The Scoop: So many wineries in Napa Valley feature prim wine tasting rooms with polite yet impersonal staff members. It’s rare to find a small and family-owned place like Tres Sabores. The organic winery, which dates back to 1987, offers a cozy atmosphere complete with private tables that are ideal for a romantic date, a quiet lunch, or even a wedding proposal. Tres Sabores is known for its sophisticated reds, most notably the Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah, and it has long perfected the art of the wine tasting. Now the winery has expanded to offer Zoom wine tastings so couples don’t have to travel to Napa to sample the best of these vineyards.

Wedding proposals require a lot of forethought and preparation for good reason, especially if they take place in a public venue. Julie Johnson, the owner of Tres Sabores, said she loves being a part of the planning process and helping couples make lifelong memories at her winery.

Tres Sabores has provided a romantic backdrop for countless marriage proposals over the years, and it’s a lovely spot for couples hoping to get away and enjoy the finer things. This quiet date spot has many intimate areas where hopeless romantics can sip their wine, whisper sweet nothings to their partner, and even get down on one knee.

Photo of Tres Sabores

Tres Sabores rolls out the welcome mat for wine lovers and dog lovers.

Julie said she remembers working with one future groom who was anxious to make sure he got every detail of his proposal just right.

“That young man must have called me 15 times. He was so nervous,” she said with a laugh. “He kept wanting to know how close he would be to the vineyards. You are 10 feet from the vineyard at any time. You can be in the vineyard if you like.”

Napa Valley is world-famous for its winemaking artistry, yet many wineries keep people far away from the vineyards where the magic happens.

Tres Sabores stands out because it offers a more immersive experience in which visitors can see, smell, and taste the fruits of the winemaker’s labors.

Since 1987, the winery has produced small batches of wines made with Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah grapes. The dry wines have some rather sophisticated flavors, but the winery’s atmosphere is anything but snooty. Visitors are greeted by the well-trained staff and some very friendly golden retrievers.

“It’s alive when people are here, and we need the energy. The dogs need the energy, too,” Julie said. “When we interview people to be hosts, we let the dogs come in and see what happens. If they bond, it’s good.”

The Founders Have Decades of Winemaking Experience

Julie grew up in California, and she started her career after attending school in Maine and New York City. She focused on public health, working for a year in western New York as a public health nurse. Then she fell in love. She got married and moved to California and founded Frog’s Leap winery in 1981.

In 1987, Julie and her husband purchased the Tres Sabores vineyard and grew Frog’s Leap to produce about 60,000 cases of wine per year. Julie departed Frogs Leap in 1999 to focus her efforts on starting Tres Sabores, which would go on to focus on small production wines from her property.

Photo of the winery

Sitting outside by the vineyards gives couples a wonderful view.

Julie hired three winemakers in 1999 to make wine from the grapes grown on the property. The wine was sold in three packs, and they proved very popular.

“My approach to wine has been love and osmosis,” she said. “Then I met and married a new fellow who came into my life. He was also a winemaker, and he’s my technical manager today.”

Tres Sabores now produces about 4,000 cases per year. It’s a small and intimate operation located on the Rutherford Bench of Napa Valley — a three-mile stretch of the valley known as a premier grape producing destination.

Over the years, Tres Sabores has survived many natural disasters. In 2005, a warehouse fire burned the entire production area, which had to be rebuilt from the ground up. In 2014, an earthquake caused damage to the area. And in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the winery to close to the public while management figured out new safety procedures to keep everyone safe.

Throughout all these challenges, Tres Sabores has continued to keep growing and pouring wines that bring a little more laughter and flavor to people’s lives.

“I realized I have a good sense of smell and taste, and I’m quite practiced at it,” Julie said. “People seem to love the wine. Production is right in my front yard.”

Health Precautions Make In-Person Visits Safe and Enjoyable

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted wineries throughout Napa Valley and around the world. But Julie told us Tres Sabores has been able to adapt, in large part, because of the small scale of its operation. The winery has enough space to host intimate gatherings of friends and family members with proper social distancing in place.

