Ketti Wilhelm, the author of this guide to organic wineries in Napa Valley, standing under the famous Welcome to Napa Valley sign next to Highway 29. ©KettiWilhelm2024

How to Plan a Trip to Napa Valley’s Most Sustainable Wineries [Complete Travel Guide]

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Of all the iconic California trips, not many are as famous, luxurious, or frankly exclusive as wine tasting in Napa Valley – but, contrary to popular belief, the Napa Valley experience doesn’t have to feel elite or commercial. I’ve visited some of Napa’s most sustainable organic wineries on two recent side-trips from San Francisco, and discovered a wealth of different personalities in this diverse wine region.

So whether you want eccentric or laid back, the detailed winery reviews below will help you build the perfect Napa itinerary for your trip!

And before that, I’ve got a guide to finding the best organic wineries in Napa, plus eco-friendly hotels, farm-to-table restaurants, and everything else you need to know to visit Napa – whether by car, by bike + public transit, with your own chauffeur, or on the wine train!

(Plus there are several useful Napa maps in this post – of wine regions, wineries and hotels!)

Intro to Napa Valley – The Basics

There are a town, a county, and a valley all called Napa.

The town of Napa itself, about 45 miles North of San Francisco, at the southern end of Napa Valley, has what I would call a mountain town vibe. It’s the personality of a place that was once a fairly anonymous, rural community before being taken over by its singular tourism purpose.

In Napa, that purpose is wine. The town has a very definite, and very cute, main drag: 1st Street. Just about every storefront on First Street is a wine “tasting lounge,” wine shop, wine bar, or Napa Valley-themed gift shop.

(If you want to learn more about the town, I found a local history walking tour of downtown Napa that sounds interesting. There’s also a kayak version of the tour!)

And even when you’re far from First Street, you’re never far from wine in Napa Valley. Before our short road trip back to San Francisco, we stopped at a random gas station, only to find it had a better California wine selection than many liquor stores.

The Honor Market gas station in Napa Valley's Yountville showing the price of gas in Napa at $5.89 a gallon. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Normal-looking gas station on the outside…
The Honor Market gas station in Napa Valley's Yountville has a huge selection of local Napa Valley wines for sale. ©KettiWilhelm2024
“…Wait, where are we?” on the inside.

Napa Valley Towns… and Fields

Going north from Napa, the main towns in the valley are Yountville (pronounced “Yont-ville,” I swear), Oakville, St. Helena (“St. Hel-EEna”), and Calistoga. Between Oakville and St Helena, you’ll also pass through the towns of Rutherford and Zinfandel – names that mean a lot to any wine connoisseur!

Those towns also share their names with some of Napa’s 16 wine-making subregions called AVA’s. (AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas, are official, regulated terms for wines based on where they’re made.)

Connecting all of these destinations is the mostly two-lane Highway 29, known on Google Maps as the St Helena Highway. And that main road has both a wine train and a bicycle path running parallel to it. So if you’re if you’re interested in visiting Napa Valley car-free, my recommendations for a bike rental shop and thoughts on the train option are below.  

(And if you’re interested in joining me for a bike trip in another beautiful wine region, mark your calendar for September!)

A Napa wine map showing the subregions of American Viticultural Areas in Napa Valley. Courtesy of Wine Folly.
Napa wine map courtesy of Wine Folly.

Wine + Conservation

Napa Valley was the first place in the US to create an Agricultural Preserve – meaning farm land must remain farm land. Napa has about 45,000 acres of vineyards, and more than half of that land is under conservation. After all, those unique AVAs are much more valuable growing grapes than hosting hotels and strip malls.

But even though they can’t be turned into urban sprawl, not all of Napa vineyards are equally sustainable.

How can you plan a sustainable Napa Valley trip?

“Travel more sustainably anywhere” is the Tilted Map motto. And when I talk about how to make any kind of trip more sustainable, I don’t think there’s any concept more valuable than seeking out good filters to narrow down your choices.

Visiting wineries in Napa Valley is the perfect example of how to apply the filter concept.

By various estimates, there are 500 – 800 wineries in Napa Valley. (No local I’ve asked was ever quite sure, and everyone had a different answer.) And the majority of those wineries have no sustainability practices to speak of.

But if you plan your trip itinerary using the filter of Napa Green certified wineries and vineyards (there are 90 in total, and I’ll narrow that down even more below), it gets a lot easier. That’s exactly what I did for our October trip to Napa Valley, and our return trip in the spring.

What is Napa Green?

Napa Green is an ambitious, local sustainability program that incorporates dozens of aspects of grape growing and wine production in Napa Valley, with a unique focus on climate action and social justice.

Their vineyard certification program is all about how the grapes are grown, while the winery certification is about the process of turning those grapes into wine.

I met with the program’s Executive Director, Anna Brittain, who shared some fascinating insights into how Napa Green works – and some great winery recommendations!

Her perspective on sustainability in the wine industry was enlightening:

“Being a sustainability leader is not just about not using Round Up. It’s about energy, resources, social justice and so much more.”

Anna Brittain

The Round Up comment was pointed at organic certifications (avoiding pesticides, like Round Up), which are important, but Napa Green goes far beyond organic. And unlike many sustainable wine certification programs, they’re aiming for high standards over fast growth. Their certifications include social aspects of sustainability that are often forgotten – like ensuring opportunities for employee advancement.

“My goal is to create the most rigorous program in the world. We can’t claim rapid expansion, because we’re trying to do something on a very meaningful level.”

