Taste wine and dine in the jewel of the Napa Valley.
You’ll get a personalized experience at each of the tasting rooms in this easy-to-follow St. Helena wine tasting day trip that begins downtown and ends just south of it. Often called the jewel of the Napa Valley, St. Helena has excellent restaurants, so you can get your three squares within city limits, too.
Pre-trip To-do List
1) The day’s three winery stops—Chateau Potelle, Ehlers Estate, and Tres Sabores—all require reservations. In summer it’s wise to make them at least a few days ahead.
2) Book a table if your lunch choice is Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch; reservations aren’t taken at the other two options.
3) Except in the dead of winter it’s best to make a reservation for dinner at Acacia House.
Have a light breakfast at your lodging or grab a coffee and croissant or English muffin Oprah loves them) at the beloved Model Bakery in downtown St. Helena. If you’re staying in the southern Napa Valley, you can visit the bakery’s Oxbow Public Market location or the Mini Model Bakery operation in Yountville before venturing north.
Tip: You’ll be having small gourmet bites at your first winery stop, so don’t fill yourself up.
VGS Chateau Potelle
Michelin-starred bites elevate outstanding wines.
VGS Chateau Potelle‘s tasting room in a whimsically decorated bungalow benefits from its French-born owner’s impeccable taste. The carefully chosen small bites by the Michelin-starred La Toque restaurant elevate vintner Jean-Noel Fourmeaux’s outstanding wines.
Why go: whimsical sensibility; Cabernets from mountain fruit; small bites elevate wines and vice versa
Lush yet subtly powerful wines served in a historic stone barn
The lush yet subtly powerful wines at Ehlers Estate are served in a sturdy 1886 stone barn whose contemporary-rustic decor hints at the modern sensibility informing the winemaking here. The focus is on Bordeaux varietals grown on 42 acres of organically and biodynamically farmed vineyards. The stars include the J. Leducq Cabernet Sauvignon, made entirely of the varietal, along with two Cabernet blends and Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. On the lighter side are a Sauvignon Blanc and a rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, the latter made in the French tradition from grapes grown specifically for this wine.
Directions: From Chateau Potelle, head north up Highway 29 (Main Street) past downtown to Ehlers Lane. Though the distance is only 3.5 miles, allow 15 or 20 minutes in case traffic is congested. If you’re running ahead of schedule, park near the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Main Street and explore the shops a bit.
Why go: organic and biodynamic farming practices; 19th-century stone building; interesting history; winery profits benefit heart research
Backtrack on Highway 29 past downtown St. Helena (almost to Chateau Potelle) for lunch at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. For something quicker and more casual, have a pulled-chicken sandwich or similar fare at the Café at Long Meadow Ranch on the same site, or head across the street to the Clif Family Bruschetteria truck; after making your purchase you can enjoy bruschetta and more alfresco behind the Clif Family Winery Tasting Room.
Tres Sabores Winery
Look and feel of a working farm
Glamour is in short supply at the last stop, but that only adds to its charm. Earthy Tres Sabores Winery has the look and feel of exactly what it is—a working farm. On the tour and at the seated tasting that concludes it you’ll sample some of owner-winemaker Julie Johnson’s single-vineyard wines and get a sense of her passion for organic farming and her benchland terrain.
Directions: Tres Sabores is about 4 miles south of Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. Head south 2¼ miles on Highway 29, turn right (west) at Whitehall Lane, bearing left at the sign for South Whitehall Lane.
Why go: passionate owner-winemaker; chance to see organic farming up close; single-vineyard reds.
Browse the Shops
Downtown St. Helena Shopping
If you don’t head back to your lodging to rest before dinner, slip back downtown and browse the shops, galleries, and boutiques in the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Main Street. (The Model Bakery is in the 1300 block.)
Optional stop for cooking lovers: A recent road widening has relieved some of St. Helena’s rush-hour traffic congestion, though there still are delays as the workday ends. If you’re interested in cooking and don’t mind braving the slow patch between downtown and the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Campus, a few blocks to the north, check out the gadgets and cookbooks at its Spice Islands Marketplace, which stays open until 6.
Cocktails and Dinner
Las Alcobas Napa Valley
Arrive early for dinner at Acacia House, the restaurant at Las Alcobas Napa Valley, a 68-room luxury hotel next to Beringer Vineyards. Except in winter or when it’s raining, take the time to check out the vineyard-view pool and modern architecture before repairing to the restaurant, which is inside a carefully restored 1907 Colonial Revival mansion. Start in the lounge or out on the wraparound porch with a signature Margarita Las Alcobas, topped with sea-salt foam and lime zest, or the equally refreshing Acacia Cocktail, made with gin, honey, crème de violet, and sparkling wine.
Bay Area foodies are well acquainted with chef Chris Cosentino and partner Oliver Wharton, whose San Francisco restaurant Cockscomb specializes in “snout-to-tail” (use the whole animal) cuisine. At Acacia House, the two serve well-plated contemporary dishes in a dark-gray room whose spare elegance complements the hotel’s casual, self-assured style.
Additional Wine Tasting Options
St. Helena contains dozens more wineries should any of the three on this itinerary be full up on the day you want to visit. Corison Winery, not far from Chateau Potelle and Tres Sabores, is a fine choice among the smaller wineries. Charles Krug, HALL St. Helena, and Joseph Phelps Vineyards are good bets among the larger ones. To check out wines from the Napa Valley and beyond, drop by The Saint wine lounge on Main Street. It’s open well into the evening.
More Napa Valley Itineraries
This story first appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in 2019.