With more than 450 wineries from tip to bottom, the Napa Valley has a multitude of tasting experiences from which to choose. The valley is rife with household names in liquor stores across the country. Others, however, are a bit more obscure. Then there are the wineries that nobody’s heard about. This is a story about them.
To be clear, these latter wineries are successful and—at least in most cases—independently owned and operated; not part of a big chain. They’re also fiercely independent, a good trait at a time when most brands are conforming to bigger and broader social norms to stay alive.
Here’s a closer look at some of the best Napa Valley wineries about which you likely have never heard.
Boich Family Cellar
Hidden on a flank of Mt. Veeder, this small (2,400 cases total) winery makes single-vineyard cabernets from some of Napa’s and Sonoma’s most iconic vineyards, including Beckstoffer To Kalon. Founder John Boich, who worked with CalFire to save the vineyard from the Glass Fire in 2020, came from a career in finance in San Francisco, and crafts every vintage with winemaker Jeff Ames. There are two wines that anyone visiting the website can purchase if they’re not sold out, and anyone who purchases wine or schedules a tasting experience is added to the member list for future allocations.
This winery is so secret, it doesn’t even welcome outsiders for tastings—yet. Instead, visitors can sample the full-bodied flagship wines at The Caves of Soda Canyon, a collective tasting space high in the hills above the Stags Leap District. Owners Dan and Kim Johnson handle most tastings themselves, which is a great way to get to understand the inspiration behind their Jungle Love Vineyard cabernet. As Johnson explains it, the winery is named after an African animal that is part zebra and part giraffe—a critter that “represents nature’s unlimited imagination.”
Tres Sabores (pictured)
Women-led. Family-owned. Organic. Dog-friendly. These are just some of the reasons people love this small winery on Napa’s Rutherford Bench in St. Helena. All on-site tastings conclude with a self-guided tour of the gardens and a visit with golden retrievers, guinea hens and sheep—a vibe that is as surprising as it is relaxing. Wine options here are plentiful—everything from light whites to bold and jammy reds. Owner and winemaker Julie Johnson prides herself on minimalism, allowing the fruit to guide the flavor profiles of each vintage.
The name Olabisi is an African word that means, “joy multiplied.” That’s precisely what you get when you spend time at this winery’s tiny downtown Calistoga tasting room next to the beloved Evangeline restaurant. The winery only produces 1,000 cases per year, and it has amassed a small-but-loyal following for its reds and roses. Co-owner and winemaker Ted Osborne started the label back in 2002 when he was working a day job at Storybook Mountain Winery up the hill on the way to Knights Valley. Today he runs the winery with his wife Kim.
The tasting room for this Coombsville winery is tucked inside a cave—hence the name, “Covert.” Inside, visitors can sip delicately balanced reds from winemaker Julien Fayard. While the cabernets dazzle, the estate Cabernet Franc is the star of the show—bold, fruit-forward, and full of tannins. The salon was designed by Richard Von Saal and incorporates whimsical touches such as animal pelts and natural wood and stone. Especially on a hot day, the cool air and cool vibes inside the Covert cave are a welcome retreat.
Consider this small wine project a blend—HdV is a venture between the Hyde family of the Napa Valley and the de Villaine Family of Burgundy. The outfit doesn’t have a formal tasting room, which means tastings are available by appointment in the Trancas Road winery. Wines are released in 6-bottle allotments twice annually—in the spring and fall. To date, the winery is perhaps most renowned for its chardonnay, which is sourced exclusively from fruit that grows in the Hyde Vineyard on the Napa side of the Carneros region.
Relic Wine Cellars
The story of Relic is the story of its owners: Mike Hirby and Schatzi Throckmorton. The duo met in the wine business and built their family around one of their own. Today Throckmorton runs the business and Hirby makes the wine. The tasting experience unfolds in a cave at an expansive property in Soda Canyon; visitors sample flagship wines that include what the owners refer to as “core cuvees” as well as new releases that might include a cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, syrah, and chardonnay. A sister brand, The Archive, also is available.
Proprietors (and San Francisco natives) Fred and Sally Schweiger have lived and worked on their family estate since the 1960s; it’s not uncommon for both or one of them to welcome visitors in their tasting room that sits high above St. Helena on Spring Mountain Road. The winery cranks out about 4,200 cases a year; most come for the Dedication, a bold Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and malbec. One of the more popular tasting options includes an ATV tour of the estate; if you’re lucky, son and winemaker Andy Schweiger will do the driving.
A hillside vineyard and the entire Napa Valley spreads out before you on the alfresco patio at this Spring Mountain Winery—a perfect setting to enjoy sublime wines away from the hubbub and crowds that line Highway 29. Owners Hal and Fiona Barnett have been making wines on this mountaintop estate since the late 1980s, specializing in cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, chardonnay and more. Winemaker David Tate has collaborated with the Barnetts since 2007, and is often on site to handle tastings himself.
This winery is the Napa project from Brion Wise of Moon Mountain’s B. Wise Vineyards, with single-vineyard cabernets made by Julien Fayard, Mark Herold, and Massimo Monticelli. The tasting room/gravity-flow winery is tucked away with no signage in the Sleeping Lady Vineyard, inside one of two restored bank barns left in California. (Wise’s wife, Ronda, did the interior design.) The wines have a following thanks to consistently high critical scores, and the tasting room just opened to the public in fall 2020.
Insider's Tip: Reservations are rad! Most Napa Valley wineries (especially the smaller properties) are by appointment only, so plan ahead and make reservations early for the best experience. Looking for more amazing wineries? Check out our winery directory to filter by wine varietal, location, amenities, and more. Ready to plan your adventures? Download the handy winery map and start plotting!