Anna Brittain
Signs at Tres Sabores, a woman-owned, organic winery in Napa Valley, showing that the property is a Napa Green certified sustainable winery, herbicide free, and powered by 100% renewable energy. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Anna Brittain, executive director of Napa Green. Photo courtesy of Napa Green.
Anna Brittain, the Executive Director of Napa Green. (Photo provided by Napa Green.)

What about Sonoma?

Nearby Sonoma County is also a famous California wine region, and much larger. (It’s also known for being more laid-back than Napa Valley, where some wineries can get pretty fancy, as we’ll talk about below.)

Sonoma County also has a sustainability program that has “certified” 90% of wineries, and 99% of vineyard acreage – but the program is less rigorous and wholistic than Napa Green. (I put “certified” in quotes, because the program just adds a stamp to indicate that a winery participates in another sustainability program; it doesn’t add any oversight or requirements.)

The program does not mean the Sonoma wineries are certified organic, or even that they don’t spray vineyards with Roundup. (Roundup is glyphosate – an herbicide suspected to cause cancer and harm biodiversity, which is why Napa Green banned it.)

And, perhaps more importantly, whenever a sustainability goal is achieved by 90%+ of an industry, I’m going to be skeptical of how meaningful that goal ever was.

To be clear, I’ve heard lots of good things about sustainability practices from some specific wineries in Sonoma – and I would love to go visit some of them and tell you about them! But when it comes to using the certification programs to choose the most sustainable wineries to visit, I think Napa Green just provides a higher standard.

The Best of the Best Napa Wineries

So on both my spring and fall trips to Napa, I chose to visit wineries from Napa Green’s Gold Level Certification list, which is essentially the best of the best – they’re organic, plus a whole lot more. And on top of earning either the winery or vineyard certification (sometimes both), Gold Level properties are also free of herbicides and bee-killing neonicotinoids.

Plus, there are only 17 of these most-sustainable wineries to choose from, and not all of them offer tastings (unless you’re a member of their wine clubs).

Map of Sustainable Napa Wineries

I created the map below to show only Napa Green’s Gold Level certified wineries and vineyards. (Click each point on the map for the name, then click “more info” for details.)

powered by Proxi

So far, I’ve personally visited five of these wineries from the Gold List, on two trips to Napa: Clif Family Winery, Raymond Vineyards, Grgich Hills Estate, Tres Sabores and Larkmead Vineyards.  

A Variety of Napa Vibes

These five wineries ended up being a perfect balance – showing a little bit of all the different vibes Napa wine tasting has to offer. (Links go to each of my winery reviews, below.)

  • Clif Family Winery felt fun and sporty.
  • Tres Sabores was bucolic and relaxed.
  • Grgich felt casual, accessible, and has a great history.
  • Larkmead felt calm, but elegant and a bit exclusive (also with a fascinating story behind it!).
  • And my word for Raymond is, without a doubt, eccentric.

What makes Sustainable Wine?

Before we can talk about sustainable wineries in Napa or anywhere else, there are a couple of useful terms we should sort through: Organic, organically grown, natural and biodynamic.

What exactly is “organic wine”?

Have you ever wondered why you see the phrase “made with organic grapes” on wine bottles much more than just “organic”?

To call grapes “organically grown,” the farmers have to avoid a long list of pesticides and chemicals – which can cause toxic contamination of ground water, harm wildlife, and create major health problems for the people working on those farms every day.

In the US, when you take those organic grapes and use them to make wine, it’s only considered “organic wine” if no sulfites are added. (But in Europe and Canada, organically grown grapes mean organic wine, even if sulfites are added.)

Sulfites are preservatives that ensure wine ages correctly and predictably. (That’s why when you open a bottle of “natural wine,” which is unfiltered and made with minimal additives, it can be hard to know what you’re going to get – or if the wine will even still be good.)

But in any kind of wine, sulfite levels are regulated and safe and, as Anna told me, “There are more sulfites in a bag of chips than a bottle of wine.” (And no, sulfites are not the cause of wine hangovers. Sorry, but that would be the alcohol.)

Why go organic?

What makes organic wine (and all organic crops) better is all those other side effects of traditional agriculture that organic agriculture prevents. It’s not just healthier for us when we eat or drink organic, it’s healthier for wildlife, land, our water supply, and workers.

But, as Anna pointed out during our conversation, organic isn’t the last word in sustainable wine.

“Organic is a big piece of the puzzle, it’s but only a part. It’s only about the farm, and about what NOT to do.”

Anna Brittain

That “what not to do” is pesticides. But organic certification doesn’t touch social responsibility, fair employment practices, climate action, or resources use – all of which are included in Napa Green’s certifications. So yes, organic wine is important, but there’s more work to do.

Biodynamic wine = wacky hippie stuff?

Biodynamic farming is a method that includes everything in organic farming practices, plus it adds in some astronomic and elemental notes (we’re talking earth, fire, air and water, literally).

If you’re like me, it might sound a little loopy when you first hear about it, but there’s some hard science to biodynamic farming, as well, and I really do see certified biodynamic wine as a step above organic in terms of real sustainability.

Wine tasting tips (+ prices) for Napa Valley

Wine tastings (and taking home bottles) can be outrageously expensively in Napa Valley. Prices for most tastings range from $50 to $150 per person. Most tastings include 5 wines, but some are as few as 2 (including some of the most expensive tastings).

Reservations are required almost everywhere. Even at the wineries that don’t require them, I wouldn’t bet on being able to walk in and a get a spot. (Times book up weeks in advance, easily, so this is not likely to be a good last-minute trip.)

As for bottle prices, most of the wineries I’ve visited offered a few bottles in the $30 to $40 range, but most were closer to $60 to $100 a bottle, to… the sky’s-the-limit.

