Freemark Abbey Napa Valley

freemark abbey

About Freemark Abbey

Freemark Abbey is one of the most stunning wineries in California wine country. The historic stone buildings date back to the late 1800′s. As we recently drove into the parking lot of the winery, we were shocked to see a construction crew appearing to begin demolishing one of the buildings. Thankfully, once in the tasting room, we found out that the buildings were being retrofitted and added on to as part of a huge 5-year remodeling and expansion. The beautiful stone facade will remain on the existing structures. The hand-hewn stone had originally been transported from nearby Glass Mountain by horse and oxen.

The ambitious expansion will include 2 restaurants, a remodeled kitchen to prepare appetizers for wine pairings, and a boutique hotel to house visitors and guests for potential weddings on the property.

Freemark Abbey has a very interesting history. According to the information we were given at the winery, Josephine and John Tychson purchased the property in 1881 to pursue their dream of making wine. Following John’s untimely death, Josephine became the first woman to own and operate a winery in the Valley. In 1886, Josephine began constructing a small redwood winery and hired Nils Larsen as her foreman. Together they produced wine for 8 years, and in 1894 Josephine sold the winery to Larsen. Larsen leased the winery to Antonio Forni who began construction on a new stone building.

Because of Prohibition, the winery was closed for 20 years. Despite its name, the winery has never been used as an Abbey. It was purchased by 3 men from Southern California in 1939 and the name is a combination of their names.

Freemark Abbey is now owned by the Jackson Family and the winemaker is award-winning Ted Edwards. The winery has one of the most extensive library collections in the Valley and guests can enjoy a memorable tasting of these called “Decades.”

Other tastings offered are:

  • Classic Tasting $20
  • Cabernet Comparative Tasting $30
  • Wine and Cheese Pairing $25
  • Chocolate Truffle Pairing $30

The winery is located north of the town of St. Helena at 3022 St. Helena Highway (Hwy. 29). To schedule a tasting, call 800-963-9698. You won’t be disappointed!


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    Long Meadow Ranch Tasting Room


    About the Long Meadow Ranch Tasting Room and Farmstead Restaurant

    This is the Long Meadow Ranch Tasting Room in St. Helena. The tasting room is located in the historic Logan-Ives House built in 1874. There is also a small café and general store in the Logan-Ives House. There are two tastings: For $15 a tasting  of the current release of varietal wines is offered, plus a tasting of the Long Meadow Ranch olive oil. For $25 per person, an estate series of wines are offered as well as the olive oil. We found the Sauvignon Blanc to be our favorite wine of the tasting session for $15.

    Adjacent to the  Long Meadow Ranch tasting room is their Farmstead Restaurant where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch time meal. The restaurant features farm to table ingredients from local purveyors, as well as the Farmstead vegetable garden. Dairy products and grass-fed beef come from the Long Meadow Ranch estate in the Mayacamus Mountains. Janelle enjoyed a delicious grilled chicken salad while I had a pulled pork sandwich. The pork had been smoked for 12 hours. The pulled pork sandwich came with a creamy potato salad. The meal was quite scrumptious.

    The wine list is extensive featuring Long Meadow Ranch wines as well as other Napa Valley vintners and a few from other wine regions. The wines are priced on the high side. For example, the Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc was $54 on the wine list. I have seen the S.B. for less than $20 in wine shops. Overall, the Farmstead Restaurant is excellent. The restaurant is very busy, so be sure to call ahead for a reservation.

    Note: If you enjoy a meal at the restaurant, be sure to get a chip good for a two-for-one tasting at the Long Meadow Ranch tasting room.

    More information about St. Helena and the Napa Valley

    St. Helena Restaurants
    St. Helena Lodging
    Napa Valley Wine Trails


      How to Visit the Napa Valley

      The tourist season is in full swing in the Napa Valley. Visitors will flock to the Napa Valley from now until the end of September. It is estimated that 5 million visitors travel to the Napa Valley each year, and you can bet most of those visits are in the summer months. Weekend traffic is at a virtual standstill along Highway 29. Cars turning left or right, in and out of tasting rooms, resemble a game of Russian Roulette. The popular tasting rooms are jammed with travelers, sometimes three deep, waiting to get a taste. Tasting fees are at an all-time high, ranging on the average from $15 to $35 a person (Napa Valley Wine Tasting Index ). Getting a restaurant or lodging reservation is tough unless you plan weeks ahead. Expenses for a weekend stay, dining and tasting, could run well above $1000. Yet despite all of this, the Napa Valley is a very cool place to visit. With this advice on how to visit the Napa Valley, you can make your trip more enjoyable.

