I’ve been to Napa maybe 20 times.  So, for my latest trip, I made reservations at some wineries I’ve never been to but were highly recommended and some old favorites.  The common denominator on this trip was that each had to be unique.
My conclusion on this trip?  I think wineries, much like wine bars, remain competitive by offering a unique experience to pair with their wines because man cannot live on wine alone. 
Castello DiAmorosa

Yes, there is now a castle in Napa.  Up a short driveway off of highway 29, visitors are greeted by a giant castle, tower and moat that rests in the center of 175 acres – all the vision of Dario Sattui after countless trips to Italy.  The castle, winery and caves itself, which took 15 years to complete, is a wondrous tour of mixed centuries.  Guests can linger in several of over 100 rooms – including an armory, dungeon and torture chamber, a working chapel, a great hall lined with hand-painted frescos, a large courtyard perfect for events, the grand barrel room – all before heading downstairs (or was it upstairs?) for a tasting.
4045 St. Helena Highway North, Calistoga, CA 94515
Phone: 707-967-6272  www.CastelloDiAmorosa.com


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Del Dotto Estate Winery and Caves

This is the toughest for me to synopsize.  Imagine an extensive barrel tasting with a winemaker, including an education on French verses American oak and then…Missouri verses Minnesota oak.  Now add in the winery owner.  Now add in that all of the wines that you just tasted in barrel, you are to select which you want and it is bottled for you from that barrel.  Who does that?  Only Del Dotto.
At the end of our tasting winemaker Gerard Zanzonico invited me behind the wine bar, the first place guests check in, just to see what he sees: electrifying.   No wonder the guests don’t ask for memberships, they pay to become VIPs instead.
Del Dotto Caves Historic Winery and Caves, 1445 St. Helena Highway South, St. Helena, CA, 94574 Phone: 707-963-2134 www.deldottovineyards.com


Terra Valentine

Just ten minutes up from Highway 29 and you have the view – albeit they have “shaved” the trees for you to see it – of Napa Valley.  Then, if you book a tasting tour, instead of standing at a bar, or a cold cellar, you will be seated in a room streaming with sunshine.  From there a generous sampling of their current releases will be poured, alongside a nice plate of cheese, nuts and chocolate.
3787 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena, CA 94574,
Phone: 707-967-8340. http://www.TerraValentine.com



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The original owners, of German descent, did well making and selling German varietals.  Newer owners, the Davies, did well making and selling sparkling varietals – from 1972 through 2011 – as the chosen sparkling wine for White House events has been, and remains, Schramsberg.
While wandering the one-mile of caves one of the coolest things wasn’t catching the riddling – two employees are charged with turning the bottles in just one of the processes of making the wines in the Champagne method – it was catching the workers banging on the bottles to help loosen the yeast.  It was like a rhythmic drumming!  So entrancing.  Make sure to go to at least one sparkling winery on your trip – and my vote would be for one that uses the Champagne method.
1400 Schramsberg Rd., Calistoga, CA 94515
Phone: 707-942-2408  www.schramsberg.com



Hall Rutherford

This time we took a short drive up Rutherford Hill to get to Hall winery’s facility off of the Silverado Trail.  Before we even entered the tasting room – which appeared to be a contemporary structure with floor-to-ceiling windows to view the valley below – the marketing director, Ed Curry, met us at our car with two glasses of ‘10 Sauvignon Blanc.  Within minutes, my new best friend was finishing my sentences, and I his.  Asking me what I was looking for and what I wanted to gain…was exactly the same as what I read into what they were doing to a T: catering to their guests by “practicing active hospitality.”
Of note, for a wino like me, Ed led me through a blind tasting.  His goal?  To find out what I liked.  What I got from it?  That there is confidence behind the wine, and rightly so.
Hall, with its two locations on Highway 29 and Rutherford Hill, offer the same artisan wine paired with art and architecture – all meant to “affect the guest experience…”
56 Auberge Road, Rutherford, CA 94573 Phone: 707-967-2626

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Wine-Phifer 1 Phifer Pavitt Wine

Serious Napa Cabernet drinkers need to call ahead and reserve their hour with Suzanne Phifer Pavitt, where she will, in turn, with all southern hospitality, share her latest “DateNight” Cabernet – if she hasn’t run out. Tell her I referred you and you might get to try her latest, a Sauvignon Blanc made in a Sancerre style, that came into high demand for the many wine dinners Suzanne has been asked to do.
4660 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, CA 94515,
Phone: 707-737-0311 www.phiferpavittwine.com