August 3, 2018
“The essence of pleasure is spontaneity,” wrote feminist writer Germaine Greer. And when it comes to travel, we agree that some spur-of-the-moment adventure is always fun. You don’t want to plan every inch of your visit to the Napa Valley, allowing some space for serendipity and the unpredictable. Here are a few small-to-medium wineries whose tasting rooms are open for tastings without an appointment – perfect for those who like to play it by ear.
Etude Wines. Located on the former Grace Benoist Ranch out on Cuttings Wharf Road near the Napa River, Etude specializes in reds – particularly Pinot Noir and Cabernet.
Artesa Winery. This place has been described as “one of the most architecturally stunning wineries in North America,” with 360-degree views of the hilly Carneros region and the Bay Area beyond. It has a full portfolio of red, white, and sparkling wines, including lesser-known varietals like Albarino and Tempranillo.
Blackbird Vineyards. This venue is an artisanal producer of Right Bank Bordeaux-inspired wines by rockstar winemaker Aaron Pott. Many of its wines are estate-produced.
Cliff Lede Vineyards. This family-owned label has 60 acres in the northernmost end of the legendary Stags Leap District. Its tasting room also offers selections from the winery’s Anderson Valley label, FEL Wines, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay.
Hill Family Estate. The Hills are a family of fourth-generation California farmers who own or are partners in 14 different vineyards in the valley. They grow grapes for some of the best vintners here, as well as producing their own wines for a full portfolio of reds and whites.
Girard Winery. Girard prides itself on producing award-winning wines at reasonable prices. In its tasting room you can sample many of the wines in its portfolio, including an estate-bottled Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, a Rhône-style blend, and others.
Elizabeth Spencer. Created by the husband-wife winemaking partnership of Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham, Elizabeth Spencer wines are vinified in small, individual lots using classical hands-on methods. The tasting room is in a tiny, charming historic brick building, where you can taste such rare varieties as Marsanne and Roussane as well as more common favorites.
Caymus Vineyards. Caymus is based on 73 acres in Rutherford and has been owned and farmed by the Wagner family since the 1940s. In addition to its Cabernet, its tasting room serves and sells other Wagner Family of Wine brands, including Mer Soleil Chardonnays, Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, Red Schooner Malbec, and a classic California blend, Conundrum.
Alpha Omega. This modern farmhouse-style winery is located at the southern end of town, but winemaker Jean Hoefliger sources grapes from nearly every local appellation, from the valley floor to hillside, mountain, and coast. Come here to taste Cabernet (including a variety of single-vineyard labels), Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
Clif Family Winery. Clif’s fruit comes from its estate vineyards atop the famed Howell Mountain appellation, but they also source fruit from other local small vineyards in the valley and Mendocino. Taste a range of reds and whites, including Viognier, Grenache, and Cab.
Fairwinds Estate. Located at the northern tip of the Silverado Trail, Fairwinds’ facility has been used for crushing by some of the valley’s most notable names in wine since the ‘60s. Today it produces 160,000 gallons and maintains a 22,000-square-foot wine cave. Enjoy its Petit Verdot, Carmenere, Chardonnay, and Cab.
Chateau Montelena. The historic winery was founded back in 1882 and 94 years later achieved international renown at the legendary Paris tasting. Still owned and operated by the Barrett family, it produces extraordinary Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.