9 Unique Winery Experiences In Napa And Sonoma Valley

Napa Valley is one of the most well-known wine regions in the U.S., a must visit for any wine lover. Winemaking in Napa Valley began in 1839, but the wine region only became famous after the Paris Tasting of 1976 when Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars won against wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy in a blind tasting competition. Neighboring wine region, Sonoma Valley, also gained popularity along with Napa Valley since the short distance means travelers can visit both in one trip. 


With over 400 top-rated wineries in Napa Valley, there are virtually unlimited options for wine tastings, including vineyards, which are different than wineries. There are also over 400 wineries in Sonoma Valley, so it can be hard to decide where to go for a wine tasting. Plus, once you visit a few, the experience can be become repetitive. But there are some wineries and vineyards in the area that offer something more beyond the standard wine tasting. From horseback riding through a vineyard to a private tasting with speakeasy vibes, here are nine places in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley that offer truly unique experiences.

1. Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Yes, Francis Ford Coppola Winery was started by the famous film director Francis Ford Coppola, and the winery is designed to appeal to both wine lovers and his fans. Another perk of the winery is that it has a pool, allowing you to enjoy the wonderful California weather. 


At the winery, there is a gallery filled with memorabilia from Coppola's film career, including an original Tucker 48 sedan from Coppola's 1988 film, "Tucker: The Man and His Dreams." Only 51 Tucker automobiles were ever made. You can also book a private cabana or one of the four bocce courts, so there are a lot to keep guests entertained here between wine tastings. 

The winery produces a large variety of wines with a price range of $15-$125, so there's something for everyone at this winery. Tastings here start at $35 per person, which isn't a bad price for Napa and Sonoma these days. The most popular wines here are the Diamond Collection and the Sofia sparkling wines.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery


(707) 857-1400

300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, CA 95441

2. Sterling Vineyards

Sterling Vineyards is the only winery in the world with an aerial gondola. The winery sits on top of a hill 300 feet above the town of Calistoga, installed in the 1970s so visitors wouldn't have to hike up. Not only does the gondola provide a fun way to journey to the winery, it also offers beautiful views of the area. The winery was closed for three years as parts of it and the gondola was damaged during the Glass Fire of 2020, but it finally reopened in 2023. 


The tasting experience, which includes the gondola ride, starts at $55 per person and the winery only offers gondola rides for those who are heading to a wine tasting. Different tastings, including one with a food pairing, are also available. Sterling is also one of the first wineries in the United States to produce Bordeaux-style red wines and vintage Merlots.

Sterling Vineyards

(800) 726-6136

1111 Dunaweal Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515

3. Del Dotto Historic Winery & Caves

Del Dotto Vineyards has three winery locations in Napa Valley. All three locations offer a cave experience complete with wine tasting directly from the barrels, but the Atlas Peak location is special. This location of the Historic Del Dotto Winery & Caves was once the site of one of Napa Valley's first wineries. While the caves at its other locations are built with an elaborate, Venetian-style look, the caves here date back to 1885 and it's maintained the historic look. The cave tour includes a short history lesson about how the caves were hand-dug by Chinese laborers without any dynamite.


Del Dotto Vineyards are known for its red wines, which are aged inside of its multiple caves. Guests are able to taste some wines directly from the barrels during the tour, and there's a more formal wine and chocolate tasting in the tasting room following each cave tour. The cave experience and barrel tasting costs $120 per person.

Historic Del Dotto Winery & Caves


1055 Atlas Peak Rd, Napa, CA 94558

4. Shadybrook Estate Winery

Shadybrook Estate Winery actually started in a different part of Coombsville than where the winery and tasting room are located now. In 2016, it purchased the Rapp Quarter Horse Ranch and relocated its winery there. The winery offers tastings of both wines grown at Shadybrook Estate vineyards and at Rapp Ranch vineyards. Shadybrook Estate primarily grows Bordeaux varieties while Rapp Ranch vineyards are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.


Since Rapp Ranch was originally a horse ranch, Shadybrook Estate offers guided horseback riding tours in partnership with its sister company, Napa Valley Trail Rides. The ride and tasting tour, which it calls "The Ultimate Ranch Experience," has become one of its most popular experiences. The experience costs $250 per person starts with a 45-minute horseback ride through its Cabernet vineyards. After the ride, there will be a tasting from both its Shadybrook Estate and Rapp Ranch labels, paired with cheese and charcuterie, a perfect complement to the wine

Shadybrook Estate Winery

(707) 255-5661

100 Rapp Ln, Napa, CA 94558

5. Palmaz Vineyards

Palmaz Vineyards has a cave, but it's nothing like other winery caves. Instead of a historic cave, the cave at Palmaz looks like a mad scientist's futuristic laboratory. The winery offers private guided tours to the innovative cave, followed by a wine tasting paired with light hors d'oeuvres for $150 per person.


