Whether it’s your first trip to Wine Country or your 37th, you deserve an unforgettable experience. Sure, you can do all the touristy stuff and have a great time, but you’ll probably fight the crowds to do so. And you’ll also miss out on some amazing Napa Valley wineries that haven’t yet made the tourist loop (and that’s a good thing).
So if you’re ready for an insider’s look at what Napa really has to offer, let’s pull back the curtain and look at some of Napa’s best kept secrets to add to your itinerary.
Did you wear acid-wash jeans in the 80s? C’mon, be honest. Well, if you did, you have Claude Blankiet to thank. He’s the one who brought the acid washing technique to America. Naturally, you’ve been through many fashion transformations since those days. So, it shouldn’t be so hard to believe that Claude has made some major transformations of his own.
This creative genius has gone from faking vintage jeans to creating some very fine vintage vino.
Nestled on the western foothills of the Mayacamas Mountain range above Yountville, you’ll find the vineyards for Blankiet Estate. Claude and his wife Katherine created Blankiet Estate in 1996 with a vision of producing wines in the great Bordeaux First Growth tradition.
Expect some serious wine in a high-end environment – so you’ll want to leave those old acid wash jeans at home.
2360 California Drive
Yountville, CA 94599
Just off the main road, you’ll find the Round Pond winery and its olive grove. Round Pond is much more than just another winery. You’ll find three main components of their offering, and they are all first rate.
Taste their wines and freshly-milled olive oils on a breathtaking terrace that overlooks Napa Valley – or enjoy dinner at the restaurant that Food and Wine calls one of the best winery restaurants in Napa. On Sundays, you can enjoy a 4-hour “Garden to Table” brunch that includes a garden tour, cooking demo and wine.
Round Pond Estate Winery
875 Rutherford Rd.
Napa, CA 94558
Crusher Wine District
Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to go to some far-off location to see the best Napa has to offer. It’s true that some of Napa’s gems are worth traveling for, but don’t ignore a winery just because it happens to be centrally located. Plan to spend some time at the following wineries (bonus: you can walk between them):
- Mi Sueno Winery – Spanish for “My Dream,” Mi Sueno produces high-end cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir at a small family-owned facility
- Crosby Roamann – Imagine you had the good fortune of having friends who owned a Napa winery. That’s kind of what it feels like when you visit this husband and wife owned winery. This isn’t one of those commercial wineries where you’re funneled through the gift shop. It’s clear from start to finish that Crosby Roamann is focused on what’s really important – the wine.
- Wine Foundry – The Wine Foundry is a unique place where you can go to feel like a Napa winemaker. It takes some planning, but you can select grapes from a vineyard and plan to visit when your grapes arrive at the winery. There, you’ll sort, crush, ferment, punch or press your grapes into wine. Winemaking is just one of the hands-on experiences you’ll find at the Wine Foundry. You won’t want to miss this stop. In fact, you may want to plan your entire trip around it!
You’ll find Failla (pronounced Fay-La) along Napa’s Silverado Trail, and you’ll instantly notice its unique appeal. Failla is an old hunting lodge that was transformed into a winery. The ambiance alone may be worth the trip as you sit amongst giant redwood trees and tour their 15,000 square foot cave. But décor isn’t the only thing that stands out.
If you’ve seen the movie “Sideways,” you probably know how popular cabs are in Wine Country. Failla bucks this common perception and focuses on producing stellar Pinot Noirs. Miles would certainly approve.
3530 Silverado Trail N
St Helena, CA 94574
Swanson Vineyards is yet another winery opened by a famous American family. You know those 1950s style frozen t.v. dinners? Then you probably know the Swanson Family.
Just don’t expect the wines to follow the same quick-and-cheap formula as the convenience foods. Along with winemaker Chris Phelps, W. Clarke Swanson produces some of California’s most respected merlots. Swanson’s Salon offers 3 tastings per day for up to 8 guests, but these are by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead. With such an intimate group, expect to feel right at home as you sip on and learn about Swanson’s finest wines.
1271 Manley Ln
Napa, CA 94558
Launny Steffens’ background is in finance and his passions lie in winemaking and numerology. We all know that seven is a lucky number, and that’s probably why he pairs it with eight, a number that symbolizes prosperity and happiness.
You’ll go to taste the award-winning wines, but the views alone are worth the trip. Located on the side of Spring Mountain in St. Helena, you’ll take in the breathtaking Napa landscape as you sip on high-quality wines.
Vineyard 7&8 is a high-end experience, but most visitors report that it’s worth every penny.
4028 Spring Mountain Rd.
St Helena, CA 94574
As you’re planning your visit to Napa, remember that any time is a good time. Each season offers a different experience. In the summer, you can enjoy the laid-back atmosphere. Rub elbows with the true wine geeks for the harvest season when grapes are picked and crushed.
In November, you’ll miss the harvest rush but you’ll be just in time for the leaves changing. Winter might be considered the off season, but it’s a great time to go if you want to avoid the crowds. Consider sipping your cab by the fireside while actually having some time to relax and unwind.
Regardless of when you go, plan to visit at least one of the Napa Valley wineries on this list for a unique experience.