POSTED ON May 29, 2012 | IN Tasting Rooms, Wine News | BY joe

First let us define what we mean by fun. We don’t mean a party atmosphere with music blaring and wine flowing. And we certainly don’t mean a hoity-toity, la-di-da atmosphere that is all too often the experience a visitor gets in many a Napa Valley tasting room. By fun we mean a winery that has a tasting room that is casual, inviting, friendly, and has hosts who are very happy to see you walk in. Here are five wineries we recommend for a fun and easy-going experience.

Elyse Winery
This is a very small winery located on Hoffman Lane in Yountville. To get there one must take the Yountville exit from Highway 29 and head toward Domain Chandon. On Solano Avenue, take a left until you reach Hoffman Lane. Turn right on Hoffman Lane. Ray Coursen and his wife Nancy are the owners, and Ray does the winemaking as well. We love the homey and down-to-earth atmosphere of this winery. Everyone is friendly and very jovial. It’s a fun time in the tasting room. They produce several different varietals and blends of red wines, all delicious with great character.

Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores is well off the beaten path of Highway 29 and located in the Rutherford AVA. It is at the base of the Mayacamus Mountains on So. Whitehall Lane in St. Helena. Julie Johnson is the winemaker and she produces fine Cabernet and Zinfandel from her certified organic vineyards. The winery is rustic with no formal tasting room, just a homey, welcoming atmosphere. Julie’s wines are always rated highly. If you are lucky enough, Julie will lead your tour and tasting.

julie johnson at Tres Sabores

Julie Johnson in her barrel room

Corison Winery
Many call Cathy Corison the Queen of Napa Valley Cabernet. She has been at it for many years and her Cabernets reflect the old school Cabs of the Napa Valley. These are restrained Cabernets, loved by many restaurants because they pair well with items on their menus. The tasting room is very simple, no merchandise to sell, just good quality wines. Out behind the wine cellar is a fantastic view of vineyards with the Mayacamus Mountains in the background. Look for the beautiful green barn as you drive along Highway 29 in St. Helena. The winery is set back from the road and easy to miss.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery
The two Smith Brothers are a throwback to a different era of the Napa Valley. Their main goal is to make the best wine they can and sell out each year to a long list of loyal customers. There is no fancy state-of-the-art winemaking equipment or a lavish tasting room. All the tasting is done in the cellar room. Do you want to know what it was like in the early 80’s of the Napa Valley? This will be your experience at Smith-Madrone on Spring Mountain Road. Although the Cab is delicious, the Riesling is more delicious and not to be passed up.

Charlie Smith

Buehler Vineyards
This winery is across the Valley from Smith Madrone and about 9 miles east in the hills of the Vaca Mountains. Buehler began in 1976, so along with Smith-Madrone is one of the older wineries in the Napa Valley. John Buehler runs the show here and his son Page Buelher tends to the tasting room and visitors. Two Cabernets and a Zinfandel have brought notoriety to this hidden gem at the base of Howell Mountain.

Take a couple of days to visit a few or all of these wineries and be sure to call ahead at least a week prior to make an appointment. If you take a chance and just walk in, you might miss out on a terrific time. Check our lodging and restaurant page for information on where to stay and dine in the Napa Valley.


  1. I like your definition of fun!! This is a great list for Napa for my next visit, as I have often been not pleased with my tasting experience at Napa wineries. It is a great wine region; so having a quality tasting experience is important.

  2. I like your definition of fun!! This is a great list for Napa for my next visit, as I have often been not pleased with my tasting experience at Napa wineries. It is a great wine region; so have a quality tasting experience is important.

    • Hi Sharon,
      Next time in Napa let us know and maybe we can meet up with you. Thanks for your comment.