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Small wineries in Napa and Sonoma

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My wife and I will be in the area in October and want to do tastings and purchase wines that we would have trouble getting in NJ. My problem is that when I read about a highly rated pinot or chardonnay, I contact the winery either by phone or e-mail and find out that they are not open to the public. Some of them have waiting lists. Such wineries include Kosta Browne, Rivers-Marie, Radio-Coteau, Tor, Kistler, Kongsgaard, William Selyen, Chasseur, Hollywood and Vine. Has anyone have any suggestions for smaller, more exclusive wineries that make pinots or chardonnays that I can buy wines from that I can not get esaily at home?

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  1. Freeman, Kutch, Merry Edwards (may be wait-list only) all come to mind.

    4 Replies
    1. re: whiner

      We just got back from a trip to Healdsburg, I'd suggest -

      Porter Creek - Healdsburg, Westside Road
      Gary Farrell - ditto
      August Briggs - Calistoga

      A couple we didn't get to but which I'd suggest calling for an appointment (appt only) -
      Siduri - Santa Rosa
      Brogan - Healdsburg, Dry Creek

      I recently had the Brogan RR Valley Pinot which was nice, very soft and velvety style. Winemaker is the daughter of Burt Williams (of Williams-Selyem).

      Pretty sure Merry Edwards tasting room is for mailing-list folks only.

      1. re: Frodnesor

        Don't know about that, but here's the link on Merry Edwards website for scheduling a tasting, http://www.merryedwards.com/ron.html

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          It was Williams-Selyem I was thinking of.

          1. re: Frodnesor

            Yes, I did call and put myself on their wait list. They did offer me a tour but have no wines to sell.

    2. Siduri makes several PNs but keep in mind that it's a winery only at an industrial park, but the wines are really good. Other good PN wineries that I like are Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Sapphire Hill, Holdredge, and Woodenhead.


      1. Limited to pinot and chard, as requested:

        Open to the public: Rochioli, Lynmar, Joseph Swan (no chards)

        Appointment required: Freeman, Peay, Walter Hansel Wines, Siduri (no chards)

        6 Replies
        1. re: Paul H

          Joseph Swan makes a chardonnay from the Trenton Estate vineyard, but quantities are miniscule, on the order of one barrel or so (25 cases) each vintage. When some of the estate vineyard was replanted about 10 years ago, most of the chardonnay vines were uprooted. However, a small section with the best chardonnay vines was saved, where the most intense and flavorful fruit is grown. These have tiny berries, much different than the modern Chardonnay clones. The Chardonnay is very long-lived, needing a decade to show its stuff. Very minerally, floral, and with piercing acidity even though it usually has a full malolactic fermentation to soften the mouthfeel, plus battonage.

          Disclaimer: I'm acquainted with the principals at these wineries.

          Here are the links.

          J Rochioli Vineyards & Winery
          6192 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

          Joseph Swan Vineyards
          2916 Laguna Rd, Forestville, CA 95436

          Lynmar Winery
          3909 Frei Rd, Sebastopol, CA 95472

          Freeman Winery
          1300 Montgomery Rd, Sebastopol, CA 95472

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Not to discourage a visit, but don't get overexcited about Rochioli being open for tasting. They only pour the "base" Pinot and Chard - all of the other wines remain mailing list only.

            1. re: Frodnesor

              I have been there a couple of times and have never even tasted a pinot. Only whites and rose. Timing must be everything.

              1. re: wally

                Suppose I should consider myself lucky rather than deprived then!

              2. re: Frodnesor

                I went to Rochiloi last year and they had a rose and a blend of syrah/zinfandel. I agree, it is not the place to go for a tasting.

                1. re: pof

                  Not if you go expecting to try a real variety of their wines. On the other hand, they were quite friendly and have a very nice Maine coon cat there.

          2. In the Napa Valley, Failla is an up-and-comer with a tiny production of very good wines and a charming little tasting room.

            In the city of Napa, you should visit the Vintner's Collective, which pours wines from several small wineries. Just tell the staff behind the bar that you want to focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and they can guide you to their favorites. Make sure to try the Longfellow Pinot Noir.

            Enkidu Winery in Sonoma is another newish winery. They don't have a tasting room but sometimes if you call ahead the winemaker will meet with you. They make a lovely Pinot Noir, but it may be sold out at the moment.

