Play Winemaker for a Day on These Unique Wine Tours
Once you’ve seen (and tasted) all that California wine country has to offer, it’s hard not to daydream about what it might be like to own a vineyard or winery. Luckily, a handful of stand-out winery estates in Napa Valley have created one-of-a-kind experiences that let visitors play out their winemaking dreams! Below, you’ll find a variety of blending and tasting opportunities with wineries Beau Wine Tours recommends, both for the chance to try your hand at a personalized vintage and for their wonderful hospitality. Once you’ve chosen one or two to try, keep in mind each winemaking experience requires reservations, so be sure to call ahead.
8711 Silverado Tr
Saint Helena, CA 94574
Conn Creek Winery has one of the best-established “Winemaker for a Day” programs, offered for the last ten years and recognized with the international “Best of Wine Tourism” award from Great Wine Capitals. Add to that the winery’s unique position in the midst of Napa Valley, with outstanding access to select Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards throughout the best appellations in the region, and you have what Assistant Winemaker Jason Johnson refers to as a “winemaker’s paradise.” Most wine tours stop to taste from the winery’s Cabernet series, as well as from the highly curated Napa Valley blends. Those interested in their own blending experience directly benefit from Conn Creek’s diverse but elite resources.
The winery is one of Napa Valley’s first truly eco-friendly facilities, and it has been expanded since its construction in 1973 to include updated barrel storage, estate gardens, and the AVA room where the blending experience takes place. There, you can taste wine from barrels that represent different sub-appellations within Napa Valley. This tasting is guided by a wine educator so you and your wine tour can identify the qualities you most want to highlight in your own cuvée – though of course, the experience also includes a tasting of Conn Creek’s current releases.
$125 per person, which includes a take-home bottle of your own custom blend
849 Zinfandel Ln
St Helena, CA 94574
Raymond Vineyards is a perfect example of today’s Napa Valley – equal parts history, heritage, and recent innovations around sustainability and visitor experience. Founded in the ‘70s by Roy Raymond, the label quickly became a Napa Valley fixture. The family expanded the winery for five generations before teaming up with Jean-Charles Boisset and the Boisset Collection. Boisset is known for his commitment to implementing both sustainable and Biodynamic practices throughout the Collections’ wineries in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Raymond Vineyards now hosts the Theater of Nature, the largest educational exhibit in Napa Valley on the Biodynamic farming method.
This is only one of many unique attributes Raymond Vineyards offers to visitors, not least of which is the distinctive style and panache associated with Boisset brands. Raymond Vineyards provides a diverse array of experiences to wine tours, each set in their own distinct spaces. Try the Crystal Cellar, where you can taste as the winemaking happens around you, or the Red Room, where luxe décor and furnishings complement the equally lavish wines. This sense of style is not lost in the Winemaker for a Day program, where participants don glamorous uniforms in the Blending Room to learn the art of creating their own custom blends. You’ll be able to work with wine from Raymond’s 300 acres of estate vineyards, and to taste some of the winery’s meticulously crafted Cabernet Sauvignons. You’ll take your very own custom bottle home at the end of the experience, and you’ll also have a chance to order it by the case in the future – the ultimate Napa Valley wine tour souvenir!
$125 per person, which includes a take-home bottle of your own custom blend
200 Taplin Rd
St Helena, CA 94574
Joseph Phelps has the distinction of being both a Napa Valley fixture and a mainstay of Sonoma Coast wine country. The winery’s namesake first acquired a cattle ranch in Napa Valley in 1973, and since then, the label has only grown in reputation. Today, the winery farms almost 400 acres in Napa Valley and another 100 in western Sonoma County. These vineyards are carefully tended to respect the local environment as well as the enduring health of the vines and the invaluable soil they are grown in. Visitors the world over take wine tours specifically to visit the Joseph Phelps Napa Valley property, where tasting options include relaxed flights on the terrace, in beautifully-appointed lounges, and also as seated, educational offerings. One popular program is the “Wine Aroma Challenge,” where guests compete with their friends to identify the characteristics of six white and six red selections. And the winery knows exactly what it’s talking about: since 2009, every bottling made by Joseph Phelps is designated as “estate,” meaning the wine has been under the complete control of the winery from vine to bottle.