      how to visit napa valley

      How to Visit the Napa Valley

      How to Visit the Napa Valley

      • Plan, plan, and plan some more. Start booking restaurants and lodging several weeks before for the high tourist season.
      • The earlier in the day you visit tasting rooms, the less busy they will be. A majority of tasting rooms open at 10 am. Be sure to have a designated driver or use a spit cup. See how to use a spit cup.
      visit Napa

      Envy Winery: You can visit this winery early and it is just north of Calistoga on the backroads

      • Visit some of the lesser-known wineries off the beaten path. See our Hidden Wine Trail. Or, drive the Silverado Trail Wine Route.
      • Consider visiting wineries that are open by appointment only for a tour and tasting. These wineries usually limit the number of visitors. It may cost more, but you will get special attention and not have to fight the crowds.
      Napa Valley appointment only

      Beuhler Vineyards is away from the crowds at the base of Howell Mountain and requires an appointment

      • The busiest area of the Napa Valley is on Highway 29 from Yountville to St. Helena. Visit wineries north of Yountville and there will be less traffic and fewer visitors.
      • In Coombsville, just south of Napa, there are a number of wineries less traveled. Coombsville Vintners and Growers Association
      • In north Napa Valley, the Calistoga area is much less traveled. Try the Calistoga Wine Trail.
      • You can save on tasting room fees. Ask for two-for-one tasting room coupons at your hotel or the local tourist office. If you see one of the many winery travel guide magazines, browse them and you will find tasting room coupons. Clip them!
      • There are some “budget” hotels and lodging in the Napa Valley. See our list.
      • Of course the weekdays are much less busy, but in the tourist season expect just a bit smaller crowds than on the weekend.

      We have a very handy trip planner and winery guide to help you select wineries according to your needs. We also like this little quick video on Napa Valley Travel Tips.


        Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index

        sign for tasting room

        How much $$ for tasting?

        You’re heading to the Napa Valley and wondering how much to figure on tasting room fees for your travel budget. You are not alone. Our readers will often email us asking questions related to tasting room fees. What should I expect in tasting room fees on our vacation? Are the fees the same from winery to winery? Are there any tasting rooms in Napa that do not charge a fee? Where can we get a discount or two-for-one tasting coupons? This got me to thinking how much tasting room fees have increased over the years. There was once a time when no winery in the Napa Valley charged customers to taste their wine. I have no idea how much tasting room fees increase each year. I’m sure someone out there has done a reliable study, and that is more likely a survey for industry wine folks. I want something as a gauge for the wine country traveler who visits our Website looking for that information. I decided to devise a quick and easy, but unscientific, Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index, one that I can update a couple of times per year. It will be interesting to do a chart year to year on the increases in these wine-tasting fees. At the very least, the Index will give a ballpark figure when someone asks how much the tasting fees are in the Napa Valley.

        Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index

        For the index I decided on a nice, easy, round number of ten wineries. I decided that, since most folks travel Highway 29 when visiting the Napa Valley, to focus on wineries between Napa and Calistoga on this road. I selected wineries on this route that are highly visible and popular. They are all open daily and visitors can pop in any time that the tasting room is open.

        sequoia grove

        Sequoia Grove – $15 for wine tasting

        Just about every winery in the Napa Valley has a range of tasting options. Reserve tasting, library tasting, food and wine pairing, barrel samples, and a tour and tasting. For each of the selected wineries, I am tracking only the tasting fee for a basic, or lowest priced, level of tasting. Currently, these are the established tasting room fees as of February 2014 at these ten wineries for a basic tasting.

        • Alpha Omega – $25
        • Beaulieu Vineyards – $15
        • Beringer Wines – $20
        • Grgich Hills -$20
        • Louis Martini -$15
        • Peju Province -$20
        • Provenance – $25
        • Rutherford Estate – $15
        • Sequoia Grove – $15
        • Whitehall Lane – $15

        Doing a calculation, the average Napa Valley tasting fee for a basic tasting is $18.50. Five of the wineries charge $15, three at $20, and two at $25.

