While there are many big name winemakers in Napa Valley pouring wines that live up to their reputations, there are twice as many small wineries and notable winemakers to discover. And with more than 400 wineries open to the public, it can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned Napa Valley visitor to uncover a new favorite wine.
Insider’s Tip: reservations are your friend! Some of these wineries are small operations with limited staff, and might not even use online reservation services. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to make sure that they’re expecting you.
Whether you’re new to Napa Valley or simply looking for some hidden gems, find them here.
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.
The product of a partnership between three families, and legendary winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, Mending Wall is nestled in the foothills of Howell Mountain. The property serves as a custom crush facility for some of Brown’s smaller projects, and on any given day you’ll see the property alive with winemaking activity. Inside, the modern tasting room features floor to ceiling windows and offers an estate tasting as well as a chef selection food and wine pairing.
Situated at the very top of Spring Mountain, owner and winemaker Sheldon Richards makes sure that the steep, winding drive to Paloma Vineyards is well worth the visit. Aside from personally hosting many tastings himself, the tasting room pays homage to his parents, founders Jim and Barbara Richards. Known for their estate Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon influenced by the unique microclimates of the mountain peak, it’s a winery that’s truly off the beaten path.
Hidden away on the slopes of Spring Mountain, Fred and Eleanor McCrea built the first post-prohibition winery in Napa Valley in 1951. Focused on creating European-inspired white wine including Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, Gerwurztraminer and Semillon, it wasn’t until 2009 that Stony Hill began producing estate-grown Cabernet Sauvingnon and Merlot. The Stony Hill team hosts walking tours of the property as part of their tasting experiences, and even offers a discounted experience for Napa locals!
Situated on a historic piece of land in Rutherford AVA, Sullivan Rutherford Estate is known for their legacy of crafting world class Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. At the center of the property, the family residence is an architectural jewel designed by John Marsh Davis, one of the disciples of the Frank Lloyd Wright aesthetic. Tastings include a privately hosted tour of the estate before diving into a selection of tastings from their Estate and Founder’s Reserve Collections.
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 at 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.”
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, is also 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 makes about 4,200 cases of wine per 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.