When British financier Peter Newton selected the site for the Sterling Vineyards winery, he chose a hilltop at the northernmost end of the Napa Valley. Even then, he was thinking about the visitors who would someday come to taste his exceptional wines. He wanted to create an ideal environment to help them truly appreciate the beauty of the Napa Valley and learn more about how wines are made.
Today, the magnificent stark white Mediterranean-style Visitor's Center serves as a beacon to wine tourers in the valley below. Instead of stairs, they are greeted in the low-lying parking lot by a solar-powered aerial tram that transports them 211 feet up to the winery's entrance. As it ascends, guests are introduced to the inspiring view that Sterling Vineyards' founder wanted to share.
The tasting experience begins just moments after guests disembark. They are given a taste of wine and encouraged to have a look around the winery. Sterling Vineyards was the first production winery that was actually constructed with visitors in mind. The elevated walkways and overlooks give them an "over-the-shoulder" view of the actual winemaking process. A fascinating self-guided tour, complete with motion-activated flat-panel LCD screens, has been designed to show guests how Sterling turns grapes into wine. The tour is designed to be self-paced, so one can linger or slip on through to taste more Sterling Vineyards wines.
This year, Sterling Vineyards is celebrating 40 years of superb winemaking. It sources grapes of exceptional quality from an array of distinctive vineyards throughout the Napa and other select California regions. The resulting wines are exceptional. From the beginning, Sterling wines have always been cutting-edge. In fact, the winery's very first release in 1969 included the first vintage-dated Merlot made in the United States. Before that, Americans used this varietal solely for blending purposes. Sterling's production practices have always been cutting-edge as well. From the vineyards to the winery to the office, Sterling Vineyards is committed to "green" practices. Just this past year, it became a certified green winery.
A remarkable variety of wines is available for tasting and purchase at Sterling Vineyards' Visitor Center. There's a delightful salon with cafÃ¯Â¿Â½ tables where everyone is invited to sit and taste. Or they can taste their wines on the terrace and enjoy the winery's northern view. Tastings of limited-quantity single vineyard wines and reserve wines are offered in two additional tasting venues. With Sterling's stellar portfolio, visitors are bound to find several they'd like to take home.
Fortunately, Sterling Vineyards offers a wine club with two levels of membership. The Cellar Club features limited-production, limited-distribution wines and the Platinum Club focuses on the winery's top-tier wines. Knowing this makes the tram ride back to the parking lot a bit easier for visitors.
As they descend, guests are treated once again to the glorious view that the winery's founder wanted them to see more than 40 years ago: the breathtaking Napa Valley teeming with grapes that will someday become Sterling Vineyards wines.
What to buy:
'08 Pinot Gris Pears, apples, lemon tart $26
'08 Barrel-Fermented Sauvignon Blanc Gooseberry, pear, pineapple, herbs, grass $26
'05 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon Ripe black cherries, toasty oak, spice, new leather $26
'08 Malvasia Bianca Candied ginger, orange blossom, nectarine, honeysuckle $30
800.726.6136; Fax: 707.942.3467
1111 Dunaweal Ln
Calistoga, CA 94515
Tasting Room Open Mon-Fri 10:30-5; Sat-Sun 10-5
Directions are available on the website or by calling the winery.