Do the math for a deal:

Most Napa wineries offer a deal where you can waive your tasting fee (or sometimes all the tasting fees for your group) by buying a certain number of bottles to either take with you on the spot, or ship home (it varies from two to four bottles at most wineries).

Sometimes, it’s practically just good sense to send a few bottles home, so plan accordingly with your luggage! (I’m a die-hard carry-on only traveler, but I’ll definitely make an exception to check a bag home for a drinkable souvenir.)

Best Sustainable Wineries in Napa Valley

Okay, “best” is subjective, but these are certainly some of the most sustainable wineries in Napa, including several recommendations from the folks at Napa Green. All of the wineries in this article use organic grapes and have the Gold Level certification from Napa Greenexcept for a couple below that I’ve included for significant historical reasons.

Grgich Hills Estate

Tasting fee & important notes: $75 for the basic tasting we did, but lots of options go up to $250. Dog- and kid-friendly! (Many Napa wineries are not.) Open 7 days a week. Located between St. Helena and Oakville.

Making Napa History

Grgich is historically significant, and one of the most famous wineries in Napa Valley. Its founder, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, immigrated to California from Croatia and helped prove to the world that American wines could stand up to famous French ones at the famous “Judgement of Paris.” Mike was the wine maker behind the Chardonnay that won a blind tasting – with French judges – in 1976 in Paris. The tasting made big news, and decidedly put Napa Valley on the map.

The next year, Mike started the winery that would become Grgich Hills Estate.

Visiting Grgich Winery Today

Of the organic wineries we visited back in 2022, the tasting at Grgich felt the most commercial, with the least spectacular setting. They told me over the phone that they redesigned the outdoor tasting area as of 2024, so I stopped by after hours to take a few photos – but honestly it didn’t seem all that different to me.

Our first visit was still a good experience – our server was friendly and personable, not at all snooty (an adjective Napa is infamous for). We were seated outside, at our own table in the courtyard, which was nicely landscaped. But it was also close to the parking lot and main road – and those things haven’t changed with the redesign.

So I’d say Grgich could still be worth a stop, especially if you’re interested in its historic role in making Napa famous. It’s also a great price for a sustainable winery visit (or any Napa winery visit, for that matter), but the setting doesn’t feel as special or relaxing as some other wineries.

PIC – Grgich in 2022

The newly renovated garden space for outdoor wine tastings at Napa Valley’s famous Grgich Hills Estate Winery, with purple flowers blooming in spring. ©KettiWilhelm2024
The updated courtyard at Grgich, as of 2024. Beautiful, but the main road goes by right under those tall trees.

What I’d do next time at Grgich:

When we visited, we went for the $75 wine tasting option here (the least expensive option, called the “Seated Miljenko’s Tasting”), in the courtyard adjacent to the road and the wine train tracks.

The sign for Napa Valley’s famous Grgich Hills Estate, a sustainable winery that is Napa Green certified, next to the tracks for the Napa Valley Wine Train, and Highway 29, the main road going through Napa Valley. ©KettiWilhelm2024

For something with more wow factor, their $150 Rutherford Estate Experience is in a private “barn” setting facing away from the road, overlooking the vineyards and the Mayacamas Mountains.

And if you’re a member of their wine club, you can book a $100 Picnic Experience in the same location. (When I called for details, they told me they’re considering making this option available to non-members, so it might be worth calling to ask! In the meantime, Tres Sabores, below, is a great picnic option, and Clif Family Winery has its own food truck and relaxed vibe.)

Homework: Wine and a wine movie?

There’s a semi-famous film about the Judgement of Paris, called Bottle Shock, which came out in 2008 starring Alan Rickman and Chris Pine. The reviews aren’t so hot, including of the film’s accuracy. But hey, for vacation homework, it could be just the thing!

Or for some straightforward wine knowledge before your trip, I really enjoyed the documentary Somm: Into the Bottle. It’s about sommeliers and wine in general, not just Napa, but there is a decent bit of Napa history in it. (And I watched it on a 16-hour flight to China and still thought it was great, so that says something!)

Where to watch: The documentary is available to rent on Amazon Prime (you could start a 30-day free trial to watch it) and on Apple TV.

Chateau Montelena

Tasting Fee & Info: Tastings at the famous winery vary from $60 to $125. (Want a tour and lunch with that? That can be $700 per person.) Open daily. All visitors must be 21+.

The main reason Chateau Montelena is on this list is because it’s where Mike Grgich was working as a wine maker when the famous Paris tasting, above, put Napa Valley wines on the map. (He then left to start Grgich Hills Estates.)

While the Chateau doesn’t currently have any Napa Green certifications, Anna Britain (Napa Green’s director) told me they used to – and that they still have a strong commitment to sustainability, but they decided to stop investing in certifications. (Which isn’t uncommon with small businesses, as I talked about in my recent presentation about recognizing greenwashing.)

For its unique role in Napa history, this would make an interesting winery for a visit.

Stag’s Leap Winery

Tasting Fee & Info: Tour the castle-like manor with a tasting for $95. Other tasting cost up to $150. Open daily. Everyone in your group must be 21+. Located outside of Yountville.

Stag’s Leap is the other winery that’s famous thanks to the Tasting of Paris. While Mike Grgich made the Chardonnay that won the most total points at the tasting, Stag’s Leap made the Cabernet Sauvignon that won the category for reds.

And unlike Chateau Montelena, Stag’s Leap has earned the winery certification from Napa Green. (But not the vineyard or Gold Level certifications.)

And while it’s not the biggest or most famous Napa Valley castle winery (that would be Castello di Amorosa, below), it’s probably the most authentic.

