Tasting room appointment
In short, the answer is no! We visit the Napa Valley numerous times a year and hardly ever make an appointment. In our travels to the Napa Valley we find three different tasting room scenarios.
The first are the wineries with regular visiting hours throughout the week. There are a plethora of Napa Valley wineries open daily, some starting as early as 10 AM. Most are open by 11 AM and stay open until 4 or 5 PM. Just enter the tasting room and belly up to the tasting bar. If you look at our list of suggested Napa Valley wine routes, the majority of those wineries have regular tasting room hours and no reservations are required to do a normal tasting of wines.
The second situation are wineries that are relatively new to Napa Valley and are subject to newer Napa County regulations for tasting rooms. These require that the tasting rooms entertain visitors by appointment only. You may see a sign outside saying “Open by appointment only,” but in reality anyone can pop in and taste wines. Use your cell phone and call and explain that you are just outside the tasting room, and more than likely you will be invited to come in and do some tasting. Our guess is that these regulations are an attempt by the County to control congestion in the Napa Valley.
A third set of wineries, and very much in the minority, truly do require visitors to make a reservation to taste or tour. These wineries tend to be small, boutique, high-end, and not staffed to take in numerous visitors.
When planning a trip to the Napa Valley, it is best to peruse the Website of each winery you want to visit and check on the section for visiting the winery. This is the best way to get the latest information.
If you are interested is a special tasting, a group tasting, a tour, or food pairing, more than likely you will need to call the winery and make a reservation. Two helpful winery reservation Websites are the Cellar Pass and Vino Visit. They have each contracted with a set of wineries to do all the booking work for the winery. They both work like Open Table does for restaurants. Both of these services do make a commission on each booking, so only a few wineries are using these services. The rest rely on folks hitting the website, emailing or phoning.
If you look at our Winery Finder/Trip Planner you will be able to see which wineries have regular tasting room hours and those that are open by appointment only. Always double check with the wineries, because they often change tasting room hours. Another good thing is to find out the cost of a tasting. If you are on a budget, tasting fees can add up quickly.
Your best course of action when visiting the Napa Valley and its many tasting rooms is to spend some serious planning weeks before your scheduled visit.