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Tour Beringer Winery and maybe even ask a girl to marry

Beringer is one of Napa Valley’s oldest and best-known wineries, and a tour of its luxuriant, tree-rich grounds in St. Helena gives a taste of winemaking’s pioneer days as well as the polished amenities of today’s industry. It is a nice blend.

Rhine House, the winery's showplace mansion.
Photo by Kevin Nelson

The Beringer name is so familiar to people—two brothers, Jacob and Frederick, German immigrants, founded the company in 1876—that even non-wine drinkers may recognize it. This familiarity equates to approachability, which is reflected in the location of the winery itself. It is not at the end of some long, broad driveway or perched on a hilltop, but rather right on Main Street in St. Helena. Park amid the elms and old-growth redwoods, and in a few steps you’re standing at Rhine House, the Beringers’ spectacular tribute to the Mainz-on-the-Rhine home they left behind to come to America.

Only if it had a Glockenspiel could this 17-room Victorian mansion look more German in its robustness and character. This was Frederick’s home, containing some 40 stained glass windows, and today it has been converted into a showplace of tastings and special events. The day we were there, in one of its upstairs rooms, an employee was clearing off a table covered with a sea of empty wine glasses. “We just hosted a group from MIT,” she explained. “It started out as a tasting. Then they just wanted to drink.”

Behind the Rhine House is a courtyard with a Ruth Asawa-sculpted fountain in the center, and up a short path is the Old Stone Winery and wine caves that were dug into the hillside in the 1870s by Chinese immigrants who, like the German-born Beringers, were trying to find a path for themselves in this new land. When you step inside these subterranean tunnels it feels cool and the scent of wine is in the air and muted overhead lighting casts a soft glow on the barrels along the walls.

Tastings and dinners are held here too, and one alcove we peeked into had a long wooden table with place settings for 20 people.

Back in the open air again we stopped at the Hudson House, which was where Jacob and his family lived and which is only a stone’s throw from his brother’s digs. If the Rhine House reflected Frederick’s sensibilities—he handled the business side of the enterprise—then Jacob, the winemaker, must have had a more relaxed personality, for the Hudson House has the feel of a country home with a wraparound porch just perfect for kicking back on a warm summer evening and sipping on a private reserve chardonnay.

Groups can reserve the Hudson House for catered dinners and special events. Weddings also take place there, and it’s said that some men, swept up by romance and perhaps ample amounts of what might be called “liquid courage,” have even popped the question to their partner there. Jacob and his brother would be pleased.

Beringer Winery, 2000 Main Street, St. Helena. Open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. from June-Oct. 20, closing an hour earlier in the off months. The “Taste of Beringer” tour ($40 per person) lasts one hour and includes a sit-down tasting of three wines paired with bite-sized food nibbles. An introductory half-hour tour costs $25 per person, includes tastings of two wines and takes place in the Old Stone Winery. Reservations recommended. 707-302-7592.