be missed.

Aptly nicknamed ‘The Castle’, Castello di Amorosa began as a modest vision by proprietor and Napa Valley native Dario Sattui. You may know him from the wildly popular V. Sattui Winery in the heart of Napa.

Best Wineries in Napa

Dario Sattui had a dream of honoring his Italian heritage and building a Tuscan Castle where he could produce wines from varietals indigenous to Italy. While his original idea called for a structure measuring around a more modest 5,000 square feet, Dario’s passion for wine-making and Italian architecture snowballed into what stands today: a sprawling, 121,000 square foot 13th century era medieval Tuscan-inspired architectural masterpiece crafted from handmade materials, many of which were actually imported from Italy.

Best Wineries in Napa

The Great Hall – Historically the most well-appointed room and used for social gatherings

Over 200 shipping containers were imported to craft ‘The Castle’ with such items as antique bricks, windows, tiles, doors and authentic furnishings.

A true labor of love, Castello di Amorosa required nearly as much labor to construct. While 30 years in the making, it took an impressive 15 years of actual construction time with a team of dedicated architects, engineers and carpenters on staff, many of whom lived on property during the construction.

Best Wineries in Napa

The Large Format Room

Some fun facts about Castello di Amorosa:

  • The structure spans 121,000 square feet which is the equivalent of 3 acres worth of rooms.
  • There are 5 defensive towers, a moat and a drawbridge.
  • The hand-hewn doors to the castle weigh 2,000 lbs. and were imported from Italy.
  • There are 107 total rooms, with 95 entirely devoted to winemaking.
  • There are 8 total levels with half of them underground.
  • The property consists of 171 acres of land, with 30 of those planted to vine.
  • Their goal is to make classically styled, Italian varietals such as:
    • Pinot Grigio
    • Pinot Bianco
    • Sangiovese
    • Super Tuscan Blends
    • A late harvest Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend
  • While Castello di Amorosa honors traditional wine-making techniques, they utilize modern technologies where it improves wine quality.
  • Castello di Amorosa utilizes a sustainable approach to wine-making and vineyard management practices.

We opted for the guided tour and premium tasting, at $35 per person. Our tour guide was passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about both the history of the property and the medieval history it honored.

The tasting at the end of the tour was conducted in one of several subterranean private tasting rooms. We were able to choose 5 wines to taste from the extensive tasting menu. My favorite wines were the IL Brigante (a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot) and the Cabernet Sauvignon, priced at $37 and $49 respectively.

Should you find yourself short on time, you could just taste for $20 per person or upgrade to a reserve level tasting for $30 per person. For more on Tours and Tasting information, click here.

Best Wineries in Napa

Make sure to say hello to the Emu’s on the way out!

Castello di Amorosa is both a feast for the eyes and the palate. If you haven’t carved out a spot for Castello di Amorosa yet in your Itinerary, make sure you do. Even if you only come for the impressive sights and intriguing history, you’ll surely leave with something to sip and savor long after you’ve visited one of the best wineries in Napa. Click here to read my review of Castello di Amorosa’s Napa Valley Chardonnay and flagship Super Tuscan Blend “La Castellana”!

CADE Estate Winery – Best Wineries in Napa Valley

Best Wineries in Napa

A native Manzanita tree at CADE Estate Winery

If I can recommend that you visit just one winery in Napa Valley on your next visit, that one would be CADE Estate Winery on Howell Mountain. Despite being corporately owned by the Plumpjack Group, which ironically also owns The Carneros Inn, CADE Estate impresses in every way possible without ever feeling the least bit ‘corporate’. Quite simply this off the beaten path winery is firing on all cylinders.

Best Wineries In Napa

From it’s commanding views down to Napa Valley to it’s stunning modern architecture all executed with the utmost sustainability in mind, CADE Estate begs for your attention. Did I mention the gorgeous setting nestled on Howell Mountain surrounded by native Manzanita trees?

Best Wineries in Napa

Inside the caves at CADE Estate Winery

While you can taste current releases in the lounge for $40, I recommend the CADE Estate Cave Tour and Tasting. For $70, visitors are greeted with either a glass of the CADE Sauvignon Blanc or Adaptation Chardonnay before touring the wine-making facility and caves.

Make sure to arrive early so that you can take in the views by the outdoor fire pit or reflecting pool before your tour begins. After the tour, visitors are treated to an intimate group-setting tasting consisted of four wines paired with delicious small bites. We tasted:

  • 2011 Adaptation Chardonnay ($28)
  • 2013 CADE Sauvignon Blanc ($28)
  • 2011 CADE Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
  • 2011 CADE Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($80)
  • 2011 Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($150)

Best Wineries in Napa

Being corporately owned and with such impressive views, my honest expectations for their wines were merely average… However I was beyond pleasantly surprised! Their entire portfolio, from their Sauvignon Blanc to their 100% estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon were impeccable and incredibly well-crafted, both of which just happened to be my favorites.

Best Wineries In Napa

The Estate Cabernet was incredibly rich and powerful yet with a weightless mouthfeel that completely belied it’s depth and complexity. Their Cabernet was the best I tasted on the entire trip, and we tasted some compelling Cabernet’s!

CADE Estate is easily one of the best wineries in Napa to visit. You would be hard pressed to find a more perfect combination of stunning vistas and stunning wine. It only further enhances the experience to know that the vineyards are organically farmed and the winery is LEED Cerfified. I know I will certainly be back and I hope to be able to feature their wines on The Fermented Fruit someday!