This beautiful stone manor was built in the 1800s, and a tour of it is included in their least-pricey tasting – which is actually a pretty good deal at $95. (Most tasting + tours combos I’ve found in Napa are more expensive, and this looks like it would be an interesting one! Definitely on my list for next time.)

They also offer virtual wine tastings for groups, and some pretty affordable wines that you can order online. (Affordable for Napa Valley – there are lots of options in the $30 range, which is unusual.)

Tres Sabores

Tasting Fee & Info: $60. Kids are welcome, as are dogs and picnics. (With a reservation! Let them know you’ll be coming with a dog and/or a picnic.) Located down a dirt road, near the town of St Helena.

I paid my second visit to Tres Sabores in 2024, and have been in their wine club since our visit in 2022, so I consider myself a true fan. (Membership in said wine club is actually on my list of sustainable gift ideas, since their wines are organically produced, with no irrigation or harmful pesticides, and are shipped in entirely cardboard packaging!)

PIC – tres sabores (old AND new)

Three bottles of wine from the Tres Sabores wine club in their entirely plastic-free packaging, an excellent sustainable gift idea. ©KettiWilhelm2022
The wine club ships in PLASTIC-FREE packaging!

Tres Sabores is just one of the most laid-back, relaxing wineries to visit in Napa Valley (right up there with Clif Family Winery, but with a bucolic setting). The scenery is stunning – you’ll sit in the shade, at the top of a gentle hill for your tasting. Every table has a perfect view overlooking their organic vines. And they even let you wander the farm and check out the animals. If you’re looking for a cuteness attack, this is the place to get it.

Baby goats in their large enclosure at Tres Sabores, a fun winery to visit in Napa Valley. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Petting the baby goats at Tres Sabores.

Clif Family Winery

Tasting Fee & Info: Tastings are $50, except the unique $65 brunch option. Located in the town of St. Helena. The tasting room is open later than most – until 7pm on Wednesdays. Mocktails and plant-based food options available. They also offer virtual tastings, which could make a cool gift idea!

This is one of the most fun wineries I’ve visited in Napa Valley. Like Tres Sabores, it feels much more relaxed that the typical Napa Valley vibe. Afterall, it was created by the family of Clif Bar fame – perhaps the original outdoors adventure snack.

And the family has continued the snacking tradition, making lots of foods from produce grown in their organic farm. (You can buy them when you visit or shop online.)

PIC – food shelf at Clif

Smiling employees behind the wine tasting bar at Clif Family Winery. ©KettiWilhelm2024

They even accept walk-ins for tastings, when there’s availability (most Napa Valley wineries do not). And if you’re doing Napa Valley by bike BELOW, this is a must visit winery! Being casual and open to cyclists is a big part of the culture at Clif. (The founders are long distance bikers, and it shows in their labels.)

The label of the wine bottle at Clif Family Winery, featuring the bike-friendly theme the winery is known for. ©KettiWilhelm2024

There’s a “bruschetteria” food truck on the property. (Bruschetta is basically the snack food at a BBQ of Italian cuisine – casual.)

Wine Tasting Brunch

They also have a “Rise and Wine” tasting that includes an “indulgent, brunch-inspired spread,” which I thought sounded like a great option for fitting more tastings into one day (and aren’t quite ready for a normal wine tasting at 10am). The brunch includes ingredients from their own organic farm (and you can opt for the plant-based menu) and there’s mocktail option, as well!

Our winery brunch at Clif Family Winery, with both plant-based and meat options, a wine tasting, and non-alcoholic mocktails, and ingredients grown in their own organic farm. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Mocktails and wine, brunch with bacon and plant-based brunch – we tried everything!

We went for a mix of wine and mocktails, bacon and plant-based for our brunch tasting. Everything was absolutely delicious, and the vibe and service were so friendly and fun that Clif is definitely on my list to return to again.

As for the wines, I’m not normally a rosé person, but I loved their Rosé of Grenache, which was light and summery and delicious. And Kit’s Killer Cab was – as advertised – a killer cabernet, in a valley with lots of cabernets to choose from!

The folks at Clif were generous enough to offer a discount code I can share with you! You can use the code TILTED15 to save 15% off your first order of wine, food or merch! (It doesn’t work for tastings right now.)

Larkmead Winery

Tasting fees & info: $90 per person for group tasting. $150 for private tasting + vineyard tour (which we did). Open daily. Everyone in your group must be 21+. Located between St. Helena and Calistoga.

This was our Napa Valley splurge winery – but with Larkmead’s focus on sustainable grape growing and fascinating history, it sounded interesting enough to be worth it. (It’s also a rather exclusive winery to sample, because they only produce about 5,000 cases a year.)

Organic Wine & Women in Charge

And there was some good information on the tour about their sustainable farming practices, including the use of cover crops, and research on growing more heat tolerant grape varieties, like Zinfandel and Chenin Blanc, instead of focusing on the grapes Napa Valley is famous for – like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The research block at Larkmead Winery, where they're testing climate resilient varieties of grapes to grow in Napa Valley. ©KettiWilhelm2024

And if you’re looking for a winery with a story behind it, this is a great choice. Larkmead was founded by San Francisco’s first female firefighter. As the story goes, her parents thought getting her out of the city would get her to settle down. Instead, she started a winery and invited and her friends from the city up for parties. The property has been in the hands of women ever since, and has a female wine maker running the show now.

And Larkmead just earned its organic certification in 2023 – a process that our guide said took them 7 years!

The Vibe & the Tasting

Our visit started with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and after touring the winery grounds, we sat down in a beautiful patio area where one red blend and two Cabernet Sauvignons had already been poured for us. (Most wineries I’ve visited pour one glass at a time at tastings, so I thought this was unusual.)

