Driving on Hwy 29, just as you’re heading north and leaving St. Helena, is the Avenue of the Elms, and the entrance to Beringer Vineyards. It’s a tiny portion of Bavaria we locals know and love. And…Beringer is the longest continuously-operating winery in California. The wines are full-bodied, flavorful and with many 90+ point wines coming from their 2011 – 2016 vintages.

Growing up in Napa Valley, Beringer’s Rhine House always had that fairytale quality because of its classic Bavarian architecture. Beringer’s Rhine House and the Hudson House are listed under both the National Register of Historic Places and as a California Historical Landmark. As a child, it became my personal reference to all things German. My husband and I had an afternoon to ourselves, so we booked a Beringer Vineyards cave tour and set aside some extra time to enjoy this picturesque, historical landmark.

Marrying into a 4th gen Napa family has been this unexpected adventure for my husband. While on tour in Germany, he’d been exposed to excellent Spatlese and Auslese wines. This serendipitous encounter set him on the path of wine appreciation and discernment. When we met he was eager to expand his knowledge and has firmly adopted this new interest.

View of Beringer Vineyards

Arriving 30 minutes before our tour was to begin, we took our time walking from the large parking lot up the stairs to the very top level. This upward promenade, along with landscaped terraces, took us higher and higher to where our cave tour was scheduled to start. Climbing the stairs and turning around towards Hwy 29, we could see the eastern side of St. Helena opening up. It is always stunning!

As I looked out on this view, I was reminded that there used to be an enormous field of Oak Trees in this field. But, back around 1985, they were all cut down by a Japanese company who bought this land. This company immediately stripped the land of 100+ old growth oak trees and planted vines to increase the value of their investment, practically overnight. When all of this was happening, seeing the trees all laying there on their sides dead, stumps riddling the field, it felt like I was witness to an entire village being decapitated. It was so awful! Clearly, I’ve continued to mourn the loss of this field of ancient oaks. But I digress….

Having arrived at the topmost level of the paved paths, my husband and I had been advised to wait outside of the winery at a picnic table for our tour group to assemble. There was a picnic table with the the start time of our tour printed out. It wasn’t long and the tour guide arrived to greet the approximately 24 people who’d signed up.

Our guide led us into a rough-walled cave with wine barrels in place, with adjacent cave rooms set up with long tables for private tastings. This wasn’t a tour of the working wine cave…this was a staging. It was disappointing.

The tour guide was very knowledgeable, but unfortunately, his style of delivery felt canned and scripted. He clearly knew his stuff, no fault there, but I would’ve enjoyed a more genuine interaction. Oh well.

Wines We Tried in Beringer Vineyards

We tasted three wines from Beringer’s Distinction Series:

  • 2015 Beringer Quantum Red Blend – 91 Pts.  This high-quality red blend, is the result of the 2015 drought conditions that remained in that year may have decreased the harvest, but increased the quality. Quantum has rich and full aromas of black fruits and jammy preserves with notes of herb, and a bit of oak. Rich, round and full in the mouth, the tannins will lead to continued development as the wine ages. Entirely enjoyable now, but I would suggest buying a dozen or so bottles to lay down as this wine will show well for 10-15 years at least.
  • 2016 Beringer Luminus Chardonnay Oak Knoll – 92 Pts.  The Chardonnay fruit from the Big Ranch Vineyard is known for its elegance and balance. This is close to the Oak Knoll swimming hole we local teens used to hang out at. This fragrant chardonnay showcases bright lemon citrus characteristics and a core of minerality. The wine is rich yet robust with balanced acidity making the lemon zest and toasted hazelnut flavors pop on the palate. This wine has a silky mouthfeel and pairs perfectly with cheese or any light, rich foods. It has an elegant texture and long finish.
  • 2015 Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 95 Pts.  Very deep purple in color, scented of crushed black currants, blackberries, and mincemeat with nuances of baking spices, cedar box, and tobacco leaf. Medium to full-bodied with great finesse and a solid foundation of tannins, the strong fruit yields fresh berry flavors into the long finish.

What We Purchased

We ended up buying the Quantum and my husband has since returned to buy three more bottles. This has become his go-to when he wishes to relax after a long day of coding.

Quick Tip

  • The Rhine house is stately 19th-century architecture with many stained glass windows
  • Private events & corporate events can be arranged here
  • The winery and Beringer ancestral home listed under both the National Register of Historic Places and as a California Historical Landmark
  • Lots of easy parking; bus parking
  • Live music every Saturday from May thru October
  • Picturesque; wide, paved walking paths
  • Historic note, by the 1870s the two Beringer brothers, Jacob and Frederick, had demonstrated superb business acumen in their large-scale family business enterprises, with extensive 19th century supply chain and distribution connections already in place before. So, in 1876 when Beringer Vineyards was founded, they were not only distributing the Beringer wines, but also Charles Krug and other local wineries.