        I always remind readers that there are ways to save on tasting room fees, especially in the Napa Valley. Check with your hotel concierge, who will more than likely have two-for-one tasting coupons. You can always share a tasting with your partner. I find that the host will pour a tad more than if it was just one person tasting. A few wineries will waive the tasting fee if you purchase a certain dollar amount of wine. For budgeting purposes, use the Index to estimate how much to set aside for tasting fees depending on the number in your party and how many wineries you plan to visit.

        Provenance - $25 for wine tasting

        Provenance – $25 for wine tasting


          Comparing Wine Tasting in the Rhone Valley to the Napa Valley


          We have just spent a wonderful week in the Southern Rhone Valley, roaming the vineyards of this beautiful land and visiting several wineries. I could not help but compare our experiences in the Rhone Valley to that of our broad travels in the Napa Valley. As I visited the Rhone Valley wineries, I was wishing that the Napa Valley wineries would offer some of the same amenities I experienced while visiting this spectacular wine country. I think that if the Napa Valley adopted some of these practices, the experience would improve for wine country travelers.

          Most of the wineries in the Southern Rhone Valley offer visitors a tasting of wines without any fees. Tours usually require an appointment and fees are often charged for the tour.


          Each staff member we have encountered in our travels was warm and friendly but, most importantly, extremely knowledgeable. They knew how each bottle of wine had been produced from start to finish. I was amazed at how they mentioned food matches for each wine and related it to their own cooking at home. This was not rehearsed by any means, but spontaneous and heartfelt.

          The most amazing aspect of a Rhone Valley tasting room, and perhaps elsewhere in France, is the selling price of the wine. When visitors purchase wines from the Degustation (tasting room) the price of the wine is discounted from the regular sale price that you would find in a wine shop. At one winery the discount was 15% for all wines. It is not unusual for locals to drop into a winery and carry out a case. A case of wine in France holds six bottles of wine. Nice and easy to manage! In the Napa Valley wine is sold at full retail price, unless you are a wine club member.

          Speaking of wine clubs, it appears that wine clubs in the Rhone Valley do not exist. We asked at one winery about a wine club and our host was quite surprised at this concept. No wine clubs, no sales push at any winery we visited. They were just happy to welcome visitors.

          Many wineries, not all, were equipped with high-tech dispensing machines that we often see in wine bars. These machines prevent the wine from oxidizing. Just about any wine is available for tasting. I often hear in the Napa Valley, “We have these four wines for you to taste today.” In the Rhone Valley it is, “Which wines would you like to taste?”

          I have not seen any large tour buses at any time in our wanderings. Occasionally, we will run into a wine tour guide, but perhaps with only four people in the car.

          I love the Napa Valley for it great wines, dining and beautiful scenery. But what I do not like are the high tasting room fees, the high cost of wines, and the pretentious atmosphere that every now and then surfaces.


            Napa Valley Late August

            We are spending the last week of August in the beautiful Napa Valley. The vines are looking spectacular throughout the Valley from Napa all the way to Calistoga. We are renting a house with family in the Oak Knoll AVA. Five acres of Cabernet Sauvignon surround the house. The owner sells these grapes to a winery he would not name. He says it is the last year of the contract. From my knowledge, Cabernet Sauvignon does not do well in the Oak Knoll area. Too much of a loamy soil along with clay. Perhaps I am wrong on this, but rarely do I see a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet listed as Oak Knoll.

            The temperatures are in the low 80’s, but in the afternoon the winds kick in off San Pablo Bay. It’s nature’s way of cooling down the vines. In the late evening the temps drop into the 50’s. This is another factor in what makes the Napa Valley a great place for making wine.

            Luna Vineyards

            On our first day here we visited the nearby Luna Vineyards. It is one of the first wineries you come to as you head north on the Silverado Trail. The tasting fee is $15 for four wines. I guess by today’s standards that is not too much for a tasting fee in the Napa Valley. Tasting fees continue to increase here, but by all accounts visitors seem willing to cough up the dollars needed to taste in the Napa Valley. We enjoyed a quick visit at Luna. The view from their tower is spectacular and should not be missed if you visit. The best wine at Luna was the least expensive, the Pinot Grigio. It is delicious and priced at $18 a bottle. Luna also has a very nice picnic area but it must be reserved. Call ahead and enjoy a lunch and tasting at Luna.