If you’re interested in sampling wines made from the grape Napa Valley is famous for, this might be the right tasting for you. (Although the wines we were trying went from $100 to $200+ a bottle, so it wasn’t a tasting that I took much home from, besides notes.)

The story was fascinating to hear, and the property was beautiful, but this didn’t feel like a winery where you come to just relax and have fun. (For casual and fun, I’d recommend Clif Family Winery and Tres Sabores.) Instead, Larkmead has a bit of that classic Napa Valley fancy feeling.

Relaxing on the beautiful patio at Larkmead Winery, one of the best organic wineries in Napa Valley. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Sipping our cabernets and relaxing in the garden.

Raymond Vineyards

Tasting Fee & Info: $50 for tasting only ($65 in their beautiful garden), $100 for a private or group tour, and lots more options. Open daily. Located just South of St Helena.

Raymond Vineyards is one spot that oozes eccentricity. Photos of the owner, a Frenchman who owns several properties in Napa, remind me of Leo as Jay Gatsby. And at the end of 2023, he revealed a 10-foot-tall, pop art sculpture of his own right eye ball.

The famous eyeball sculpture by artist Tony Tasset, outside of Raymond Winery in St Helena, Napa Valley, California. ©KettiWilhelm2024
I think “eccentric” is fair.

But they also have surprisingly affordable wine tastings – including in a garden shaded by sycamore trees called “the grove” – and a really well-designed outdoor exhibit on sustainable farming, called the “Biodynamic Theater of Nature.”

We did our tasting in the grove and it was absolutely beautiful – and at $65, the setting was well worth the price. Plus, their barrel-aged Chardonnay was a rare Chardonnay that I actually loved (and ended up taking home a couple of bottles, which meant they waved the tasting fee, too).

PIC – me in dress in grove

PIC – the theater of nature

More Organic Wineries for Next Time:

These are a few more wineries that have earned Napa Green’s top honors – and accept visitors (not all Napa wineries do).

Some are on my list for next time; some are just unique and worth knowing about to get a feel for the range of different vibes the valley has to offer.

Opus One Winery

Tasting Fee & Info: Tastings here are $125 to $200 per person, for three wines.Everyone in your group must be 21+.Located in the (tiny) town of Oakville.

From the name, to the price, to the Bond-villain architecture, this is clearly on the fancier end of the Napa Valley vibe spectrum. I didn’t visit beyond the front grate, but it does have all the sustainability credentials.

The certified organic winery Opus One, a member of Napa Green, seen from Highway 29 down a long, tree-lined driveway. ©KettiWilhelm2024
The name of the certified sustainable winery Opus One, a member of Napa Green engraved on a stone pillar overlooking their organic vineyard fields with mountain views in the background. ©KettiWilhelm2024

Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery

Tasting fee & info: $150 for private tastings, available Monday – Friday with very limited numbers. Everyone in your group must be 21+. No pets allowed. Located in the town of St. Helena.

Like Tres Sabores, Spottswoode is owned and run by a woman, which is quite unique in Napa. (But slightly more common among the sustainability-focused wineries, I’ve noticed, and it’s definitely not the first time you’ve read it in this guide!)

In addition to being on Napa Green’s Gold list, it’s also been certified organic since 1985, and certified biodynamic since 2020. They’re a certified B Corp and member of 1% For The Planet. And they have EV charging stations available.

Make Your Reservation Early!

But on both of my trips to Napa, I’ve been too late to be able to book a tasting at Spottswoode. (Two weeks ahead is not enough, especially since their tasting times are so limited!) And it’s a property where you can’t just call or book the tasting online; you actually have to fill out a form with several questions, and they’ll get back to you to confirm whether you’re in or not. (They’re quick though; you’ll have a response within one business day.)

It’s a bit of hassle, but this winery has been recommended to me by several local sources, so I’ll give it a try if the stars ever align!

Salvestrin Winery

Tasting Fee & Info: $65 for a 60-minute tasting. (Reservations are pre-paid and can only be changed for 24 hours from booking.) Everyone in your group must be 21+. Located in the town of St. Helena.

Another more affordable winery on the Napa Green Gold List, Salvestrin is on my list for next time. It looks like it’s on the more chill and relaxed end of the spectrum for Napa Valley.

Castello Di Amorosa

Tasting Fee & Info: Tastings start at $60, and include time to explore the castle on your own. There’s an option to taste non-alcoholic grape juices. Kids are allowed (for $25 per child). They’re open a bit later than most (until 5:30). Located between St. Helena and Calistoga.

This winery is rather famous for being, as the website says, “An authentically styled 14th-century Tuscan castle winery in the Napa Valley.”

Of course, it’s not actually a 14th-century Tuscan castle, because it’s in California and was built in the early 2000s, but I understand the attraction if you want to feel a bit of an Italian vibe without the long flight. And it does look like a fun place to spend some time – including for kids.

Napa's famous castle winery – Castello di Amorosa – with flowers in bloom when I visited in May. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Napa's famous castle winery – Castello di Amorosa – and the driveway lined with tall, thin, Tuscan-looking trees. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Italy-inspired views at Castello di Amorosa.

Maybe I’m too picky about these things, but this is the only winery website I’ve seen that specifies that some of the tastings include wines “priced above $100 per bottle.” This is true of every tasting at every Napa winery (again, see my notes on how much Napa Valley wines cost, above). But the castle is the only one that apparently thinks that’s a selling point, which to me feels a bit commercial and… tacky. Sorry for judging.

Related: If you want to come to Italy and drink wine together, there are still a few spots left on the e-bike trip I’m leading in September! We’ll be visiting an organic, biodynamic winery in the off-the-beaten-path Marche region, among other gastronomic treats.