Tres Sabores has made some important changes to its day-to-day operations to keep visitors and staff safe. For one thing, masks are required while on the property unless the person is drinking wine.

Visitors must call or email in advance to make an appointment and reserve their space. Tres Sabores has limited its capacity and set up six sanitizing stations throughout the property.

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Tres Sabores has been rigorous about keeping a COVID-safe space.

“We don’t want COVID. I don’t want it, and I don’t want any of my people to have it either,” Julie said. “Our business is all about smelling grapes and wine, and if we lose that, we’re dead. My duty is to protect my staff.”

Fortunately, private seating areas in the wine cellar, the cave, and the new greenhouse offer safely distanced spots for dates in case of bad weather. When the weather is lovely, people will stroll outside through the vineyards. The 140-year-old olive grove with a cathedral arch of olives is especially romantic.

Tres Sabores gives people plenty of space to sit and have a conversation. The wine tastings typically last about 90 minutes and cost $50 per drinking guest. There is no charge for children, dogs, or adults who don’t want to sample the wines.

Visitors to Tres Sabores often bring a picnic lunch along with them. If they just want a snack, couples can always order a charcuterie board. Some people have taken their tasting to the next level and brought in a chef to cater a meal for a special event, such as an anniversary or wedding proposal.

The Tres Sabores team is happy to accommodate visitors planning events and encourages them to reach out by emailing to discuss the details.

“It can be very private. You can feel like you’re in your own universe,” Julie said. “We’re trained to give people as much information as they ask for. We can keep talking if people want, or we can just pour the wine and get out of the way.”

Virtual Wine Tastings Let Couples Have Fun at Home

Tres Sabores is a beloved local spot, but it can also provide entertainment and wine knowledge to people outside of Napa Valley thanks to its new digital services. Wine lovers can book a virtual wine tasting to receive a taste of the valley no matter where they live in the U.S.

The virtual wine tasting, a great at-home date idea, is a 60-minute experience that includes a tasting of three (or more!) wines.

Photo of Julie Johnson

Julie Johnson leads virtual wine experiences from home.

Visitors can customize their own wine tasting packages, or they can choose one of the prearranged bundles of whites, reds, or a mixture of both. Cheese, crackers, and other charcuterie items can be added if desired.

Over the last year, Julie has organized wine tastings on Zoom for groups of friends, coworkers, and couples who want to get together in a safe and engaging way. All virtual wine tastings are small enough that everyone can participate in the conversation.

Four times a year, Tres Sabores offers an opportunity to participate in a cheese and wine pairing class with a seasoned cheesemaker. Participants can order bottles of wine and purchase specific cheeses to learn exactly what it is about the cheese and the wine that make them so perfect together.

The website also offers virtual tours of the winery, including the animals, the tasting room, crush pad, and barrel cellar. Julie said her favorite virtual tastings were when she worked with curators of local museums to discuss how the colors and textures of specific art pieces worked well with specific wines.

Tres Sabores Provides a Romantic Backdrop in Napa Valley

Julie said her heart soars whenever a couple gets engaged at her winery, but she also finds it wonderful to see people enjoying romantic dates, celebrating birthdays or honeymoons, and bonding over a few glasses of wine. Tres Sabores has been the backdrop of many wonderful memories, and not even a pandemic could stand in the way of that.

Tres Sabores offers a lovely way to explore unique wines and share a personalized tasting experience with loved ones. Plus, if you are proposing, you can expect the team to make it special by bringing out champagne, fruits, and cake to help celebrate.

Julie said she receives positive feedback from people who visit the winery. Some even become lifelong fans and join the wine club. The members enjoy special discounts and can even gift a day at the winery to a friend.

“We’re always pouring things from the tank or fermentation bin, from sophisticated light-bodied whites to very bold reds,” she said. “It’s possible for us to give so much attention to the wine and the grape-growing, which is really at the heart of it.”

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