            View from the Luna tower

            View from the Luna tower

            Monticello Vineyards

            We stopped here with our deli lunch and since no wine club members were using the picnic facilities we were able to enjoy our lunch at one of the large picnic tables. The best wine here was the Sauvignon Blanc, but at $30 a pop we thought it was way too pricey. By the way, you can purchase wine by the glass here. I will skip this winery next time around. I cannot give you a specific reason why; it was just a general feeling that something here was off kilter.

            Monticello Vineyards

            Monticello Vineyards

            Mystery Winery

            Sorry, but I cannot mention the name of this winery. Why? Because the owner does not have a license to sell wine or take in visitors at his property. Word of mouth is what brings visitors to his home, mostly by limousine companies and through family and friend references. The owner lives on the property and sells most of his grapes. Syrah is his best grape. He makes about 1000 cases of wine per year. The best wine by far was the Rosé Syrah. The owner told us he is not the only one in this type of under-the-radar operation. He told us that there are a few others who operate as he does.


              Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena – The Sauvignon Blanc is outstanding

              Amid the rain and wind this past Wednesday, we managed to squeeze in a tour and tasting at the Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena. Tom Leonardini and Family have owned the Whitehall Lane winery since 1993. Whitehall Lane is one of the Napa Valley’s earliest wineries with a start date of 1979. The winery is one our favorites, and we’d selected the winery for our Boutique Wine Trail back in 2003.

              This was our first visit since the winery did a remodel and an addition a couple of years ago. Although the building structure has changed, the personnel remains very much the same, anchored by winemaker Dean Sylvester now in his eighteenth year at Whitehall. Our tour leader was Mike McLoughlin, the General Manger who joined the winery shortly after the Leonardini Family purchased the winery. Consistency is good in this case; the Whitehall Lane wines have been highly regarded throughout its history, highlighted many times by the Wine Spectator for its reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

              Dean Sylvester the winemaker at Whitehall Lane

              Dean Sylvester is his lab checks the Sauvignon Blanc blend

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                Pope Valley Winery – Above the Napa Valley

                Pope Valley Winery in the Napa ValleyI am always on the lookout for something different in a tasting room experience, and my visit to the Pope Valley Winery last week was just that. It was a fun and interesting visit and a chance to learn about the Pope Valley, the history of the winery, and chat with the Eakel Family who have been running the winery since 1997.

                The winery was established in 1897 and much of the winery looks the same as it did the first day it opened. It was originally named the Burgundy Winery founded by Ed Haus. The winery was built into a hillside and you can still see the rock and stones that form the walls of the bottom two floors of the winery. The top floor is at the top of the hillside. Originally, the grapes were carted up there to be processed and then gravity took over to bring the wine down to the first floor.

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                  Napa Valley bashing at the Wine Bloggers Conference

                  The Napa Valley is recognized as one of the top wine regions in the world. When you are top dog, expect to take some shots from your rivals. Napa Valley wineries had their share of good-natured bashing from Oregon wineries at the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference held in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend.

                  Oregon wineries needle Napa Valley

                  Willamette Valley winemaker

                  What we heard along the way

                  “In Willamette Valley the weather cools rapidly from afternoon winds from the Van Duzer Corridor. Night time temperatures drop dramatically. In the Napa Valley it is hot all the time.”

                  “The Napa Valley Pinot Noirs from Carneros are too big.”

                  “Here in the Willamette Valley the winemakers and owners share their knowledge and help one another. In the Napa Valley, it is all corporate.”

                  “One thing that differentiates the Willamette Valley from the Napa Valley is that each year the growing season in the Willamette is very different. The climate varies significantly year to year. Napa does not have that fluctuation so their wines are always the same.”

                  “Here in the Willamette Valley you are likely to find a winemaker or family member working the tasting room. That is something you won’t find in the Napa Valley.”

                  What Oregon wineries should be saying to Napa Valley

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                    Escaping the Napa Valley Crowds

                    Another frequently received email to asks: “How can I avoid the crowds when we visit the Napa Valley?” We have an easy answer for that one: go during the week, during the months of December to February. Of course that is not the answer travelers are looking for, so with this article we give it our best shot suggesting a few ways for avoiding crowds on the weekends or on the weekdays during high season.

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