Want to experience some of the best winery tours in the U.S.? Head to the Napa Valley.
That's the conclusion derived from a survey of TripAdvisor travelers, who voted for the top 10 winery tours across the country. Six of the top 10 slots go to Napa-based estates, including a subterranean winery complete with an underground waterfall. The remainder are occupied by two producers in Sonoma and a couple of less obvious wine regions: Long Island and Wisconsin.
According to the Wine Institute of California, more than 20 million tourists visit Californian wine regions each year, spending more than $2 billion. With 120 wineries open to the public and 14 restaurants boasting Michelin stars, Napa attracts 5 million visitors each year.
Winery tours will continue to be popular, according to TripAdvisor's recent survey. Brooke Ferencsik, director of communications for TripAdvisor said: "Nearly one-third of U.S. respondents are planning a vineyard visit this fall."
The top 10:
1. Pride Mountain Vineyards, Napa
Two-thousand feet above the Napa Valley floor, guests at this historic 235-acre estate enjoy exquisite views of Mount St. Helena while touring sun-soaked vineyards. After visiting the production facility, they end up in a 23,000 square-foot barrel cellar that lies up to 50 feet beneath the ground. Two vintages of Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve have received 99-point scores from leading critic Robert Parker: 1996 and 2003.
A TripAdvisor traveler commented: "Our tour was informative, relaxed, and fun!" Tours operate six days a week with a $15 fee; advance reservations required.
2. Hendry Ranch Wines, Napa
The Hendry family has harvested the hills of this 114-acre ranch located 10 miles northwest of Napa since 1939. The winery welcomes travelers with a two and a half hour tour led by owner George Hendry, who gives an in-depth lesson on the art and science of winemaking.
Two of the estate's wines have received ratings over 90 from Robert Parker: the 2009 Hendry Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (92) and the 2007 Hendry Ranch Proprietary Red Wine.
"Hendry Vineyards was a fantastically informative experience," commented a TripAdvisor user. Tours operate daily with a $40 fee; advance reservations required.
3. Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard, Peconic, New York
Visitors stopping off at this vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island are treated to an intimate tour. Travelers learn about the challenging local growing conditions before sampling the Sannino Bella wines, including a merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
The owners also run a "vine to wine" program, in which they teach other aspiring viticulturists the ropes.
A TripAdvisor traveler said, "I learned more on this tour than in any other I have taken." Visits are offered Saturday and Sunday with a $25 fee; advance reservations required.
4. Frog's Leap Winery, Rutherford, Napa
In the heart of Napa Valley, this organic winery produces nearly 60,000 cases each year. During a 90-minute tour, guests try four wines while enjoying a leisurely stroll through rows of vines, lush gardens, and the historic Red Barn winery. Winemakers John Williams and Paul Moschetti, who turn out 60,000 cases per year, say they are determined "to maintain good stewardship of the land."
One TripAdvisor traveler commented: "This was a fantastic tour, learning about the history of the winery and their sustainable practices." Tours are offered Monday to Friday with a $20 fee; advance reservations required.
5. O'Brien Estate Winery, Napa
The romance of wine country is alive and kicking at this 40-acre estate where guests sip wines labeled with amorous verse. One wine, the O'Brien Family Vineyards Seduction, has received three 94-point ratings from Robert Parker. The "poem" on the Seduction label reads:
Romance of the heart
Passion of the soul
A voluptuous wine with sensual flavors
And a velvet kiss.
Enjoy in good company.
During the hour-long tour, travelers are led through the winemaking process, starting in the vineyard and ending in the barrel room. A TripAdvisor traveler noted: "I've never had so much fun on a winery tour before." Tours are offered daily with a $20 fee; advance reservations required.
6. Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Healdsburg, Sonoma
In the hills of Alexander Valley, visitors are given a 90-minute tour of this enormous estate and its fairy-tale "chateau."
A cabernet and chardonnay specialist, the Jordan estate spreads over a pristine 1,100-acre site. It includes 225 acres of vineyard and 18 acres of olive groves, along with cows, a couple of rescue donkeys and two dogs (which featured in the book "Wine Dogs 2002"). The current tour takes in the cobbled terrace, winery and barrel room before guests enjoy a tasting in a secret room hidden behind a bookshelf. Each wine comes with a paired hors d'oeuvre.
"From the first sip on the terrace to the pairings in the private tasting room, everything was first class," commented a TripAdvisor traveler. Tours are offered Monday to Saturday and on selected Sundays for a $30 fee; advance reservations required. Jordan has recently launched a second estate tour that takes in the vineyard and affords visitors spectacular views over the property and surrounding area.
7. The Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen, Sonoma
Visitors to this family-run winery at the base of Sonoma Mountain can take a vineyard tour by tram or on foot to learn about the estate's organic practices. Brand manager Chris Benziger says that after the family bought the land 30 years ago, they "farmed the same way as everyone else around here," using sprays to control weeds, deter bugs and increase yields. They converted to organic production in the mid-1990s.
According to Benziger, who produces the biodynamic preparations used in the vineyards as well as being responsible for sales, "healing the land led to an amazing caliber of wines."
A TripAdvisor user commented: "If you only did one tour on your trip, this would be a good one." Tours are offered daily for a fee of $20 to $40; reservations are recommended but not required.
8. Wollersheim Winery, Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin
Located 30 miles northwest of Madison, this hillside property was first established as a winery more than 150 years ago. The winemaker here is Beaujolais native Philippe Coquard, whose wife, Julie, is a member of the Wollersheim family.
During an hour-long tour, guests explore the estate's production and fermentation facilities before sampling wines. "A very beautiful setting that was combined with an informative guided tour," said one TripAdvisor traveler. Tours are offered daily for a $5 fee; no reservations required.
9. Jarvis Estate, Napa
TripAdvisor users say it's hard not to be impressed by the 45,000-square-foot cellar of this subterranean production facility tunneled into the Vaca Mountains. The 90-minute tour includes a stop at the cave's underground waterfall, which ensures steady temperatures and humidity for the estate's wines.
Visitors can inspect the winery's 12 massive oak barrels that were assembled on site by French coopers. A visitor commented: "We toured Jarvis on our last day in Napa, and it was spectacular!" Daily tours cost $60; advance reservations required.
10. Schramsberg Vineyard, Calistoga, Napa
Renowned for its sparkling wines, this 150-year-old estate welcomes travelers to explore its 125-year-old, hand-dug caves nestled into the rugged Diamond Mountains. The tour details the classic process of producing sparkling wine before concluding with a candlelit tasting of four blends.
An interesting note is that the 1969 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs was used for a "toast to peace" at the historic 1972 state dinner hosted by President Nixon for Chinese premier Cou En-lai in Beijing. Not only did it mark a thaw in U.S.-China relations, it was the first time that any American wine had been served by a presidential administration.
One TripAdvisor traveler commented: "We loved the history of the winery and the tour of the caves was so interesting. A must see!" Tours are offered daily for a $50 fee; advance reservations required.