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In the beginning of California winemaking, tasting was almost always free. Then, in an attempt to attract more serious tasters, some wineries in Sonoma and Napa decided to charge a fee and discovered that people still came in droves. (In return, the wineries would often include a complimentary tasting glass or apply the tasting fee to a bottle of wine.)

Meanwhile, the lesser known Alexander and Anderson wine valleys typically offer lower tasting rates. (In general, two-for-one coupons are sometimes available around town, and you can often get free a tasting if you join a winery’s wine club.) Though very few wineries now offer outright free tastings, here are 10 that do. Always check ahead for current policies, and be polite when you taste. Remember, wineries like to sell you a bottle or two, which you can always use for a picnic on site or with dinner later.

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Sutter Home

Photo | Carole Terwilliger Meyers

The second-oldest winery in Napa Valley (est. 1947), this old-time winery is famous for starting up an appreciation for pink-colored White Zinfandel in 1971. The winery now also produces premium Chardonnays and Cabernets. Currently the only free wine tasting in Napa Valley, visitors can also stroll through a surrounding garden known for its collection of roses and dwarf Japanese maples.


Adastra Wine & Art

Located across from the town plaza, this bright tasting room represents an organically-farmed vineyard in the Carneros region of Napa. It offers a complimentary tasting of two wines. An Estate Tasting featuring five wines is $15, and wines are also offered by the glass. The colorful contemporary fine art by Rey Isip is a nice touch.

Highway 12 Winery

Some wineries don’t have the space to accommodate an on-site tasting room. Though the production facility for Highway 12 Winery is located elsewhere in town, it operates this tasting counter within The Corner Store—a small gift shop located across from the town plaza. A free tasting of three wines is offered, and for $10 you can try five wines from the reserve list.


Alexander Valley Vineyards

This family-run winery is comfortable, unpretentious and 75% solar powered. The focus is on Zinfandel, but it is also known for Chardonnay and Sangiovese. Tasting is free, but reserve wines can be tasted for a $15 fee that is waived with a purchase. Free tours of the property and wine caves are available, and picnicking facilities are provided.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Photo | Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Located on a vineyard-covered hill, this winery is named for the famous movie director—who also owns it. Several of Coppola’s Oscars, Don Corleone’s desk from “The Godfather” and the actual automobile used in the movie “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” can be viewed in the Movie Gallery. A complimentary splash of two wines is served in traditional Italian Trattoria glassware, and more extensive tastings and a tour are available for a fee. This facility also has a restaurant, two swimming pools with lifeguards, and four bocce courts.


Balo Vineyards

Photo | Carole Terwilliger Meyers

This biodynamic-farmed winery will entice you to spend most of a day here. After a complimentary tasting of some very good Pinots and maybe a Riesling, purchase a bottle of your favorite to enjoy in a shaded picnic area, and perhaps play some bocce ball on one of the two available courts. Note: Balo Winery is changing ownership and will be closed during renovations; call before visiting.

Handley Cellars

An interesting collection of folk art is displayed in Handley Cellars’ tasting room. You can view it during a free sampling of six wines (the winery is known for its tasty Pinot Noirs). You’ll need a reservation for either a cheese pairing ($25) or a free tour of the winery. Picnic tables are provided in a shady sculpture garden, and you can recharge your electric vehicle at a free charging station.

Husch Vineyards

Though open only since 1971, this relative baby in the industry is the oldest winery in Anderson Valley. Tasting takes place inside a charming vintage pony barn covered with climbing roses. A free tasting of up to six selections includes the popular Mendocino Chardonnay and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Sheltered picnic tables invite lingering, as does taking a complimentary self-guided tour through the vineyards.

Navarro Vineyards

Known for its Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer varietal grape juices—which children get to sample—and its Alsatian-style wines that include several Gewurztraminers, this winery is situated within a striking Craftsman-style redwood building. Tasting is complimentary, and its wines are available only at the winery. Picnic facilities are provided on a deck overlooking the vineyard and under a trellis amid the grapevines.

Yorkville Cellars

This scenic family-operated winery is surrounded by vineyards and is apparently the only winery outside of France to grow all eight of the main Bordeaux grapes. A basic tasting is available at no charge, but for a fee you can play “Name That Varietal” as you taste all six of the Noble Red grapes originally from Bordeaux (the winery’s unique Richard the Lion-Heart blend includes all six).

Tagged: California, Destinations, Food & drink

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Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Carole is a Berkeley-based travel writer who most especially enjoys cultural and culinary travel. She contributes to an assortment of publications and is the author of 18 books. Carole oversees two websites, and, and she blogs at
Carole Terwilliger Meyers

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