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"Obscure" wineries for Sonoma/Napa Tasting Trip

A good friend andI are taking a trip to Sonoma and Napa in late October, staying in Healdsburg. Both of us have been a number of times before and found many favorites, but each time it gets a little harder to get out of the rut of going back to the ones I loved on a previous visit.

By "obscure" I mean smaller properties, places that probably require appointments and might not be in guidebooks, and that are almost totally focused on wine rather than the "tasting room experience."

One example I can think of is Siduri/Novy, whose wines I love, but whose "tasting room", as those of you who have been know, is just a garage in a nondescript Santa Rosa strip mall. Similarly, if say, Scholium had a way to taste their wines, or Thackeray, those would be the kinds of things I would be interested in doing. (Although, to give a counter example, I also love Chalk Hill's tasting room, which is quite dramatic. But I still feel like it's a bit 'off the beaten path').

As to what I want to taste, I usually aim for diversity. I would say I am more interested in Syrah than the average person, less interested in Pinot than the average person. Primarily I want to try wines that are interesting, either unusual takes on the prevailing style, or unusual combinations of varietals.

We don't have a problem driving a bit further, making appointments, or paying fees. Really, we just want to taste interesting wines made by interesting people.

Any suggestions would be welcomed. Thank you in advance.

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  1. Morgan Twain-Peterson is the son of Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson and his Bedrock Wines kick ass. I did a tasting at the winery at his home. I'm not sure where he does them or if he does them. The rose was especially good.
    Not obscure, but make sure you've tried Unti wines.
    There's a waiting list to get on the Carlisle mailing list, but I'm guessing you can get in for a tasting. Nice across the board. I'm a fan of Two Acres.

    4 Replies
      1. re: SteveTimko

        I agree with Arnot-Roberts. They share a space/garage in Forestville with Wind Gap Winery (the winery of Pax Mahle). In July, we met with all the owners/winemakers -- Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Roberts along with Pax Mahle -- and tasted very good syrahs and cabs from both wineries. This is definitely off the beaten path but well worth it. We also are members at Williams Selyem and visited their new wine facility on West Side Road. Great facility, great wines, but I think it is only available to members, but probably worth a call to find out.

        1. re: stevenmargolis

          My favorite winery is on West Side Road, also... Vision Cellars. They make stellar Pinot Noir. (not to mention the only blend of Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc that I know of.

          You need to call ahead there.

      2. re: SteveTimko

        Unti Vineyards is a great call. This is one of our favorites. We stop by whenever we are in town and recommend this to all our friends. A very nice family operate this small winery. Great Grenache, Zin and Syrah. Our first visit in 2004 the tasting room was very low key. Just the way we like it. It was a folding table in a small warehouse and very personal attention. It has been upgraded some in recent years, but it is not like those big commercial tasting rooms. We can thank a nice waitress who recommended this wine at The Girl and a Fig in Sonoma. The Unti Grenache paired with duck was unbelievable. She told us to call them and they will tell you when you can stop by.

        Unti Vineyards
        4202 Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA

      3. I would suggest visiting Smith-Madrone in Napa Valley (Spring Mountain, above St. Helena). They only do tasting by appointment and our tasting was conducted by Charles Smith, one of the two brothers who co-own the winery, at his desk! Not a beautiful or fancy tasting, just a lot of great conversation with him about winemaking and the wines (which are terrific). http://www.smithmadrone.com/index.htm

        1. Go visit Bill at Frick winery, one of very few (if not the only) that bottles a 100% Cinsault, along with some interesting Rhone blends.

          Anthill Farms and Papapietro Perry wineries at 4791 Dry Creek Road, north of H'burg.

          2 Replies
          1. re: PolarBear

            Love all these suggestions so far... I've been to both Unti and Papapietro - both definitely along the lines of what I'm looking for. FWIW Kokomo, in that same complex with Papapietro, makes what I've found to be some very good wines, and their pricing is quite reasonable.