Bottles of local Marche wines at the organic and biodynamic winery Tenuta San Marcello, where we ate and slept on our ebike tour of this region of rural Italy. ©KettiWilhelm2023
Wine tasting at a biodynamic winery in Italy on our bike trip!

Napa Valley Travel Options: by Train, Plane, Bike, Bus or Car

Napa is a very doable day trip the San Francisco Bay area. It’s roughly an hour’s drive, and it’s possible to make the trip without a car using the Vine bus system. You can then either use Lyft or Uber to get between wine tasting appointments, or rent a bicycle or e-bike in Napa to get around.

(I rode the Vine to get back to the San Francisco Bay Area on my first trip to Napa. The bus was very clean and comfortable, and it dropped me off at the last stop, the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station in the East Bay.)

How about a private driver?

Another option is to sign up for a private wine tour that departs from San Francisco. If you don’t want to deal with the bus, and don’t have a designated driver, it could be a perfect option for a Sonoma and/or Napa day trip from San Francisco.

Make sure you read what you’re buying, though! Some tours are in private cars and let you choose which wineries you want to visit, while others will have you on a tour bus and include entrance fees to set wineries.

I did some reading and found a few highly rated options that I would choose, including this customizable tour on Viator, and the ones below on Get Your Guide:

Is Napa Valley bikeable?

Yes! You can definitely connect the main towns of Napa Valley by bicycle, which I’d love to try next time I visit.

It’s 27 miles from downtown Napa to Calistoga, the northernmost of the main towns. (And it’s only 18 miles from Napa to St Helena, which covers all of my favorite wineries – at least so far – and other spots.)

There are several bike rental shops in Napa, but after a bit of research, I would probably go with Fat Tire Bike Rentals for several reasons. The shop is locally owned, it’s the closest option to the Napa bus stop, it’s one of the few bike shops that’s open 7 days a week, and it seems to even have the lowest prices.

Where to ride?

The Napa Valley Vine Trail, a bike and walking path that runs through the valley, mostly along Highway 29, is the safest way to pedal between vineyards. It connects most Napa Valley towns, with completion of the northern section (from St Helena to Calistoga) planned for summer of 2024. When it’s all completed, it’ll be 47 miles of continuous path.

Locals I talked to said lots of tourists also bike along the Silverado Trail – which is really more of a small highway than a “trail” – but no local would recommend it. I can see why. It seems like slightly more of a back road, compared to the main Highway 29, but unlike Highway 29, the bike lanes aren’t separated from cars on the Silverado Trail.

From the passenger side of our car driving toward Napa on the Silverado Trail, we can see that the bike lanes are not separated from the roadway, and not a very safe place to ride. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Less space for cycling on the Silverado Trail vs Highway 29.

(Psst: Do you like biking and wine? Join me for a bike trip in Italy in September!)

Napa Airport & Train Options

The closest airport to Napa Valley is Sonoma County Airport (STS), in the town of Santa Rosa. It’s about a one-drive to Napa, but it only serves smaller airports in the West.

So you’re much more likely to get direct flights (or at least fewer layovers) flying into Sacramento International (SMF), or the San Francisco Bay Area – SFO in San Francisco, or OAK in Oakland.

(Napa County Airport is only for private planes.)

You can get just as close on the train!

I made it to the San Francisco Bay Area on this most recent trip via Amtrak from LA. The Coast Starlight goes up and down the West Coast, from Seattle to Los Angeles. (And if you’ve got time, there are several scenic train routes from LA that connect with the most of the country, especially the South, West and Chicago.)

The view of the Pacific Ocean and red hills on a sunny day from Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train, riding north from Los Angeles, California toward San Luis Obispo, before passing near the Napa Valley wine region. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Lounge Car views between LA and San Luis Obispo!
The view of the Pacific Ocean on a sunny day from Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train, riding north from Los Angeles, California toward San Luis Obispo, before passing near the Napa Valley wine region. ©KettiWilhelm2024

The Coast Starlight’s closest stop to Napa Valley is Martinez, California, which is about a 45-minute drive away. There are also bus options to connect you from Martinez to Napa in roughly one hour.

What about the Napa Valley Wine Train?

Don’t confuse the Amtrak train I took to Oakland with the famous Napa Valley Wine Train, which is an entirely different beast. Far from simply a way to get around, it’s essentially a restaurant on tracks, which run parallel to the main highway through Napa Valley.

The sign for Napa Valley’s famous Grgich Hills Estate, a sustainable winery that is Napa Green certified, next to the tracks for the Napa Valley Wine Train, and Highway 29, the main road going through Napa Valley. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Grgich (one of the organic wineries on the wine train route), the tracks, and Highway 29.

The wine train is probably the simplest prepackaged option if you want an easy way to see Napa Valley, with transportation included to and from the town of Napa.

But it’s not the method I would personally choose, mostly because the wine train doesn’t let you choose which wineries you want to visit. (And because it just feels a bit touristy and overpriced.)

When I saw the wine train passing through the town of Napa, I stopped to snap some pictures and ended up chatting with an employee. She said guests choose from several two- to six-hour experiences, which include stops at the designated wineries and, “giving everyone as much wine as possible to drink” while on board. (Some tours don’t even involve getting off the train.)

The famous Napa Valley Wine train parked at its departure station in downtown Napa, California. ©KettiWilhelm2024
The wine train at its departure station in downtown Napa.

To me, it sounded like a bit of a Disney Land type experience that’s more about consumption and overindulgence than quality. But of course, you wouldn’t have to drink as much wine as possible. You could simply enjoy a couple glasses, while using the train as an easy and unique way to get a taste of Napa Valley, without having to handle your own transportation.

