When you make a plan to enjoy a Napa Valley wine tasting trip, you actually spend a lot of time in the towns and on the vineyards outside of Napa, the city. And one of the most gorgeous areas to visit is Calistoga. It’s a small town with terrific food and even better wine. Naturally, having heard about the “friendliest winery in the valley,” we decided that Bennett Lane had to be our stop. And, it doesn’t hurt that some of their wines have gotten 90+ assessments from Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, and Wine Enthusiast. Spoiler: We loved it!
The weather in Napa Valley pivoted from rainy to hot quite frequently in May, but the weather was picture perfect when we traveled out to Calistoga for a visit to Bennett Lane. But you can see from the photos that rain was definitely coming into the area. We were seated outside in their gorgeous courtyard/patio area on an elevated platform, allowing us stunning views of the valley below and the blooming gardens.
Our Wine Tasting
Because Andy and I booked different tasting menus, we could sample each other’s choices. My tasting included a Reserve Chardonnay, the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2019 Lynch Family Cabernet Sauvignon. Andy’s tasting included a Rosé, the Maximus Red Feasting Wine, and another lovely Cabernet Sauvignon.
I’m not a Chardonnay fan, but I have to say that this was lovely. Andy very much enjoyed it, and we agreed that the honeysuckle notes in it were subtle enough not to take over, which is one of my pet peeves about other Chardonnay wines I have had. I also tend to make faces at the bigger, oaked Chardonnay wines, but happily, this wasn’t a problem here.
I used to shrink from Cabernet Sauvignon wines – particularly California wines- because they went through a phase where they were huge, face-hugging wines and would blow out my palate. I’m thrilled to say that I’ve grown over the last few years, and the Napa Valley wine tasting experience broadened my wine horizons. Plus, the Cabs here are just fantastic.
While we loved the dark chocolate and raspberry notes of the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (as did Robert Parker), and the hint of florals and raspberry of the 2019 Lynch Family Cabernet Sauvignon, my heart was set on the 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. As you can see by the menu, only 350 cases were produced. From the menu: “The wine opens with aromas of huckleberry, cherry, cassis and cocoa. The fruit flavors on the wine are rich and deep, with layers of black cherry and dark chocolate.” For those alarmed by seeing “cherry” notes featured so prominently, I hear you, but it was beautiful. So balanced and smooth. So, this one came home with us to share with friends on a special occasion.
What else did we love? We loved the Rosé – so much so that we brought it home to share with our wine club. The 2018 Rosé is a Rosé of Petit Syrah, which had a lovely balance. I got the hit of strawberry, and Andy loved recognizing the guava (he’s growing guava trees in our backyard!). I shy away from watermelon flavors, but this was so crisp and clean that the blend of cherry, watermelon, and peaches actually worked really well for me.
Before we left, our host was kind enough to let us taste the 2015 Ruby Fox Cabernet Sauvignon. The bottle had been opened for another tasting, and we were delighted to get a taste of this stellar wine. It’s elegant, perfectly balanced, and wonderfully smooth, given how big this wine is. We got notes of blackberries, currants, and maybe plums. Andy got some earthiness to it – maybe mushrooms? It’s a complex wine that lovers of Cabernet Sauvignon (and newbies) will adore. We were tempted to add it to our shopping list, but it would have taken us out of our budget. Still, there’s a good chance we’ll book the Ruby Fox tasting in the future (and add it to our wine refrigerator for the cooler months).
Want more details? Here you go!
Do You Need Reservations at Bennett Lane for a wine tasting?
Yes. If you want to do a wine tasting at Bennett Lane, you must book a reservation. In some places in Napa Valley, you can make same-day bookings, but it’s rare. When we went in May for our anniversary, we saw people being turned away at Bennett Lane because they didn’t have the staff available to give the personal touch that makes the winery unique. Don’t worry – those people booked for the next day. If you want to make a reservation, here is the link: Bennett Lane Reservations
Is Bennett Lane the friendliest winery in Napa Valley?
We were fortunate to have terrific hosts for all of our wine tastings, but Bennett Lane was indeed a delight. The host was lovely. He answered all of our questions and gave us extra tastes before we bought. He also allowed us to linger in our beautiful spot overlooking the valley as we considered every wine we tried.
I think the fact that Napa Valley wineries, in general, now require reservations, you won’t feel as rushed or possibly ignored as you might have in past years. Now, the wineries are only booking what they can handle, which gives the whole experience a more personal, relaxed feeling. Honestly, we didn’t have a bad experience anywhere. It may have also helped that we went during the week and off-season.
Does Bennett Lane Have Outdoor Seating?
Yes! In fact, they have a beautiful patio and courtyard that features gorgeous views. Fair warning – the Napa Valley region gets actual weather (unlike where we live in Southern California). So, if it rains or reaches extremely hot temps, the winery may only host tastings inside their lovely indoor space. Because I’m immunosuppressed, we took the outdoor option. Plus, the views were too gorgeous to ignore.
What are the Wine Tasting Menu Options?
There are several tantalizing options available at Bennett Lane, and the “best” one will hinge on what kind of wine you like. Also, the hosts are so attentive that if you want to taste something off of another menu (depending on which wine it is, of course), they are likely to offer you a little something special to taste at the end.
I booked the Reserve Seated Tasting, and Andy opted for the Signature Seated Tasting. This meant that we could share wines from both menus to understand better the winery’s offerings. There is also a Tour and Tasting on the weekends and an exclusive Ruby Fox Tasting, which is supposed to be amazing.
How Long Does a Wine Tasting Last?
For most of the tastings, the tasting lasts approximately 1.5 hours, with the Ruby Fox Tasting booking for 2 hours and the Tour and Tasting lasting about an hour. But if you’ve ever done a Napa Valley wine tasting before (or any wine tasting, really), you know that it really depends on how many questions you have, how quickly you go through the tasting (we took our time), and how pushed the hosts are. In our case, we loved chatting with our host, and we asked a lot of questions. We were also buying some wine to take home, which meant additional tastings and more insights into the winemaking process.
What Does a Wine Tasting at Bennett Lane Cost?
Let’s start by saying that Napa Valley wine tastings are expensive. Paying more than $75 per person per tasting is not unusual. And, it is not uncommon for there to be extra charges for “non-drinking” guests who join those actually tasting. I’m guessing that is because they know that people try to share tastings to cut down on the costs. And, not surprisingly, if you go “in season” the tastings seem to be more expensive. Going in May, allowed us to get some discounts. Plus, staying at Rancho Caymus Inn also gave us discounts at a variety of wineries.
Having said that, Bennett Lane was very reasonable for the caliber of wine we were tasting. In May, I only paid $45 per tasting, and I think Andy’s tasting was even a little cheaper. Now, the Reserve Seated Tasting is closer to $60 per tasting. Naturally, the Ruby Fox tasting is quite a bit more expensive, given the price tag on the wines you would be tasting.
Are Children Allowed at Bennett Lane Wine Tastings?
Yes. It is primarily an adult experience, but the winery is truly the friendliest around, and they have coloring books and games in their outside tasting courtyard. During certain times of the year, they also offer baskets to kids to go berry picking on the property.
Where is Bennett Lane?
Bennett Lane is located at 3340 HWY 128 CALISTOGA, CA 94515. Do yourself a favor and spend some time in Calistoga before or after your tasting. It is beyond charming, and I would love to spend more time there.
For more Napa Valley wine tasting adventures, click here.