Anyone can roll up to the Napa Valley in a tour bus, stop at one of the wine factories along Highway 29, and quaff a few glasses of Chardonnay in the winery’s Disneyfied hospitality room. Happily, not every major Napa Valley winery offers a wait-your-turn-at-the-trough experience. You just have to know which ones put an extra effort into pouring good stuff in a setting that doesn’t induce leg cramps or involve a gift shop larger than the winery itself. Here are seven of my favorites:
Chateau Montelena: This legendaryNapa Valley winery helped put California wine on the map by emerging victorious over French wine in the famous “Judgment of Paris” wine competition in 1976. The winery itself is a stately stone chateau structure set beside an expansive lake. Montelena produces consistently excellent Estate Cabernet and Chardonnay, and also offers a Riesling that’s only at the winery. It is a 45-minute drive north of the center of Napa Valley.
Chateau Montelena 1429 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga. (707) 942-5105, firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations needed for tour.
Frog’s Leap: Centrally located on Highway 29, iconoclastic Frog’s Leap boasts a restored, historic red barn, a heirloom orchard, and — you guessed it — a “frog pond.” Owner John Williams produces some of Napa Valley’s most flavorful wine, half of which is Sauvignon Blanc, with Cabernet, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Chardonnay making up the balance. Tour groups are limited in size, so make an appointment well in advance. The Frog’s Leap flying-frog label is so distinctive that it has been catalogued in the permanent archives of the Smithsonian Institution. As its name suggests, this is the rare high-end winery that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Frog’s Leag 8815 Conn Creek Rd Rutherford, California. (800) 959-4704, email@example.com. By appointment only.
Hess Collection Winery: An extraordinary one-two punch for the senses: a formidable modern art gallery and an excellent winery. A windy road up Mount Veeder gets you to this modern facility, meticulously appointed with bleached-wood floors, huge windows, and a king’s ransom of modernist abstract art, including works by Stella, Bacon, and Motherwell. Make sure to take in the brief high-tech slideshow about winemaking, which plays in the upstairs Spielbergian screening room. The Hess Collection Estate Cabernet is of the best values in premium California Cabernet, and the Hess Select Chardonnay and Cabernet are always flavorful and affordable.
The Hess Collection Winery, 4411 Redwood Road Napa CA 94558. (707) 255-1144, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards: Only a few minutes drive off the Silverado Trail, but you’ll feel far from the bustle of Napa at this much loved winery, which overlooks terraced vineyards, oak trees, and the Mayacamas Mountains. Strictly appointment-only, a typical tasting is held around a wooden table in the winery’s serene tasting room and introduces you to six or so wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Merlot, and Cabernet. Phelps’ extensive catalog of wine includes its Vin du Mistral series, a variety of Rhone-style grapes and blends, as well as Insignia, a legendary Bordeaux-style blend and collectors’ favorite. The winery’s two picnic tables are among the most coveted in Napa and are available to guests on a first-come, first-served basis.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards, 200 Taplin Road, St. Helena. (707) 963-2745 email@example.com. By appointment only.
PlumpJack Winery: Panoramic views of the surrounding Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains greet visitors of this hip winery. You’ll taste high-quality Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet, and perhaps some winery-only selections. PlumpJack is owned by the Getty family and their friends, who also run the PlumpJack restaurants, wine stores, and resort in Northern California. As the spiraling fences surrounding the winery suggest, PlumpJack has a whimsical, stylish feel that belies its serious commitment to making fine wine. Cool “Plumpjack” t-shirts will make you the envy of your gym.
PlumpJack Winery, 620 Oakville Crossroad Oakville, CA. (707) 945-1220, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regusci Winery: A “Ghost Winery,” which is the name given to the few remaining early Napa Valley wineries that were in existence between 1860 and 1900. Set back off of the Silverado Trail on a slight incline, the winery opened its doors as “Regusci” in 1998. Using a rustic, western-looking label, Regusci bottles Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Cabernet, with the last being especially prized and expensive. The winery is located in a beautiful old stone building, and nearby are a few picnic tables overlooking the vineyards.
Regusci Winery, 5584 Silverado Trail Napa, CA. (707) 254-0403, email@example.com.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards: Much-loved cathedral-like winery nestled into the foothills of the Stags Leap District, Robert Sinskey offers tours of its vineyards, gardens, caves, and culinary kitchen. RSV is known for several styles of celebrated Pinot Noir, as well as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Blanc. Every month or so, the winery holds a special, over-the-top “Culinary Excess” feast pairing incredible food with ample amounts of Sinksey wine. Sign up for Sinkey’s online newsletter to stay abreast of these special dinners.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards, 6320 Silverado Trail, Napa. (707) 944-9090, firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations needed for tour.