At Del Dotto, the winemakers think the barrel is important, and their tour centers on that. They offer similar experiences in two Napa Valley locations.
The Experience at Del Dotto
On a Del Dotto tour, you won't taste fully aged wine poured from a bottle. Instead, you'll sample directly from the barrels.You may stop to inhale the surprising aroma of an empty barrel, too. Your tour guide will use a wine "thief" to draw samples from wine barrels for you to taste.
Depending on your tour guide, your tour may vary. You might explore the same fermented grape juice aged in different types of oak, discovering flavor differences contributed by the wood. Or you could taste different base wines (same grape, different year) aged in the same kind of wood, revealing the grapes' contribution.
What’s Amazing at Del Dotto Vineyards
Del Dotto's singular focus on how the barrel affects the wine that ages in it is unique. It may be the single most informative tour I've ever taken about wine making, in terms of how that glass of wine in front of me came out tasting the way it did.
The historic caves are fascinating and intimate. The wine gallery in St. Helena is fancier, full of marble statues and the like. Both are fun to visit.
The tour ends with the ultimate wine pairing: wine with chocolate. You'll also get a chance to sample their port wines. The St. Helena location even serves appetizer-sized portions of freshly baked pizza.
Del Dotto Will Be Great For You If:
If you love to learn about wines, how they are made and how the process affects the product, Del Dotto is a must. Some of my wine friends turn up their snooty noses when I talk about how much the barrel affects the wine that ages in it, but don't be like that. Give it a try and see what you can learn instead.
If you love chocolate, you'll also enjoy the wine and chocolate pairings, which are not an easy thing to do well.
The Wines at Del Dotto
Del Dotto produces port wine, as well as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese.
Wine Spectator magazine gave Del Dotto's 1999 Cabernet 93 points, and their Cabernet Franc garnered a score of 92. In 2014, Robert Parker rated their 2012 Del Dotto St. Helena Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and their Del Dotto The Beast Cabernet Sauvignon at 98-100 points.
What Others Think About Del Dotto
Online reviewers give Del Dotto's St. Helena location high ratings, often talking about how the building and about the barrel tasting in the caves. Others are put off by the surroundings, saying they thought they were in Las Vegas.
Their Napa location is also well rated, with lots of comments about the candlelit caves.
Both locations get 4 stars out of 5 at Yelp.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
The tour and barrel tasting are by appointment only.
Del Dotto's two locations have very different ambiance. The historic caves, hand dug in 1885 are located in the historic Hedgeside Distillery Building just outside the town of Napa. They have a cozy, earthy feel.
The St. Helena location brings to mind a Venetian palazzo where even the floors are paved in marble. Their caves are bigger, with more tour groups in them at once. I prefer the simplicity of the historic caves.
You won't see the crushing machine, the fermentation tanks or the bottling area on this tour.
A word of warning: You'll sample many wines on this tour, and each pouring is generous. It's easy to get intoxicated, more so than at other wineries. To keep yourself safe on the drive home, pick a designated driver, hire someone to take you here, or arrive with a full stomach, take a tiny sip of each wine and sob while throwing out the rest.
You should also be aware that the wines you'll taste are still immature and not the refined, fully ready-to-drink wines that you might sample in other locations. Don't let that deter you from going - the experience is all part of learning to appreciate wine and enjoy it.
Del Dotto's wine grapes grow in many viticultural areas, and they have a wider range of wine varietals than some other wineries do.
They produce 400 to 500 cases per year.
Getting to Del Dotto Vineyard
Del Dotto Wine Gallery
1055 Atlas Peak Road, Napa
1445 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena
Del Dotto Wine Gallery website
Historic Caves in the town of Napa:
- Drive north on Highway 29 to Trancas Street (at the stoplight).
- Turn right onto Trancas Street.
- Drive past Silverado Trail, where Trancas becomes Monticello Road.
- Drive to Atlas Peak Road (at the stoplight) and turn left.
- Del Dotto is on the left side of the street, about 1/4 mile down the road.
Wine Gallery in St. Helena:
- Drive north on Highway 29.
- Del Dotto is on the west side of the road, about 500 yards north of where the railroad tracks cross the highway south of St. Helena, between Whitehall Lane and Zinfandel Lane
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary tour for the purpose of reviewing Del Dotto Vineyards. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.