And then I started looking into the wineries on the train route, I was pleasantly surprised.

Is the wine train eco-friendly?

As a skeptical travel writer, I expected the wineries included in the wine train tours to be commercial and unsustainable. But as it turns out, the choices are better than I expected.

Two wine train tour options include a tasting at Grgich Hills Estate (one of the organic wineries I’ve visited, above, with the top certification from Napa Green). I’d opt for one of those tours if I were to go the wine train route.

Another tour, called the Legacy Experience, includes stops at V. Sattui and Charles Krug wineries.

V Sattui farms organically on some of its land, a parcel that has all three of Napa Green’s certifications. (Winery, vineyard, and Gold Level certifications, which means they don’t use chemicals that are known to kill pollinating bees and butterflies.)

Charles Krug, meanwhile, has an interesting history, as the first winery in Napa Valley, founded by an immigrant from Prussia in 1861. But it doesn’t have any sustainability practices that I could find.

But if you’re expecting trains like those in Europe, don’t get your hopes up. The wine train doesn’t run on grapes or electricity; as far as I can tell, it’s diesel-powered – like most trains in the US.

Is the wine train more affordable?

In a word, no. The option with lunch on the train and a tasting at Grgich Hills, for example, costs between $300 and $500 per person. That’s for a three-hour experience, lunch, and a tasting that you could book directly at Grgich Hills for $75.

The six-hour Legacy Experience goes for $600 to $800.

Of course, we know this is not a cheap destination, but even compared with the private Napa tour or chauffeur options, the wine train is pretty pricey. So my advice? Do it if you really want to experience the train, not just if you want the wine.

When should you visit Napa Valley?

Every winery I asked in Napa Valley was open for tastings year-around. From what I learned, they start getting busy around May, and generally stay busy through the fall. The first time I visited was in October, and while there were a couple of winery reservations I couldn’t get on two weeks’ notice, nowhere we visited felt crowded.

March and April are a nice low-season time in Napa – the weather is already getting spring-y and beautiful, but there aren’t too many tourists. (Thanks to Antonia, our lovely and friendly server at Clif Family Winery, for the tip!) And even when we visited in early May, it was still pretty quiet.

And harvest season is the busiest time in Napa – August through October. It’s wine stomping season (not that anyone still does that, I’m pretty sure) and it’s when everyone wants to be around.

Close up of dark purple grapes hanging on a bright green vine at an organic winery in Napa Valley in the fall. ©KettiWilhelm2022
A few grapes still left on the vine at Tres Sabores winery, when I visited in late October.

Hotels in Napa

Okay, real talk. I’m not sure there’s any way that Napa Valley could be called an affordable destination. It is tough to find an appealing room for much less than $200 a night, and I was a little shocked by how many are well over $1,000.

Most (but not all) of the hotel options below are quite luxurious – you can definitely find lower prices, but these are the ones I know to have good sustainability credentials, including two where I’ve personally stayed and would absolutely return. (Marked in green on the map below.)

Map Legend: Sustainable Napa hotels mentioned in this guide (which I’ll describe below) are GREEN on the map. Other options are blue (from and red (from VRBO).

Napa Green is working on a certification process for sustainable hotels, too. I’ll update this here when it’s available.

Related: In the meantime, this is how I find more sustainable hotels everywhere I travel.

Here are the hotels where I’ve actually stayed in Napa, and detail on a few other recommendations:

Carneros Resort & Spa – outside Napa – $$$$

I spent one night at Carneros Resort, near the town of Napa, and would have easily stayed longer!

It’s a beautiful, sprawling property with a spa, two restaurants (one is fine dining, another is more casual but delicious), a pool overlooking the hills of Napa Valley, and “rooms” that are more like private mini-homes.

PIC – Carneros something else?

The Inn on 1st Street ­– downtown Napa – $$

I also stayed one night here, and it one of the most affordable options I found, while also being locally owned and interesting. The Inn on 1st is a classic bed and breakfast, in a Victorian-style home very near downtown Napa. (An 18-minute walk to Morimoto, for example, the sushi restaurant I can’t seem to quit.)

This inn is the only hotel recommendation on this list that I didn’t get from Anna, of Napa Green. When I stayed there (in 2022), it had’s Travel Sustainable badge, but now it doesn’t. I’ve reached to the owners to ask why, and I’ll let you know what I hear.

PIC – Inn on First

Andaz Napa – downtown Napa – $$

This is another affordable-for-Napa hotel, and while I don’t normally recommend chains (it’s part of the Hyatt family), I’m making an exception because Napa is a tough place to not go broke for a place to sleep! And Anna, from Napa Green, recommended the Andaz Napa for its sustainability practices. (The property doesn’t have any certifications, but a recommendation from a local expert who knows which hotels are doing what is always worth more than a certification.)

Bardessono – Yountville – $$$$

The price range here is just a bit higher than Carneros, but if you want to be closer to the road that connects all the main winery towns, Yountville is a good spot.

Auberge du Soleil – in the hills near St Helena – $$$$

French-inspired and sustainability focused, this adults-only property with a spa, pool, and gorgeous views looking over the Napa Valley is definitely on my list for a special occasion. It’s part of Relais & Châteaux, which is usually a dependable sign of a small, upscale and really well-designed property. The on-site restaurant has a Michelin star.

Solage – Calistoga – $$$$$

Solage is the highest-end luxury resort I’ve come across in Napa, with two-bedroom suites in the $5,000 a night range. But you could also enjoy the property from their locally-sourced, surprisingly-affordable restaurant, Solbar, which was recommended by several locals. (Prices are pretty comparable to other farm-to-table options in the Valley.)

