Ah, Napa Valley. Home to sweeping vineyard views, state-of-the-art wineries, astounding architecture, decadent dining, and over-the-top accommodations. It’s a lot to take in. Feeling overwhelmed and out-luxed? Take a detour to these totally quirky, totally Instagrammable Napa Valley wineries and tasting rooms to soak up a bit of local counter-culture.
Tank Garage Winery – If you’re up for drinking cool California wines with cool Calistoga people, head to this restored 1930s gas station for your daily dose of lubrication. Challenge your pals to a pinball showdown and enjoy a casual tasting at the bar (wines are also available by the glass). Insider tip: When it gets hot In the summer months you can chill out at Tank with homemade rosé popsicles.
Prager Port Works – If you’re looking for a fancy wine tasting, look elsewhere. If you want to learn about port wines while also having a bunch of laughs and meeting some amazing winemakers, pop into this rustic family-run tasting room in St. Helena. The tasting room walls are decorated floor to ceiling with currency from around the world, making for a pretty amazing photo op, and the Prager brothers are some of the friendliest folks in Napa Valley. Insider tip: don’t miss Mom’s homemade candied walnuts with your port tasting!
Prisoner Wine Company – Embodying the motto “born to be different,” Prisoner has re-imagined the traditional tasting room by creating a comfortable lounge experience free from pomp and circumstance. You won’t find any crystal-adorned chandeliers here, but you will find bold, unapologetic wines (and a pretty amazing wine and food pairing experience). Insider tip: Save a few minutes after your tasting to explore The Makery on site, which features products from a community of local artisans.
Swanson Vineyards – Viva La Vie Boheme! Swanson Vineyards is quietly tucked away off of Manley Lane near Route 29 in Rutherford — really quietly — as in, you won’t find any signs pointing to this under-the-radar tasting room. But once you’ve found your way, prepare to be delighted by Swanson’s whimsical spin on the traditional wine tasting experience. Inspired by culinary salons of 18th-century Paris, the tasting salon is like stepping into the French Quarter. And if you’re thinking the name Swanson sounds familiar, it is indeed the same family that produced your favorite frozen TV dinners back in the day. Insider tip: Don’t miss this stop if you’re a fan of dessert wines — Swanson is one of the few Napa Valley wineries that focuses on sweet wines, and they produce five different varieties.
Gamling & McDuck – Punk rock in Napa Valley? Hell yeah. Behind the tasting bar at this little-known Napa gem hangs a modernized print of Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Socrates,” in which the Greek philosopher raises his pointed finger against a graffiti slathered wall. Gamling and McDuck are pseudonyms for Gabrielle Shaffer and Adam McClary, a Minnesota couple who moved to Napa in 2008 and founded their wine label shortly thereafter. McClary drew a comic book detailing the history of the label, which is displayed across the tasting room walls. Visit the tasting room for a five-wine flight- “six if we like you”- according to the menu, and rock out to some old school jams.
CRU at the Annex – Artsy, eclectic, and conveniently located adjacent to Oxbow Public Market, CRU is a great spot to enjoy a tasting or a glass after strolling around Downtown Napa. The laid-back vibe extends to the tasting experience, where you can indulge in locally-grown popcorn paired with Vineyard 29 wines. Insider tip: The tasting room boasts fun outdoor seating and often features live music in the evenings, so it’s perfect for a casual date night.