            1. re: jonasblank

              I'll have to try Kokomo next trip, absolutely loved the Anthill Farms wines.

              If you can find them, try some of Ramazotti's wines, lately I've had his Sangiovese and really pleasantly surprised with the Chardonnay (not usually a fan of CA efforts). Might check the Locals tasting room in Geyserville to see if they are pouring or would accomodate you.

              21023 Geyserville Avenue
              Geyserville, CA

          2. Ceja Vineyards in the Carneros region....best chardonnay ever. The tasting room used to be at the vineyard....now I think it may be in downtown Napa.....darn. Worth a try though. http://www.cejavineyards.com/

            1 Reply
            1. re: msb

              Also had an interesting appointment only tasting here: www.terravalentine.com It is near where you will be staying.....

            2. If you like Zinfandel, over in the Chiles Valley (East Side of Napa VAlley) is Nichelini Winery, the oldest family run winery in the Valley. www.nicheliniwinery.com They are only open on weekends or by appointment. And even tho you've probably never heard of them, they've beaten the "big boys" with their Zins.

              1. Match, David Arthur, Chase, (own the Hayne Vineyard that Turley has made famous) Neil Family, Carlisle, Kosta Browne, Shafer (although they're a bigger winery, it's a great tasting)

                7 Replies
                1. re: MyNameIsTerry

                  ++++++ 7 out of 7 is a pretty good score. :o)))

                  1. re: MyNameIsTerry

                    How does one get to visit Kosta-Browne?

                      1. re: Midlife

                        So why suggest it as a place to visit?

                        1. re: pof

                          I didn't. My Name Is Terry did. When you reply to a specific post you are addressing that person. No big deal, just don't expect me to give you an answer.

                          1. re: Midlife

                            I apologize, just did not realize who I was replying to. It took me almost 3 years to get on Kosta's list and they gave me a very limited allocation.

                    1. re: MyNameIsTerry

                      OK Terry How do I get to visit Kosta Browne?

                    2. If you like Zin I'd add Talty to your list. Mike Talty is making some really great juice in the Dry Creek Valley.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Midlife

                        Little known and off the beaten path: In Napa I like Midsummer Cellars which is owned by Rollie Heitz and Laura Zahtila Vineyards in Calistoga is very good also. Please sample her Barlow Vineyards Cab and if she has any Beckstoffer bottling left.......gobble them up.

                        In Sonoma I am a fan of Deux Amis....great under the radar producer of a range of well priced zinfandels and a pinot from Anderson Valley. Down in Petaluma is Keller Estate that produces really nice Chard and Pinot. I think it is the southermost winery in Sonoma and whenever I am there it is really quiet which is most enjoyable!!

                      2. In Napa, right on Hwy 29 at the Oakville Cut (not the Oakville Grade), look to the west for Milat. Stop in, step over the winery dog, and taste.



                        1. +1 for Smith - Madrone especially in Oct. during harvest (we had to jump over lines of grape juice to get to the tasting shed); their cab is amazing. While you are up Spring Mountain there are other great wineries like Pride (my favorite; all their wines are great) and Spring Mountain.

                          I will have to disagree on Milat... other than a drinkable chenin blanc, their wines are not good IMO. Some of worst wines I've had in Napa....

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: lrealml

                            +2 on Smith Madrone.......enjoyed a visit with them back in April. My wife and I spent an hour with Charles just shooting the S**t and tasting. Great down to earth people that make nice wine......the riesling rocks!

                            1. re: tito

                              Seems like Smith-Madrone is an obvious winner. Loving all of these suggestions so far. I am already wishing I will have more time (as I always do).

                              Pride is really wonderful - definitely a trek, but was worth it!

                              1. re: jonasblank

                                Pride and Smith-Madrone are nearby, so you could always do Pride again if you make the trek :)

                                Another good winery that has really cute private tastings is Neyers. They have a really good Syrah (we bought it).