Palmaz Vineyards – Best Wineries in Napa Valley

Best Wineries in Napa

Entrance to Palmaz Vineyards

Many wine lovers know about the more recent Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976 where Chateau Montelena and Stags Leap Wine Cellars beat out the French for their Chardonnay and Cabernet, respectively. It was that surprising outcome from the now infamous tasting that put Napa Valley on the map and cemented it’s reputation as a world-class producer of wine, especially Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

But long before the 1976 competition the historic property now known as Palmaz Vineyards was owned by vintner Henry Hagen. It was known then as Cedar Knoll Vineyards and it just so happened to be producing award winning wines before Palmaz Vineyard’s ever came to be. At the Paris Exposition of 1889, Cedar Knoll Vineyards took silver medal for it’s wines.

Even after surviving the devastating Phylloxera epidemic it was Prohibition that shut down Cedar Knoll Vineyards for good. After several changes in ownership and 80 years time, the historic property fell into disrepair. Now fast forward a few years…

Best Wineries in Napa

Looking out onto Palmaz Vineyards

While you may or may not have heard of Dr. Julio Palmaz, you have probably heart of the heart stent which he invented. Intellectual Property International Magazine described Dr. Palmazez invention as one of the ‘Ten Patents that Changed the World” in the last century.

While originally from Argentina, the Dr. Julio Palmaz completed his residency at UC Davis, where his love of wine initially began. He and his wife Amalia continued to visit Napa over the years and would spend their weekends tasting wine in Napa.

Then, after years of work travels and residing in Texas, Dr. Palmaz sold his heart stent patent to Johnson & Johnson for hundreds of millions of dollars. Amalia had one request: That they retire to Napa Valley and make wine. It was she who found the historic property where Palmaz Vineyards now lies nestled alongside Mount George in prime Cabernet country.

In 1996 Palmaz Vineyards was born. And what do you get when a genius doctor retires after giving the world an incredibly advanced technological breakthrough and decides to pursue his love of wine?

Best Wineries in Napa

Fermentation Tanks Operate on a Mechanized, Computerized Conveyor System

Palmaz Vineyards is an incredible 100,000 square foot winemaking facility/underground complex consisting of an impressive 24 stories, most of which (15 stories) were drilled underground into Mount George. It was completed at an estimated cost of approximately $20 million and some of the construction work was so challenging that it has since been featured in scientific journals.

Featuring the most technologically advanced winemaking techniques I’ve ever seen, Palmaz Vineyards seeks to produce world class wines in the old-world, lower-alcohol style that is so uncommon today in Napa Valley.

Best Wineries in Napa

Fermentation Tanks in the High-Tech Fermentation Dome

The winery actually features a silo-like structure which houses a mechanized fermentation tank system whereby each individual tank for each specific vineyard lot parcel can be brought to the freshly picked and hand sorted fruit rather than the other way around.

Their fermentation tanks even feature remote sensors which can monitor everything from live temperature readings at the top and bottom of the tanks as well as the brix levels (sugar) of the wine.

Additionally, the entire winery is designed to utilize a complex gravity-flow method of transporting the wine. Most winemakers believe that the more you have to handle and transport and potentially bruise your fruit, the lower the quality of the finished wine will be. Dr. Palmaz believes that utilizing gravity is the gentlest and best method to move wine, and his winery certainly embodies that philosophy.

Best Wineries in Napa

The Underground Caves Offer Extensive Wine Storage for Barrel Aging

Our private tasting hosted by the knowledgeable and easy-going Andrea featured their excellent Riesling, Cedar Knoll Cabernet (a second label which pays homage to the historic Cedar Knoll Vineyards) and the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon which was expertly paired with a small bite menu designed by Mrs. Palmaz (a chef herself who even personally prepares meals for wine-club events).

Best Wineries in Napa

Our 2015 Winter Tasting Menu consisted of:

  • Southwestern Chicken Salad on an Apple Slice paired with the 2013 Palmaz Vineyards Riesling ‘LOUISE’ ($55)
  • Smoked Megret Duck Breast with Crème Cheese, Fig Preserves and Chives paired with the 2011 Cedar Knoll Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)
  • Piave Vecchio with Jerky Sprinkles and Dark Chocolate Palmaz Cabernet Truffle from Annette’s Chocolates paired with the 2011 Palmaz Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($120)
  • Almond and Apricot Biscotti paired with the Muscat Canelli “Florencia” ($55)

I really enjoyed the dry Riesling with its lemon, white peach, white flowers and mineral components. The Cedar Knoll Cabernet was another favorite with a fragrant nose of lavender and rosemary and delicious secondary flavors such as sandalwood, dark cherry, tobacco and leather. The flagship Cabernet was quite nice as well but drank more youthfully than the Cedar Knoll and I would love to re-taste it again after it has spent some time in bottle.

Tastings are by appointment only for $60 per person at Palmaz Vineyards and can be scheduled here. This is an exciting winery that is easily one of the best wineries in Napa.

Despite the large investment that was made here, one gets the sense that this is a true labor of love. It was a great way to end our trip. If you know of a more interesting story of how a winery came to be coupled with such beautiful wines, please let me know! For more about the Palmaz Vineyard’s story, click here.

Best Wineries in Napa


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4 thoughts on “Top Wineries | Highlights from Napa Valley

  1. Pingback: Whitehall Lane Cabernet Review | Whitehall Lane Winery - The Fermented Fruit

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