Editor’s Note: This guide to 10 of the best off-the-beaten-path wineries to visit in Napa Valley is written by Winederlusting contributor and founder of Uncorked Adventures, Mark Aselstine. Mark has toured Napa extensively and offers his advice from the perspective of an industry professional and someone who has worked with many of the Napa Valley wine makers discussed below.
10 Lesser Known Wineries That Let You See the Real Napa Valley
Vellum Wine Craft Napa
Storybrook Mountain has previously been mentioned as a good spot to visit in this space, Vellum’s winemaker Karl Storchman is the assistant at Storybrook by day and combines with Jeff Mathy to produce Vellum Wine Craft. One of the few true startup labels in Napa, the pair raised money by signing promissory notes with friends and family and sourced fruit from Coombsville, well before it was popular, largely because it was the cheapest spot in the valley to find fruit a handful of years ago. If you’re looking for an intimate tasting, it doesn’t get much better than Vellum where you’ll see either Jeff or Karl pouring and then talking about their wines, the wider wine industry, the challenge of bootstrapping and much more.
One of my favorite stories in all of Napa Valley wine, I think we’re all familiar with Trader Joe’s at this point and Benessere was the original Chuck property. In the 80’s the property went into a significant state of disrepair and the bulk wine company, Bronco Wine bought the Chuck name, then started bottling the line of wines for Trader Joe’s. More recently, the property has had better ownership and it’s older vines and history offer an interesting take on Napa Valley fruit: good Syrah and Sangiovese is still grown here where St Helena runs into the hills that separate it from Calistoga.
People’s Wine Revolution
Matt Reid is the winemaker at Benessere by day, but he also makes People’s Wine Revolution. He started the brand for a simple reason: not even winemakers in Napa Valley can afford to open the juice they’re making all the time. PWR offers a range of $18 wines and some of the best value in all of California. Like many small labels, Matt’s as likely to meet you at his house for a tasting, as he is at Benessere. Fruit is sourced from a variety of sources in Northern California.
Emerson Brown Wines Napa Valley
Another winemaker personal project, Emerson Brown is the combined work of Vineyard 29 winemaker Keith Emerson and Round Pond winemaker Brian Brown. Both those properties are worth an appointment in their own right, but combining some of the best Cabernet fruit in Napa from Round Pond and perhaps the best gravity flow, geothermal powered production facility at Vineyard 29… makes the $75 price point seem low by Napa Valley standards.
Raj Patel’s label that carries his name burst onto the scene a year or two ago when Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate bestowed a 94 point score on their Cabernet Sauvignon. Raj is a different kind of winery owner though, he still wasn’t exactly thrilled with the direction of the winery, so he changed winemakers and convinced Luc Morlet to come on board and make his wine. The focus is on balance and the winery produces an outstanding Malbec, exceedingly rare in Napa Valley in addition to their Cabernet Sauvignon.
Morlet Family Vineyards
Luc Morlet is the aforementioned winemaker now for Patel, the winery that bears his name is his families project. A 4th generation winemaker who was born in Champagne, he married the woman of his dreams, who happened to be from Sacramento and thus, ended up making wine in America. A decidedly old world bent on Napa fruit, they make a few wines outside of the regular Napa rotation like a varietal Cabernet Franc as well as a late harvest (ie dessert) Semillon.
Attune Wines Napa Valley
Carneros is the odd region that exists in both Napa and Sonoma, Attune offers one of the absolute classic spots to stay, if you can fork over the $2k per night for their 5+ bedroom chateau in the middle of their vineyard it’s one of the most memorable stays imaginable. For the rest of us, the winery itself makes only a few hundred of cases per year, selling much of their fruit to others, but the Pinot Noir is exemplary and priced fairly for the region at under $50.
Perhaps the biggest name on this list, despite numerous incredible scores from critics in vintage after vintage, Larkmeade hasn’t ascended into the consciousness in the same way that larger production places like Caymus have. That isn’t to say these wines aren’t that good, they are every bit as good as more famous Napa addresses. Stop by to taste in one of the most picturesque old farm houses in Napa Valley.
Only now able to build a tasting room on their vineyard site, Girard offers a tasting room in the beautiful and restaurant centric walkable village that is Yountville. Long one of the quality leaders for Sauvignon Blanc in the valley, well worth an hour of time as you look longingly across the street at French Laundry.
Prime Cellars Napa
Winemaker and owner (along with his wife, Lisa) Ted Henry spends his days making wine at Jarvis, but Prime is their family owned project with a small tasting room in downtown Napa. Downtown is undergoing a renaissance that doesn’t get enough press outside of the occasional earthquake and Prime offers a nice spot to enjoy an Oakville Cabernet and Chardonnay, in the style that originally made the Valley famous, while you contemplate new development and how it might affect agriculture as time goes by.