Wine Country Backroads (or The Hidden Napa Valley)
List of Little Known wineries from a Wine PR expert
Wine lovers and wine tourists often travel across the nation and worldwide to the West Coast to discover wine country, whether that be Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino in Northern California; Santa Lucia, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara near California’s Central Coast; or Oregon’s lush and green Willamette Valley. They usually want to go somewhere their circle of friends and acquaintances have not visited or discovered.
I consider myself lucky to have been so closely associated with the wine business these past 20-some years. From representing historic wineries charged with putting Napa on the map to assisting cult and small lot wineries gain the deserved attention of influential wine PR press, I am often asked by business associates and friends from afar – and even locally – where they should visit. As part of our wine PR work, I regularly travel throughout the various West Coast wine countries not only meeting with clients and potential clients but also making new discoveries.
At least part of my enjoyment for this avocation, a pastime that is both business and pleasure, is from discovering limited production wines and touring and tasting at lesser known estates. Many of these wine properties are away from the beaten path, some with sumptuously beautiful facilities and/or unsurpassed views. Others present an opportunity to sit down across the dining room table with the owner winemaker.
I also admit that it gives me a certain bon vivant (savoir faire?) expertise among my friends and associates that I relish. Helping others select wines and wine country destinations is something I truly enjoy.
Without further ado, the following are a few winery gems in the Napa Valley. For the sake of transparency, some are past wine PR clients and some are not. Almost all, by the way, are by appointment only.
(Look for subsequent blogs in this series focusing on some of my favorites in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, Paso Robles and in Oregon.)
Northern California – Napa Series
- Dancing Hares Vineyards – Dancing Hares Vineyards is hidden off a dirt road at the foot of Howell Mountain in Napa Valley, ensconced in an Alice in Wonderland geologic bowl. Try the Mad Hatter, the less costly of the two Cabernets offered. This wine is sublime.
- Arkenstone – While you’re in the neighborhood, drive up Howell Mountain atop its western slope to Arkenstone with a 28,000-square-foot working wine cave. If you’ve not been to a wine cave or, perhaps, only a relatively small one, you will think that you have entered one of the man-made miracles of the world. Not so easy to find, but if you can get the appointment, you will meet one of the nicest proprietors in the world in Susan Krausz while enjoying an amazing view of northern Napa County. And Arkenstone now has a newly opened tasting room. Arkenstone makes a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon, Obsidian, but it’s not to be outdone by the winery’s Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. To top it off – and by separate appointment — the winery is also host to the production of Derenoncourt California, the first grape-to-bottle wine in the U.S from famed Bordeaux winemaker Stephane Derenoncourt.
- Caldwell Vineyards – At the south end of Napa is a small “backwoods” district called Coombsville, home to the legendary Caldwell Vineyards and the home of smuggler, maverick and all-around “character” John Caldwell. John makes some very nice wines and tastes them with you in a highly charming, (relatively) small cave, but his property is especially known for its grapes, which are selected by some of Napa Valley’s most famous winemakers. It’s way up a steep hill surrounded by mountains, oak trees and grapevines that go on forever (lucky for us). The wines are worth trying if you can coax your GPS to find it and if you can get John to taste with you or with his Sierra Leone winemaker, Marbue Marke, another quite unique and enjoyable personality. Moone-Tsai wines, owned by Larry and MaryAnn Tsai, also sources much of its fruit from Caldwell Vineyards, has a by-appointment-only tasting salon on the Caldwell Vineyards property and is made by renowned winemaker Philippe Melka. Those wines are outstanding and a reason to visit Caldwell all on their own.
- Patland Estate – Patland Estate is far up the rugged Soda Canyon Drive (from Silverado Trail) but well worth the trip. On one side you’ll be high above the canyon and on the other will be sweeping views of southern Napa to the Bay and beyond. The full-bodied reds, the Cabernet and Proprietary Red, are also worth the drive. They are wonderful, and I couldn’t get away without buying a case. You won’t find a traditional winery tasting room. Essentially, you’ll be tasting at the Patlands’ stunningly designed, stone and stucco second home which they call Terre del Cuore (Land of the Heart).
There are so many wonderful places in Napa worth visiting, many that are well known but still off the beaten path like Chappellett, Palmaz, Storybook, and Joseph Phelps (and I will soon be visiting Anomaly for the first time). But there is one other place in Napa that I encourage you to visit; it is a retail wine and tasting room that is not necessarily well known, called Vintner’s Collective, downtown, on Main Street. They feature a number of wines from small wineries and well known winemakers who work full-time elsewhere and market their own brands out of the Collective. Look for Buoncristiani, Showket, Parallel and Chiarello wines. My favorite, though, out of the collective is the Tela wines, Cabernets blended with a touch of Petite Syrah and with collectible artist labels. It is produced by a very good friend of mine, but don’t let that stop you.