Has Sterling Vineyards become Napa’s latest tourist trap?

I have been coming to Napa for years, not just because I love wine and the wine world, but because Cabernet happens to be my favorite varietal and, well, Napa takes the cake when it comes to Cabs. Of course, as a California wine fan I look past a lot of the hype associated with Napa and have a real appreciation for many of the other parts of the state that produce exceptional wines.

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I’m a big fan of Russian River wines, strong Zins from Paso Robles never get old, and a Syrah from Santa Ynez (Zaca Mesa) is still one of my top five favorite wines in the world. Growing up in Berkeley, Napa and Sonoma were my regular stomping grounds, however living in LA for six-years gave me more exposure to Santa Ynez and Paso Robles, two wine regions that I think are often overshadowed by Northern California’s wine regions.

But like I said, when it comes to Cabernet, Napa is my favorite, and for over a decade Sterling Vineyards has been at the top of my list. My love affair with Sterling started with a 1996 Cabernet that I think it’s fair to say was the initial inspiration for my love of wine. Once I was old enough I became a member of Sterling and visiting the winery has usually been one of the things I look forward to during my trips to Napa Valley.

Sadly, over the years I’ve seen a lot of the magic that made a visit to Sterling so special disappear as it has become one of Napa’s biggest tourist attractions. Yesterday was a great example, I arrived at the winery at 4:30PM to find a security guard blocking the entrance. Even though the winery is open until 5:00PM, they stopped letting people in because it was “at capacity.”

I was able to talk myself in, and as a member the winery did give me tickets to take the gondola up, but I was warned that once I got up to the top I would be packed in with hundreds of people. Here’s a picture of the line up to the gondola:

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Yes, the thrill is gone, Sterling Vineyards has gone from one of Napa’s gems that I looked forward to visiting a few times a year to a tourist trap. Luckily another one of my favorite Napa spots, Twomey is just down the road from Sterling, we arrived there at the same time and found plenty of space to taste and we stayed close to an hour after closing just hanging-out with the great people over there (special thanks to Ross – he rocks!)

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At over a million cases a year, it’s no surprise Sterling has grown to become one of the top destinations in Napa. However, if you’re looking for a real Napa wine tasting experience I can tell you the Sterling of ten years ago offered something truly magical, today it looks like that will be just a distant memory.

I joined the Twomey wine club yesterday and will be canceling my membership with Sterling. I can pick up a bottle of Sterling wine in just about any grocery store in Texas, the same can’t be said for Twomey. Also I know that no matter when I come to Napa, Twomey won’t have a security guard blocking their gate telling me they are “at capacity” – it’s a bittersweet transition but the time has come. So long Sterling, I’ll still drink your wine but my best memories of visiting your vineyards are now a thing of the past…

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