Sterling Vineyards, Napa County

by Stevie on June 1, 2011

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I’ve always mixed feelings about Sterling. On the one hand, it is super fun to visit: you take a gondola to the winery, for goodness sake. What could be more incredible? On the other, the place is expensive ($25 for the basic admission and it goes up from there) and the wine is forgettable at best. Like Beringer, this is more of a fun excursion than anything else.

welcome to Sterling Vineyards

welcome to Sterling Vineyards


about to board the gondola at Sterling

about to board the gondola at Sterling

The Sterling web site is pretty informative about the origins of the winery. Founded in 1964 by a very successful British businessman and former writer for the London Financial Times, Peter Newton, it has an interesting history. I can’t find it on the site, but I recall them saying on the tour that the place was sold to a large company relatively recently? Can that be right? The best factoid about the history as far as I’m concerned is that Prince Charles visited them in 1977. That was well before all of that ugly business. I can only imagine how thrilled Mr. Newton must have been.

riding over the lake at Sterling

riding over the lake and fountain in our Sterling gondola


view of Castello di Amorosa from our gondola

view of Castello di Amorosa from our gondola

Once inside the charming winery, you’re handed your glass and you’re off on their self-paced automated tour. The winery sits on a high hill overlooking Napa Valley. The views really are miraculous. It was quite chilly on the day of our visit from the persistent rain. So we skipped the parts of the video-guided tour that were outside, opting instead for some quick photos and back into the warmth. I really liked the section of the video tour by the barrel room. Wine barrels are so complicated to make with so many niggling details, but I had the sense that I was really learning something there. Fascinating stuff.

the Sterling winery with modern looking bell towers

the Sterling winery with modern looking bell towers

the sun shone off and on while we visited that day

the sun shone off and on while we visited that day


incredible barrel room at Sterling

incredible barrel room at Sterling

So if you’re new to wine, new to wine country or are traveling with same, I’d recommend Sterling for sure. Wine Spectator did just that in the 15 June 2011 issue. Oddly, they didn’t make any comments on the wine itself, but I’m not that nice.

The wine is dull. That’s it: the wine is plain dull.

Napa Valley under a moody sky from the terrace at Sterling

Napa Valley under a moody sky from the terrace at Sterling

enjoying the... views at Sterling

enjoying the... views at Sterling

Perhaps if we had coughed up more cash to sample the reserve wines or whatever, we’d have a different impression. But we were in a group of four. That’s $100 already just to get into the gondola and sample the boring wine. I think the mediocre quality must be hurting the Sterling reputation of this lovely winery 😉

We tried the following:

2009 cellar club pinot gris
2009 barrel fermented sauvignon blanc
2007 Carneros pinot noir
2006 Rutherford cabernet sauvignon
2009 cellar club malvasia bianca

These were good enough, I suppose. You wouldn’t necessarily spit them out in disgust or anything. The sauvignon blanc smelled of pineapple; the pinot gris was crisp. The pinot noir seemed clumsy and I actually did pour mine out (which I never do). The cab seemed too heavy handed. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the sweet malvasia bianca, though that’s probably because I rarely drink this kind of wine so don’t really know how to properly evaluate it.

And that’s it: this is a winery to visit for the inexperienced wine drinker. You’ll have a marvelous time and will likely enjoy the wines, too. I’m sending the next out-of-towners who stay with us in San Francisco to Sterling by themselves.

some Sterling wines that perhaps we should have tried

some Sterling wines that perhaps we should have tried

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Faith June 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Lol, I’m glad we’ll always get an honest review from you! 🙂 (Sorry the wine was dull though.) At least the views and company were fabulous!
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Tom @ Tall Clover Farm June 6, 2011 at 7:12 am

Stevie I’m cracking up; serving up some honesty by the glassful. I’m amazed by the amount of outlay some of these wineries embrace, an aerial tram? I’m not sure how small wineries survive, oh wait…that’s right, they make some awesome wine.
Tom @ Tall Clover Farm recently posted..For the Record- Dan Is the ManMy Profile

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