The name won't give it away: Raymond Vineyards sounds like any of hundreds of other Napa Valley wineries, named after their founders. The tasting room your first enter won't reveal much, either. It's a pleasant, sunlit space with a tasting bar and small gift shop.
Your first hint that something different is going on may have been the oversized, white chair you saw on the front lawn on the way in. Or maybe it was the cowhide panels on the tasting room bar -or a glimpse of neon light at the end of a hallway.
Keep looking and you'll find Raymond Vineyards' real 21st-century personality: playful, chic, surprising and - most of all - a refreshingly different style among Napa wineries.
The Experience at Raymond Vineyards
At Raymond, every tasting room is different - and they have several. The Library Room is intimate; its walls lined not with books but with wine bottles. The candlelit Barrel Room's walls are barrels full of the latest vintage.
Be prepared to be startled. If you think wine tasting should be just like every other tasting room in the Napa Valley, with someone pouring sips of wine like a robot, don't go any further than the main tasting room. I don't encourage that. Instead, take a walk around the grounds. Peek in every nook and corner. And keep an open mind.
What’s Amazing at Raymond Vineyards
In the Crystal Cellar, Baccarat crystal chandeliers hang among neon-lit fermentation tanks. A mannequin wearing angel wings peers down from a catwalk.
She came for a party and forgot to go home, or so they'll tell you. It's no wonder the Crystal Cellar is the Raymond's most popular tasting area. Not only is it the place to enjoy their premium wines, but it brims with visual surprises, too. Search for the little wine casks dressed up to look like animals, spot the roller skate behind the bar, then see what else they've tucked away.
What about the wines, you might be thinking by now. Is this place all style and no substance? It would be difficult to find a Napa winery that's making bad wines, so I evaluate first for visitor experience. Having said that, I've visited scores of wineries and Raymond one of the few Napa wineries where I enjoyed every single wine they poured.
Besides all that, you can get a wine education at Raymond. In the Corridor of the Senses, white ceramic hands holding clear glass containers of red glass marbles could easily be mistaken for an Avante-Garde artist's exhibit. It's more than that: It's set up so your nose can experience the complex aromas found in Raymond's wines.You can also take a class to learn more about wine-making or don sci-fi-looking silver lab coats in the Blending Room, where you'll become a winemaker for a day.
Raymond is also a fully biodynamic winery, a style of agriculture that respects and works with nature. On their grounds, you can learn more about how it works. The Theater of Nature is the largest biodynamic farming exhibit in the Napa Valley.
Raymond Vineyards Will Be Great For You If:
If you like something different and fun and with a dash of the unexpected, Raymond is just the place for you.
It's one of the most unusual, fun tasting experiences in Napa Valley.
If you love Cabernet Sauvignon wines, Raymond makes the best that I have ever tasted.
If you're traveling with your dog, it doesn't get any better for the four-legged set. Leave your dog at Frenchie Winery and they may not want to leave the chateau-style salon when you're done. There's a water-tasting counter and individual "suites" with dog beds made from wine barrels. They even have a doggie-cam so you can keep an eye on your little pal while you're inside.
You want to get more into wine making, try the Winemaker for a Day program. You'll go to the lab, learn more about how to taste wine and explore the components of a blended red wine. You get a chance to build your personal blend. You supply a label image, print it up for you along with your own personal "recipe" and you go home with a bottle of it.
To get a better idea about it, check this video.
The Wines at Raymond Vineyards
Raymond produces a wide variety of red and white wines, with an emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
What Others Think About Raymond Vineyards
Wine Enthusiast named Raymond Vineyards its 2012 American Winery of the Year. Sunset magazine listed it as a “Best Winery, Best Experiences Beyond Tasting.”
This visitor comment sums half of the reviews I've read: "This winery is off the hook. So different from all the other wineries." And this one covers the rest: "This place was ridiculous--purplish lighting, loud music, stainless steel walls, and Baccarat crystal everywhere." That may help you figure out whether you'll like it or not.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
Make a reservation on their website - at least 30 minutes before you show up. They're not pretentious; it's just part of the restrictions of their tasting room permit. I recommend that reserving as far ahead of time as you can manage.
My only complaint about Raymond aren't about the winery experience, but about the website. Its stylish design makes it hard to figure out where to find the information you want. Use this URL - it will take you to a concise summary of your options. Scroll to the bottom and click Reserve Your Experience, which will then show you everything available on the date you chose.
After many years in the Napa wine industry, Roy Raymond founded Raymond Vineyards in the early 1970s. In 2009, it became part of the Boisset Family Estates, a family-owned wine producer and importer with roots in Burgundy, France. Under the leadership of the company's president Jean-Charles Boisset, this well-respected winery has been transformed into something truly different, cutting-edge in design and fun to visit. Meanwhile, winemaker Stephanie Putnam has continued and improved on Raymond's tradition of fine winemaking.
Getting to Raymond Vineyards
849 Zinfandel Lane
St. Helena CA
Raymond Vineyards Website
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary tour for the purpose of reviewing Raymond Vineyards. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.