                                Also, James Cole is a great little secret winery that isn't on any of the tourist maps. We were sent there by another winery we like. Fantastic wines and all of the other people tasting were locals (as in actually live in Napa, unlike us who are sudo-locals).

                                1. re: lrealml

                                  If you do go up Spring Mountain, you might as well stop at 2 wineries. In July, I visited both Terra Valentine and Pride. We liked Terra Valentine, but really liked Pride (see if you can meet/tour with Russell). Sounds like a Smith-Madrone and Pride combo would work just as well.

                                  1. re: stevenmargolis

                                    I've done the same trip - Pride, Smith-Madrone, and Terra Valentine. All good. I think Robert Keenan is up on Spring Mountain too and is near the other three. Definitely worth a stop to try their cabs which are terrific.

                                    1. re: Midlife

                                      It looks like all of those wineries are by appointment only. Is that correct?

                                      1. re: Chispa

                                        That seems to be the case, but appointments are not usually a big deal on weekends. There is, however, a feeling that you should be at least somewhat serious about the possibility of eventual purchase at small appointment only wineries. It's not them so much as the fact that they're making special arrangements for you and that they probably sell almost all their wine to club members, people on their allocation list, or to special visitors like you.

                                        1. re: Midlife

                                          Yeah, this thread is definitely for those who are into/getting into wine... not the wine country tourists who just want to get drunk (you can often tell this by how much of the tastes are poured out vs. drunk).
                                          If the winery is good (as I'm sure most of the ones recommended on this thread are), we buy a bottle or two. However, if we don't like the wine or the wine is way overpriced for the quality, we don't feel compelled to buy no matter what... that is the whole point of tasting.
                                          On the other hand, if you go to a lot of small high quality wineries and don't buy anything (even if you love it and it is well priced), that is not really good etiquette...

                                          Btw, I agree... this is a great thread; I will definitely use it when planning our next visit to wine country!

                                          1. re: lrealml

                                            I agree, and wasn't suggesting that appointment tasters have to buy or even should. I was more suggesting that non-serious visitors shouldn't really go to by-appointment only wineries. There's a world of difference between V. Sattui and Pride or Stony Hill.

                                    2. re: lrealml

                                      Pride and Terra Valentine are also great options. The history of Terra Valentiine is very interesting as is the architecture of the winery.

                              2. I find it hard to go to Healdsburg without taking a trip to Preston-great Rhonish wines-lovely fecund gardens and 5 toes kitties abound. What's not to like?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: artychokeasana

                                  Love Preston! They are the very definition of a small winery. I love all their Rhone varietals...in particular their carignane, petite syrah, and white rhone blend (Madame Preston).

                                  I say if you are a fan of Rhone-style wines it is a must-see!

                                  Preston Vineyards & Winery
                                  9206 W Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                                2. Gotta say, this is a fun thread to follow.....

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: msb

                                    Was thinking the same thing.

                                    Although I wish more of these wines could be found at San Francisco restaurants. (Maybe they can? Lots of new names to me.)

                                  2. If you want really obscure with really good wines, try Tulocay ( http://www.tulocay.com ) on the Coombsville Road just outside Napa. There is no sign, one owner winemaker etc.er -- Bill Cadman -- who makes you feel at home for a tasting. The tasting room is his back porch in good weather, otherwise his kitchen table. I just had one of his Syrahs, big, fruity, well-balanced, full body. The zins are even better and the cabernets are better still. I love the pinot noirs, too and even the merlot, not my favorite grape. I also would not miss the chardonnay. The grapes are from small vinyards with special microclimates, so there is plenty of terroir in the glass.

                                    If you give Bill a call, he'll give you directions to his driveway and set up a tasting, bread and cheese gratis. I've been a fan for thirty years. Luckily, he ships to me in New York. Check out the website if you want a bit of the flavor of the place (Tulocay, not New York).