The Palmaz family wanted to build a gravity-flow winery, where the wine can be moved from one area of the winemaking process to the next using gravity instead of pumps. Palmaz took it to the next level by digging down into the hillside a height that is equivalent to an 18-story building. Guests touring the winery will get to descend to the center of this tunnel, which is the fermentation dome lined with 24 fermentation tanks. 

The grapes at Palmaz are grown on the hillsides and each individual block is processed separately and stored in the fermentation tanks until the final blending process. Above the tanks, results from the sophisticated monitoring system are displayed onto the ceiling and the entire dome looks like something out of sci-fi movie. The tour guide will explain how fermentation in each tank is monitored using artificial intelligence. After the tour, guests will return to the surface for a wine tasting in the tasting salon and enjoy sweeping views of the vineyard right outside. 


Palmaz Vineyards

(707) 226-5587

4029 Hagen Rd, Napa, CA 94558

6. Orin Swift Cellars

Orin Swift Cellars was founded by winemaker Dave Phinney, who created the cult-favorite The Prisoner wine label. Phinney's latest wine venture is Orin Swift Cellars, which opened a new tasting room in St. Helena in 2023. At Orin Swift, there are three different wine tasting experiences: Rock, Paper and Scissors (yes, they're named after the childhood game). Rock is the standing-only tasting at the tasting room's bar, while Paper refers to its more relaxed, seated tasting. Both offer different wine selections. But the most unique experience of the three is the reservations-only Scissors.


Scissors takes place in a special room that is only accessible from the hidden back entrance. Like its namesake, the facade was made to look like it had been stabbed by a dozen scissors. Scissors is a private tasting at an intimate counter with only one party at a time and features wines that are not available in the other tasting rooms. To make it more fun, the team will consult guests before the tasting to customize other aspects of the experience, from the music playlist to the snacks served during the tasting. Because the wines poured here are much more limited and the tasting is private (with more substantial bites), it costs significantly more ($125 per person) than their other tastings which start at $45. 


Orin Swift Cellars

(707) 967-9179

1321 Main Street St. Helena, CA 94574

7. Benziger Winery

Good wine starts with good grapes, and growing good grapes require good soil. Despite the glamour of wine country, vineyards are primarily a farm. Benziger Winery prides itself on its biodynamic farming practices. It has a herd of sheep that eats its overgrown cover crops while its Scottish Highlander cattle provide manure for fertilizer. 


In keeping with that farming mentality, it offers a tram tour pulled by a tractor. Guests will learn not just about its wines but also about biodynamic farming during the tour, which concludes with a tasting of four wines. The tractor tour and tasting costs $45 per person and children are welcome for $15 (without any wine tasting, naturally). Benziger's wines, especially their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are highly rated. In 2021, their West Rows Chardonnay was even named "Best of Class" at the Sunset International Wine Competition and praised by Wine Enthusiast as "full and rich in texture."

Benziger Winery

(707) 935-3000

1883 London Ranch Rd, Glen Ellen, CA 95442

8. Hess Persson Estates

Hess Persson Estates started its winemaking journey in 1978 when Donald Hess started cultivating vineyards on the steep slopes of Mount Veeder, where grapes are planted between 600-1,120 feet above sea level. Higher altitude tends to have a cooler climate and more wind, and vines grown at such altitude tend to produce less grapes that ripen slower. But that also results in higher acidity and a thicker skin that makes the wine more tannic. 


The estate has over 1,000 acres planted with grapes, so they offer an ATV tour to allow guests to explore a good part of the mountainous vineyard. The tour starts at $185 per person. While it may not be the most affordable option, it does include wine tasting in the vineyard followed by more wine with cheese (or food) pairing in the tasting or dining room. There is also an impressive art museum that is free to visit by reservation only. 

Hess Persson Estates

(707) 255-1144

4411 Redwood Rd, Napa, CA 94558

9. Priest Ranch Wines

Many of us are pretty sure that bacon tastes good with everything, but not all bacons are the same. Naturally, different wines would pair with different types of bacon and you can learn all about it at Priest Ranch Wines. In addition to the more common cheese and charcuterie pairing, the Yountville-based winery offers different wine tasting experiences, including one which includes four different cuts of thick bacon paired with four wines for $85 per person.


Even though Priest Ranch grows grapes at its own vineyards, the tasting room is actually located in downtown Yountville, California. It offers different and fun pairings, and the location is convenient to other restaurants and tasting rooms. The tasting room also offers some limited production wines that are only available there or online. It only produces five barrels or less of these wines at a time and typically by request only, so it's sure to go fast. 

Priest Ranch Wines

(707) 944-8200

6490 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599