            Also, once you are out here and start finding wines you like, ask the winery staff to suggest places. There are so many tiny, under-the-radar, off the map wineries out here that often you can only find them through word of mouth.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Ruby Louise

              In Napa, my choice is HdV (in a tiny facility with no sign just off Trancas in the city of Napa) for it's Burgundian style Chardonnays and delicious Syrahs. The "H" in HdV is for the renowned grower, Hyde Vineyards, which co-owns this very small premium producer. Their Carneros Chardonnay ($55) was rated 93-95 (I can't recall the exact number) by Wine Spectator. Their $30 Chardonnay is slightly less complex but nonetheless wonderful for its crisp minerality.

              Tastings are by appointment only and generally on Friday afternoons. They are conducted by the winemaker himself (a charming young winemaker from Burgundy with experience in France and New Zealand). You're in the warehouse with him and can taste and buy all four of their wines (2 chards, 1 syrah and and a merlot blend). Very personal, fun and delicious experience. Highly recommended.

            2. Yes-try Hagafen in Napa. Not sure of availability in NJ. This wine is kosher, and regularly beats out other Napa wineries for awards, so one hardly keep kosher or even be Jewish. See: http://www.hagafen.com for more info.

              1. Saintsbury in Napa has a wonderful chardonnay and pinot noir! I believe they are open to the public and they just began to sell their wine on the internet.

                1 Reply
                1. re: jenf234

                  Saintsbury does not have a tasting room - however they will taste by appointment.

                2. Judd's Hill, in Napa (Conn Valley) is an appointment only winery I highly recommend. It is organic, biodynamic, and wonderful. You'll have a hard time finding it in NJ.
                  Eric Ross, in Glen Ellen, is a lovely little place with great Zin and Pinot, not distributed in NJ.
                  Mazzocco, in Sonoma, is a fabulous Zin house near Ridge, in Dry Creek. Great tastings, great wine, can't find it in NJ.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: rruben1

                    Mazzocco had a wonderful bargain in Chardonnay, but I don't know how the current release is. It was our "house wine" until it sadly ran out.

                  2. My wife & I (also from NJ) recently returned from a trip to Healdsburg, and our favorite small winery in the area was Wilson. I don't believe their wine is distributed here and it is excellent. Don't believe they offer a chardonnay though.

                    Incidently, I presume you are aware that's it's illegal for California wineries to ship wines directly to individuals in NJ. We found that some smaller wineries were willing to overlook that law and even allow us to join their Wine Clubs. If you plan to bring wine home you may want to consider having it packed for shippment but checking it as luggage.

                    It's a crummy law!

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Rocket88

                      Wilson is, indeed a very nice winery. They own Mazzocco, the winery I recommended above.
                      As for rocket88's point, which is valid for NJ residents, one may always purchase the wine, and ship it home, consumer-to-consumer, through a common carrier, as opposed to from winery-to-consumer. It's a dodge, but a useful one.

                      1. re: rruben1

                        Actually I found that not to be the case. When I contacted a local shipper they refused to ship it. All they would do was package it for me to take on the plane as checked luggage.

                        Like some of the wineries, you may find some that are willing to ship directly but I believe it's actually prohibited by law, to wit:


                        1. re: Rocket88

                          Rocket -

                          A little discretion may be in order. Back before Florida finally started to permit direct shipments, my traditional routine was as follows:

                          (1) at the start of my wine trip tour, would go to a local shipper and ask for a box or 2 for packing cases of wine. Curiously, they always seemed to have them.

                          (2) do my winery visits, pack away wines until boxes were filled.

                          (3) close boxes, return to shipper, ask that boxes be sent to my home address.

                          Never had a problem. Of course, I never quite went in and asked "Hey, I just bought all this wine here, can you ship it for me to a state where you're not allowed to ship wine?" Fortunately FL has now started to permit direct shipments.

                          Also there were some wineries that despite the direct-shipment rules would nonetheless ship to FL. Some I think just did it, others had arrangements to process through an in-state distributor.

                      2. re: Rocket88

                        You can actually ship through Buffalo in Napa. There is a special license that allows them to ship to all 50 states. There are a number of shippers that work through that loop-hole but Buffalo is my favorite.

                        1. re: Carrie 218

                          I thank everyone who responded to my post. Last year we bought 5 cases of differenrt wines and had them shipped by one shipper to NJ without a problem.

                      3. I too ove many of the Pinots you mentioned -- l recommend Merry Edwards -- the Pinots are knock outs!!! and they do do tastings.

                        1. Would like to put in a vote for Imagery, a small winery in Sonoma. They are owned by the Benziger family, but unlike Benziger, their wines are not mass-produced nor sold outside of the area. Great wine, great people, and their wine labels are done by local artists. Very highly recommended.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: amlwood

                            The OP asked for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Imagery makes neither one.