Napa Valley Restaurants

I’ve eaten at several of these, and I also wanted to share some other top recommendations I’ve received from locals around Napa. Most of these Napa Valley eateries focus on locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.

Morimoto Sushi – Napa

Located in downtown Napa, this place served some of the best sushi I’ve had – on two visits, a year and a half apart. (What can I say, after a day of drinking wine in the sun, sushi in a slightly dark, cool restaurant just always sounds like a refreshing dinner.)

The interior feels celebration worthy and the cocktails were also spectacular. With most of the fish flown in from Japan, I’m afraid this is the least farm-to-table option on this list, but for good reasons.

Morimoto Asian restaurant on First Street in downtown Napa. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Not “Morimoto Asia,” at the corner (it’s Asian fusion and I haven’t been).
Morimoto Sushi restaurant on First Street – the best sushi in Napa Valley, according to this food and travel writer who has eaten there twice over two years. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Just plain “Morimoto,” the sushi restaurant, just down the block.

Solbar – Calistoga

The Michelin-starred, James Beard award-winning bar and restaurant at Solage Resort comes highly recommended for sustainability and great food. It’s definitely on my list for next time, if I can resist the pull of great sushi.

Oxbow Public Market – Napa

This is a slightly upscale, very interesting and unique food court in downtown Napa. It has outdoor seating and lots of good beer, wine and food options. I’ve had locals suggest to meet me there, so it’s a dependable spot.

The illuminated sign for the Oxbow Public Market, a famous food court area in downtown Napa with lots of locally sourced food and wine options for an affordable meal in Napa. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Oxbow Public Market from the front entrance, on First Street.

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch ­– St Helena

Farmstead is a rather upscale, farm-to-table style restaurant that’s been strongly recommended to me by several valley locals. Definitely on my list for next time!

The Chef Thomas Keller Trail – Yountville

If you’re into following famous chefs, Chef Thomas Keller is a big name in Napa Valley. His three-Michelin-starred French restaurant, The French Laundry, offers two tasting menus, including a vegetarian “Tasting of Vegetables” option, which I’d love to try! (Fancy, creative vegetarian food is one of my many foodie weaknesses.)

And Chef Keller has a few other, slightly more casual restaurants in town, too – although reservations are a good idea at all of them (except the bakery, Bouchon).

Lunch & Coffee Spots

Model Bakery (+ lunch)

This local bakery has been recommended by more people than I can count. They have four locations (in all the main towns of Napa Valley), serving homemade pastries, sandwiches, espresso drinks, breads and English muffins that were named “Oprah’s favorites.”

I just have always had too many places on my to-eat list so I haven’t been able to try it yet.

Bouchon Bakery – Yountville

Thomas Keller, the award-winning chef with several restaurants in Yountville, has a bakery that’s also on my long list of places to eat in Napa, next time I visit. Bouchon makes bread, croissants, cookies, desserts and espresso.

Oakville Grocery – Oakville

Much more than a regular grocery store, this is a small gourmet shop that makes great sandwiches. And it gets busy. If you’re pressed for time, I’d highly recommend ordering ahead on their website so you can just pick up your lunch – and maybe take it to a tasting at one of the wineries that allows outside food.

I did this once at Tres Sabores; you just need to let them know you’re bringing food so they can set your table up for a picnic – with real cutlery! So no matter where you pick up food from, make sure they don’t give you any plastic forks. (Or carry your own cutlery and turn down the plastic all the time!) There’s a $20 picnic fee.

Station Bakery & Provisions – St Helena

Less famous than Oakville Grocery, Station Provisions is another local option for picking up lunch to go with a wine tasting. They have a shorter sandwich menu than Oakville or Model Bakery, but also make grain bowls, breakfast sandwiches, smoothies, donuts pastries.

Bruschetteria Food Truck – St Helena

The Italian-inspired food truck at Clif Family Winery looked like a good stop for a casual lunch. Many ingredients are grown on-site, at the family’s own organic farm.

I haven’t eaten there, but I have tried their wine and brunch, so I trust this would be delicious, too.

The organic and farm-to-table Bruschetteria Food Truck parked next to the wine-tasting patio at Clif Family Wineries, ones of the most fun and laid-back wineries to visit in Napa Valley. ©KettiWilhelm2024
Bruschetteria Food Truck, just outside the wine tasting patio at Clif Family Winery.

Local Coffee Shops in Napa

Two blocks down from the Starbucks in downtown Napa, is a small, locally owned coffee shop called Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company. The owners have been roasting their own coffee since they opened in 1985. They also have a second location in downtown St Helena.

And they’ll happily refill a water bottle for you! (At Starbucks, the response was, “We can give you a plastic cup of water and you can pour it into your water bottle.” It’s the little things.)

Before you go: Yes, I drink tap water absolutely everywhere I go, thanks to my system for filtering water and zapping any germs! Of course, the tap water is perfectly safe to drink in Napa, but I still travel with this bottle. (Along with its magic powers, it’s well insulated and just looks great.)

I hope you found my Napa Valley advice useful! If you have any questions about sustainable wineries or anything else, leave them below in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

Looking for more destination inspiration?

  • Don’t miss my intro guide to the Azores – Portuguese islands that are surprisingly easy to get to from North America. (And when you’re planning your trip, my guide to the island of Terceira has everything you’ll need.)
  • If you’re staying in North America, the Mississippi Blues Trail is a unique spot for a road trip (that I also figured out how to do by train).
  • New York State’s Adirondack mountains are another of my favorite destinations in North America – with restaurants that blew me away, and an interactive sustainability center that’s very worth a visit!

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