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Feb 17, 2014 01:58 PM

Need your suggestions re Napa wine and food!

Hi to all you oenophiles,

My husband & I are traveling to Napa for our 10-year anniversary at the end of February. We have been to Napa/Sonoma/Healdsburg/Russian River so many times I cannot count. My husband actually learned to make wine while he interned in Napa before we met, and we have been making wine for about 10 years now, procuring grapes from Napa & Anderson Valley and driving them down in one day to San Diego to crush the same night! So much fun! But I digress...

Every time we go to wine country we love discovering the small-production wineries, and thought that you all could maybe help us in our quest? To give examples of what Napa wines/wineries we have really enjoyed visiting in the past, we love Robert Biale, Elise, Bell, The Terraces, White Rock. Wineries like Sattui, Darioush, Sterling (big established tasting rooms with nationwide acclaim) are not our cup of tea - not that I'm criticizing, but it's just not what we're looking for.

Has anyone tried Hendry, Porter, Crane, O'Brien, Falcor, Truchard, Gustavo, Del Dotto, James Cole, Reata, Tulocay, Shafer, Hunnicutt, Failla, Hagafen, or Venge?

Oh please do not tempt me with Sonoma/Healdsburg or even Calistoga picks, b/c my head may very well explode knowing that we are missing out and just cannot make it to those regions for this trip. Much to our dismay, we have got to focus!

Thank you in advance for your suggestions. It is so nice to have a place to inquire about these oh-so-important 1st-World topics of interest.

Best regards,


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  1. On our second trip to Napa, after sorta running around tasting seemingly at random the first trip and not getting much out of it, we decided to target specific wines in our price range that were actually available at a local wine store where we shop. This worked much better for us.

    So if you shop at local wine shops perhaps ask them for specific Napa recommendations of the types of wine you drink.

    On our recent trip I mainly wanted to try Cabs in the $40 - $80 range that were available at a local store. I think we started with 24 brands the store carried from Napa (it's a big chain), culling this to five with help from the wine manager, who had been to many of these on corporate sponsored trips to Napa.

    This was a mix, from hill tops, to hill sides to the valley floor. Big guys and little guys. There were 2 to 4 wines at each of these we wanted to taste.

    So I emailed each place and said I mainly wanted to taste these specific wines, skipping tours of the cellars or fields and wines we either weren't likely to be interested in or couldn't afford.

    This worked great, with three places coming through in spades (one was unavailable, another had the wrong wines so we left), and we actually found three cabs/blends we liked well enough to join the 'rotation', plus a Zin and a Chard we liked well enough to buy locally. Also found a special reserve (they insist on pouring you the special reserves :) that was priced out of our target range but so heavenly we bought two bottles for 'special occasions'. Haha.

    Because we mentioned the wine store and had such a targeted list we were treated better than on our first foray into Napa, and even though three of the places had listed the costs for tastings we were not charged at all by any of them.

    Just a suggestion ... it worked great for us. Wines in your targeted price range that you can buy at a local shop.

    1. Looks like your quest is focused and well-informed. Longtime North-Bay locals, who I hope will speak up here (Maria Lorraine, Carrie? Melanie?), may offer precise current winery answers (my acquaintance with Napa wineries, specifically, predates such concepts as "tasting rooms") but I resonated with your interest in quality small-production wineries. As a Bay Area resident I've been able to check out many northern-CA winemaking regions. Spirit and craftsmanship were already quite evident in the Napa Valley 30-40 years ago when it was well-established in the wine world (contrary to a recent cliché misconception among lazy young journalists, recognition of California wineries in blind tastings against Old-World standards did NOT start with the 1976 Spurrier tasting, a point that has been public for decades), but was not yet corporate and vacation-destination-developed. I see similar spirit and craftsmanship now in smaller winemaking AVAs, especially those producing exceptional quality like Anderson Valley (which you know about) and the Santa Cruz Mountains. (Should future plans take you to those places, I might have more suggestions!)

      Aside from your named winery questions, for dining you may find excellent information by searching existing threads on this board. Requests for Napa Valley restaurant guidance for visitors appear here constantly.

      1. Hi might consider Shypoke. I spent a very enjoyable morning on their back porch, tasting with Peter Heitz. Wound up buying their cab reserve, and of course their charbono, which is a pretty rare grape that comes from a vineyard which they have maintained for some time. It's pretty tasty stuff. Located a little south of Calistoga. .
        Tasting is by appointment, and they are very pleasant (and knowledgeable) people.

        1 Reply
        1. re: pinotho

          Whoa! Thanks for that link, pinotho. You brought me back to that Inglenook Charbono. I had experience of that wine's 1960s vintages. This happened around 1981-2, so the wines were not so very old at the time, drinking well. A wine-geek friend had been buying good California reds in the 1950s and 1960s and had good supplies of them (this was not unheard-of circa 1980, among experienced Bay Area wine geeks).

          By the time I tasted those Charbonos, Inglenook had become an unrelated junk brand, a marketing label of a liquor conglomerate (Heublein), known for Inglenook Navalle (?sp), the famous "dating-bar 'Chablis' that smelled like cheap German wine and tasted like a popsicle" (Matt Kramer, 1978). Yet in its earlier days, which the Shypoke site mentions, Inglenook had been a top-flight California winery, one of those that built the region's reputation. Some serious California wine history is connected to Shypoke.

        2. Hi Jamaica,

          I would recommend Failla. We actually discovered it thanks to the folks at Elyse, who suggested it to us. If you head in that direction, I'd also recommend Nyers.

          Where are you staying? If staying/dining in Yountville, beyond Elyse (which you already know), check out the Maisonry tasting room in town. I haven't personally been but have friends who swear by it.

          If you are staying in Napa, it's worth crossing over to downtown Sonoma to visit Scribe. It's only about 15-20 minutes from downtown Napa.

          1. Will be in Napa in April and I'm hoping you write up your visit. The wineries you listed look really yummy to me, so I would love to know where you went and your thoughts!