With more than 400 wineries crammed into a narrow 30-by-5-mile valley, Napa, California’s premier wine region, is filled with undiscovered treasures. The best wineries are often local favorites with a unique story behind the label.
Here are six hidden gems for sensational wine, gourmet cuisine and memorable experiences.
The new, under-the-radar winery
Since 2009, Mathew Bruno has been making sought-after cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc, but the brand only recently opened a destination tasting room. The Mathew Bruno Rutherford Estate offers a unique, unparalleled tasting experience in a stunningly remodeled farmhouse from the 1890s. You are welcomed (if you’re lucky, by Mathew himself) with a glass of Bruno’s superb sparkling wine and whisked to a semi-private area for the tasting. The space feels like a chic, modern Italian home without pomp or pretense. Wine lovers sit back, relax on the couch and sample six varietals, including chardonnay, pinot noir and rosé, harvested from some of the valley’s top vineyards.
Hospitality is the name of the game here. The excellent staff is friendly and informative. It’s the sort of place you’ll want to return to whenever you visit the valley. Note that reservations are required, but Mathew Bruno allows same-day tastings, so you can book a last-minute session, a luxury that’s hard to find in Napa Valley.
The mountain-top winery beloved by sommeliers
Angwin is one of Napa’s lesser-known hamlets, but it is home to the valley’s preferred sauvignon blanc producer, Arkenstone. Sommeliers flock to this beautiful volcanic estate on top of Howell Mountain for its terroir-driven, high-elevation wines.
The Krausz family-owned winery produces three types: estate grown (it grows the grapes on site), single vineyard (a bottle that displays the distinct terroir of one vineyard) and NVD (it stands for Napa Valley Designate, and its grapes are blended from multiple vineyard sources). Sample sought-after sommelier wines and tour the impressive underground cave winery and the organically farmed vineyards with a tasting experience.
Be sure to ask about rising star winemaker Sam Kaplan’s newest reserve sauvignon blanc, aged for five years, an unusual practice for a white, resulting in a well-balanced, cellar-worthy pour.
The original pioneers of sustainability
“Organic,” “biodynamic” and “sustainable” are well-worn buzzwords among many wineries in the valley, but no producer can claim to be more eco-friendly than Neal Family Vineyards. Mark Neal grew up among the vines of Rutherford, and his father, Jack, started a vineyard management company (Jack Neal and Son Vineyard Management) specializing in organic operations in 1968. The vineyards Neal oversees today were certified organic in 1984, long before sustainability became de rigueur.
Today, Neal Family Vineyards is the only winery in Napa Valley that’s Regenerative Organic Certified, the highest level of certification, and only one of five wineries in the world to hold this classification. Try the wines at a tour and tasting experience where you’ll learn all about the farming techniques used to produce the savory, earthy cabernet sauvignons.
The wine-and-food pairing of your dreams
Perched high on Diamond Mountain is Theorem Vineyards, a luxury wine estate with gorgeous views, site-specific wines and a chef always on the property. The Theorem team focuses on high-elevation wines, and its old vine cabernet sauvignon is legendary. Each sampling involves food, and you are invited to enjoy the harmony of its exquisite wine (the chardonnay is a personal favorite) with seasonal cuisine. Since food involves preparation, reservations are recommended.
The best AVA you’ve never heard of
AVA stands for American Viticultural Area, and Coombsville was designated Napa’s 16th. Located on the southeastern tip of the valley, Coombsville is home to more than 70 vineyards, a few of which are some of the region’s top producers.
In fact, if you only have time to visit one part of Napa, make it Coombsville. Here, you’ll find an 18-story wine cavern at Palmaz Vineyards, a stunning property built into Mt. George specializing in wine technology and Argentine-style hospitality. At Caldwell Vineyard, taste wine made from 28 different clone-specific grape varieties smuggled into the valley by local legend John Caldwell.
Marita’s Vineyard is another Coombsville treasure. The family-owned and -operated winery is a labor of love of Bulmaro Montes, a former-day-worker-turned-vineyard-operator known for his classic cabernet sauvignon.
The hotel with a hot chef
Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Carneros Resort and Spa is an ideal wine country retreat. With a picturesque pool that sits on top of the 28-acre resort, sophisticated private cottages with gardens that double as backyards and a renovated spa, Carneros exudes refined luxury and Napa charm.
The resort recently announced famed chef Chris Bianco has reimagined its signature restaurant, FARM. Under Bianco’s direction, the remodeled space now includes an expanded outdoor dining space with a beautiful pavilion. The menu features seasonal cuisine inspired by the area, influenced by the chef’s Italian expertise. And of course, you’ll also find local wine on the menu.