But Joseph Phelps is most famous for its signature flagship blend called “Insignia.” Awarded a perfect 100-point score by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate for four separate vintages – 1991, 1997, 2002, 2007 – it has also been named “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator. (Learn more about this famous wine in the video below.) This is the wine around which the Joseph Phelps wine-blending experience is built. You and your wine tour will get to smell, taste, and study six different components of the Insignia blend, and then compare your own cuvée to the current release of the wine. This is a great way to see how your tastes compare to the winemaker’s. This tasting lasts about ninety minutes, and is only offered on select days. Alternately, the Insignia Retrospective Tasting allows guests to try library selections of the famous blend; any one of several Culinary Experiences can be tailored to your wine tour.
$125 per person for a ninety-minute experience
2332 Silverado Tr
Napa, CA 94558
The Judd’s Hill Winery is a family affair, and one that captures the creative spirit of Napa Valley winemaking. Judd’s Hill was founded by Art Finkelstein and his wife Bunnie after Art’s first winery, Whitehall Lane, grew so successful he found himself managing more than winemaking. To restore his and his wife’s close connection to creativity, Judd’s Hill’s production is limited to 3,000 cases a year, in addition to the many “microcrush” bottlings produced for visitors and clients. This passion for creative endeavors runs throughout the family, extending to son Judd and his wife Holly: Art was both an architect and ceramicist, Bunnie is a poet (and all-around promoter of poetry) known for her wearable, knit pieces of art, Holly has a background in dance, and Judd himself is part of a ukulele band. He also hosts the “Judd’s Napa Valley Show,” a radio program about the region and its people.
To try your hand at the particular creative demands of winemaking, Judd’s Hill offers several options to aspiring winemakers. The Bottle Blending Day Camp gives Napa Valley wine tours a chance to learn about the different varietals used to create Bordeaux blends. Then, a blending guide will help each wine tour create their own, including bottling, labeling, and even foiling the finished product. Pricing varies based on the size of your group and how many bottles you wish to take home, but another option might appeal to Bay Area visitors: the Bottle Blending Day Camp can also come to you. The mobile experience accommodates up to 300 participants, who work in teams to submit their blends for friendly competition. But, if you aren’t able to visit, or if you live farther away, you can still order a “DIY” kit to try at home, with complete instructions towards making your very own perfect personal cuvée. Of course, if you are able to visit the winery, you can also look forward to tasting the Judd’s Hill wines, crafted by winemaker Eric Lyman.
Variable pricing starts at $115 per person, which includes take-home bottles
7850 Silverado Tr
Oakville, CA 94562
Dave Miner had not planned to go into wine, but in 1993, he left a career in the software industry to take over Napa Valley’s Oakville Ranch Vineyards. An avid wine collector, he took to the wine world quickly and within several years, established his own label made by custom crush at the Oakville facility. Soon, Miner Vineyards was its own destination, and by 2004, Bon Appetit named Miner’s flagship blend “Oracle” one of the top five “All-American” wines. It may come as no surprise that such a fast-established winery is rooted in quality and artistry, but Miner has much more to be proud of. The company maintains a strong presence in Napa Valley philanthropy, helping a number of local organizations, and even donating partial proceeds of one bottling to a charity dedicated to cancer research.
Though Miner is not technically an estate winery, it partners with vineyards that allow the winemaking and viticulture team at Miner complete control of the vines and fruit. In this way, the wine portfolio not only demonstrates the brand’s dedication to excellence, but allows it to make wines in every style. You can taste premiere Burgundy- and Rhone-style wines at Miner, as well as participate in the time-honored blending of Bordeaux’s five noble grapes. Though a number of tasting options are available, the Oracle Blending Seminar introduces wine tours to single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Merlot. After learning about the characteristics of each—which are also employed to create each vintage’s Oracle blend—guests are invited to create their own, and then compare it to the current Oracle release. Each member of the seminar gets to take home their own bottle of the Oracle, as well as unforgettable memories.
$100 per person, which includes a bottle of the current release of Oracle
Let Beau Wine Tours tailor your tasting experience to your palate while showcasing the finest wines in Napa Valley. Contact our reservations team here and let us help you. Discover many, many more Napa Valley wineries here.
Joseph Phelps Insignia Release