                                    1. Natural Process Alliance.

                                      Salinia Wine/The NPA
                                      3350 Coffey Ln, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Carol Shelton, Donelan, and Inspiration Vineyards are in that same small industrial park. I know there's also a crush facility there too, that several other wineries use. It's becoming sortof a Santa Rosa wine ghetto.

                                      2. Nalle , on Dry Creek Road just outside of Healdsburg does wonderful zins and chardonnays. It's worth a visit just to see the winery itself, with its green roof and natural climate control. And a great winery dog. Nalle zinfandels are distinctive in that they try to keep the alcohol below 14% and the result is a delicacy you don't find elsewhere.


                                        1. David Coffaro does not aim to make great, expensive wines but they're honest to his terroir (Dry Creek) and his grapes. He has a very good old vine Carignan and does some other interesting table wines with blends that include Portuguese varieties, tannat and other southern French grapes.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: moto

                                            Coffaro is fun. Eccentric business model, taste from barrel and buy futures.

                                          2. PORTER CREEK WINERY
                                            8735 Westside Rd; Healdsburg, CA 95448

                                            Great wines. Reminds me of how tasting rooms used to be in the "olden days" before everything started to feel so overtly commercial. Worth going out of your way to visit.

                                            1. Sounds like you should make a trip to Pao Robles, CA...
                                              Lots of Rhone varities... lots of Syrah...


                                              1. Help! yesterday morning, hubby and 5 best friend couples woke me up, we jumped on a plane in the mid west and we are here to celebrate my 50th in Sonoma! what a great surprise! now looking for all the remote chardonnays at. Out of the way spots......love a rich, oaky,buttery one! Love this thread so bring on the ideas! Thanks!

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: msb

                                                  What an awesome birthday surprise! What part of Sonoma (Sonoma the town?) and are you only looking for chardonnays?
                                                  Not really obscure, but Hartford Court (they are in Russian River) has some great wines including 4 chardonnays.

                                                  1. re: lrealml

                                                    He rented a house just sw of Sonoma......it is great!

                                                    1. re: lrealml

                                                      The others like reds but I am a chard girl......

                                                    2. re: msb

                                                      Four ideas, if you still have time:

                                                      Hanzell, in Sonoma: http://www.scherrerwinery.com/pages/c...

                                                      Scherrer, in Sebastopol...... by appointment: http://www.scherrerwinery.com/pages/c...

                                                      Also, Russian Hill, in Windsor: http://www.scherrerwinery.com/pages/c...

                                                      and DuMol, if you can find out how to get in.

                                                      I think all 4 are appointment only.

                                                    3. Just jumped back into the thread and WOW there is a lot to process here! my Google map is already overflowing....Thanks for all the suggestions... the vast majority of which I wasn't familiar with. It really amazes me how no matter how many visits I make, the number of incredible new places to discover don't seem to decrease!

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: jonasblank

                                                        the winery suggestions might not all be as 'obscure' as you seek, unless you mean difficult to visit. the Hanzell chardonnays, for example, have a very high reputation nationally.

                                                        1. re: moto

                                                          Yes, "obscure" can mean different things to different people.

                                                          On one hand, it can mean a winery with great wines, that no one has heard of (in one's circle of friends and the wine-porn writers), or it can mean a winery, that everyone knows about, but is hard to score a tour/tasting of. They are different things, but the same, to some.


                                                      2. For Napa, if you like Zins, go to Biale. Best zins in Napa - hands down. For Healdsburg, go to Acorn - their tasting room IS an old garage/barn and it's appointment only. Bill and Betsy will treat you right. They only make reds (only field blends) - their zin and their syrah are excellent.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. monte maggiore on dry creek near healsburg. great syrah and does nice vigonier blend. google for their web site - you need an apt

                                                          1. jonasblank: where did you end up? would love to hear a report on your trip!