Downtown Napa is a gateway city to the well-known Napa Valley wine region. But not to be outdone by its famous neighbor, Downtown Napa boasts its own unique wine tasting scene. With more than 50 tasting rooms, from boutique tasting rooms to highly acclaimed brands, Downtown Napa offers wine lovers a breadth of choices.
Once a sleepy town that tourists bypassed on their way to Napa Valley, Downtown Napa started a successful revitalization effort ten years ago. Today Downtown Napa features a stunning riverfront promenade, casual and gourmet dining, local and brand name shopping, and of course, wine tasting. Best of all, everything is within walking distance in this beautifully revitalized city.
So, the next time you visit Napa Valley, spend a couple of days in Downtown Napa. Then walk, don’t drive to these wine tasting rooms:
The Vintner’s Collective
The Vintner’s Collective operates as the official tasting room for an elite group of winemakers. It features small-production, terroir-driven wines. The Collective attracts discriminating wine lovers looking to fill their wine cellars with some of the best wine in the region. It carries wines from Napa Valley, as well as other California and Oregon winemakers.
Housed in a large two-story sandstone building built in 1875, the Collective opened to the public 17 years ago. It offers three private tasting options by appointment only. Servers customize flights in each tasting based on a customer’s palate and preferences.
The first tasting option provides an informal tasting at the indoor bar. It includes five wines and lasts 45 minutes. The second option involves a private seated tasting and lasts 90 minutes. Local artisan cheeses and dry aged charcuterie may be added to this tasting for an additional charge of $15 per person. The third option offers tasting from the smallest producers and the most profound wines. The 90-minute tasting is seated and private and includes cheeses and charcuterie.
Gamling and McDuck
Gamling and McDuck only produces two varietals – Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. But they make several variations, sourced from six different wine regions in California, so there’s plenty to taste. Each bottle features whimsical artwork and humorous names like “Poor and in Love,” a Chenin Blanc, or “Entanglement #5,” a blend of three Cabernet Francs.
The winery’s name is a pseudonym for owners Gabrielle Shaffer and Adam McClary. It’s based on Gabrielle’s childhood “secret spy name” and Adam’s love of Scrooge McDuck comic books. The tasting room requires reservations. And don’t be surprised if Adam’s friendly black rescue cat plops down on the tasting bar while you are tasting your flight. The cat thinks her role is to greet customers.
Alpha Omega Collective
The Alpha Omega Collective features Bordeaux-inspired wines from Napa Valley, Burgundian varietals from San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley, and Mediterranean reds from Spain’s Priorat. Conveniently located across from the Archer Hotel, the Alpha Omega Collective is housed in one of Downtown Napa’s beautifully maintained historic buildings.
Wines are available in flights or by the bottle. The tasting room offers small plates made with locally sourced seasonal ingredients. The menu includes charcuterie plates, Spanish fried chicken, a Korean chicken sandwich, and a vegan, gluten-free Zen Buddha bowl.
The Alpha Omega Chardonnay from Napa Valley remains a favorite of mine on the menu. A classic chardonnay, it combines notes of vanilla, opulent ripeness, and a smooth lingering finish.
Vintage Sweet Shop
Vintage Sweet Shop, housed in this one-of-a-kind former feed grain store, is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth as well as any palette for wine tasting. Owner Debbie Dever started handmaking chocolates over 35 years ago. Now she offers her handmade chocolates paired with local wines to create an unforgettable tasting experience. Expect a delightful Moscato paired with lemon white chocolate, or a Cabernet Sauvignon paired with dark cherry bark.
Dever and her husband also make a proprietary wine, Devereaux, a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a local Napa Valley AVA. The Vintage Sweet Shop has been featured on the Food Network, Travel Channel and in many publications.
Housely Tasting Room
Co-owner Adam Housley, a local celebrity, and his wife, Tamara, a well-known talk show host and actress, own this hip and lively wine tasting room. Housely Tasting Room stays open later in the evening than most other Downtown Napa tasting rooms.
Housley produces wines from Lodi, California, and Napa Valley. You can taste by the individual glass or by selected flights. And the tasting room sells chocolates from the Vintage Sweet Shop to pair with your wines here, in case you need an extra dose of that delicious candy.
Where to Eat and Stay:
Cole’s Chop House
Housed in a historic two-story building with exposed stone walls and a mahogany bar, Cole’s Chop House is a classic American steakhouse. The restaurant serves up sophisticated steak, lamb chops, and seafood in an elegantly refurbished setting. Talented bartenders mix classic cocktails based on a world-class whiskey selection. Dining is available on the patio or in the elegant two-story dining room. Reservations recommended.
Ca-Momi Osteria offers diners a choice of traditional Italian pizzas, pastas, and other main dishes plus cocktails, wine, and beer. An industrial chic atmosphere lends to the casual but modern feel of the restaurant. You can order takeout, dine-in, or eat on the outdoor patio. No reservations are required.
Downtown Joe’s Brewery
Downtown Joe’s Brewery, recognized as a long-running, casual spot for house-brewed beers, also features fresh food creations and delicious burgers. A seat at the window on the second story, or outside on the balcony provides a grand view of Napa River activity. Reservations are recommended at this busy and popular mainstay.
The Inn on First
Housed in a lovingly restored mansion built more than 110 years ago, The Inn on First provides guests with luxury accommodations in Downtown Napa. Each room in this delightful B&B includes a gas fireplace for those cozy winter evenings and a large soaking tub for two. The spacious garden suites feature French doors that open to a private patio. Owners Jim Gunther and Jamie Cherry provide added touches like placing fresh house-made chocolate chip cookies in each room prior to guests’ arrival.
The garden provides a peaceful, relaxing oasis. During warmer months, the Inn serves breakfast in the garden. Jim, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, is the genius behind each morning’s gourmet breakfast. Choosing from his more than 160 self-created recipes, Jim delights in providing his guests with a different gastronomic experience each day. He even keeps track of what he fed his guests on their prior visits to avoid duplicating the meal.
Jamie serves the delightful meals with a side of cheer. He’s always happy to sit down with guests and provide friendly tips on where to eat and what to taste in Napa.
We dined on New Mexico corn cakes with peppers topped with cheese, tomato, and a poached egg on our first morning. Fresh fruit, house-made pastries, and a choice of beverages accompany each breakfast.
But best of all, the Inn on First is just a short walk to downtown restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and shops. So, park your car and enjoy this lovely walkable city.
For more information, the Downtown Napa website provides a comprehensive guide that includes suggested itineraries, where to taste, where to stay, and links to resources.