A trip to Napa can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned oenophile. There are more than 400 wineries to choose from and each offers multiple experiences that cater to all taste levels.
Eschewing the standard table tasting and vineyard tour where you might be sharing the day with a large group, there is another side of wine country that centers on those craving a bespoke journey with every sip. Follow our guide to see this exclusive side of Napa.
WHERE TO DRINK
If you have ever wanted to be a vintner, try this St. Helena vineyard’s Barrel Blending Experience. Not only will you taste your way through some of its extensive cabernet sauvignon portfolio, but you also will be able to craft your own wine, label it and take it home.
The 90-minute adventure is offered daily (twice per day on weekends) and allows you to dabble in varietals from Calistoga to Carneros — Conn Creek is one of the only wineries to source cabernet sauvignon grapes from nearly all of Napa Valley’s distinct appellations. This is an excellent way to start the day because it offers a quick education in the region’s 16 American Viticultural Areas.
If you’re on a mission to find the labels none of your friends know about, the best advice is to seek out small, unique producers, many of whom don’t have their own tasting rooms.
Nestled in the quaint town of Saint Helena, this quaint vino boutique takes pride in educating and exposing its consumers to cabernet sauvignons from cool, up-and-coming labels like Brilliant Mistake Wines and hard-to-find treasures like single-vineyard Hundred Acre.
Aesthetically, ACME showcases its bottles like a gallery, letting its inventory of micro-production wines shine. You most likely won’t find any labels here that you have heard of, but you will certainly enjoy the journey.
As a bonus, tastings are complemented by a well-appointed selection of charcuterie.
One of the lesser-known appellations, Coombsville only became recognized as a sub-AVA of Napa in 2011. Covert Estate is a crown jewel of this area, nestled into a hillside and resembling a Bond villain’s hideaway.
The stunning tasting room is designed like a grand living room with a low circular table, leather furniture and fur-covered décor.
No expense is spared in the presentation of these expertly crafted wines, a fitting tribute to this divine terroir, which is a perfect blend of elements from the volcanic ash to the cool blanket of fog that envelopes the area each morning.
The land is sustainably farmed and certified by Napa Green — an environmental certification program for vineyards and wineries proffering reduced waste, water and energy usage — resulting in limited-production, Bordeaux-style wines that are only available on a first-come, first-served basis.
WHERE TO EAT
When wine tasting, lunch is the most important meal of the day, making this St. Helena dining room is a must-visit. The cuisine is elegant and simple, the brainchild of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Restaurant at Meadowood’s acclaimed chef, Christopher Kostow.
Start off with vegetables from the garden before progressing to the monthly rotating selection of chicken wings (normally a collaborative affair with another culinary group) and then finishing off with the main event, the cheeseburger and fries.
If you are in the mood to stay in the vineyards, indulge in this ultra-exclusive lunch at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from chef Travis Westrope. This event starts off with an extensive tour of the property and cellar before concluding in a private dining room for 12, unfolding over more than two hours.
Westrope shows off the delicate and laborious winemaking process employed by Stag’s Leap through the engaging flavors and aromas of a four-course meal. Some favorites include tri-tip pierogi Wellington and duck confit with black grape, wild mustard, red spinach and yuzu.
New on the scene in Yountville, this latest venture from acclaimed toque Thomas Keller opened in January, bringing a south-of-the-border flavor to his repertoire.
Helmed by chef de cuisine Kaelin Ulrich Trilling, the kitchen churns out must-try plates like queso fundido (cheese dip with chorizo), enchiladas de mole negro con pollo (chicken enchiladas in a black mole sauce) and camarones al mojo de ajo (shrimp sautéed in roasted garlic and wilted garden greens).
To promote the rich winemaking culture found in Mexico, La Calenda offers a number of labels from the country. The restaurant also partners with the Mexican-American Vintners Association, a nonprofit in Napa Valley that collaborates with Latino vintners and winemakers to curate an authentic wine list.
WHERE TO STAY
For a stay that matches a day of bespoke imbibing experiences, check in to this Four-Star retreat. Located about 20 minutes from the action of Yountville, the tucked-away hotel is between Sonoma and Napa counties and offers an even deeper respite from the already mellow pace of the region.
The 28-acre property boasts a farmhouse-chic vibe with plenty of lush walking trails and stunning vineyard views, especially from the picture-perfect hilltop pool.
After exploring the campus, be sure to indulge in some classic California cuisine at Four-Star FARM — the housemade pastas are a must.
If you’d rather stay closer to to Thomas Keller’s other renowned restaurants like Bouchon Bistro and Five-Star The French Laundry, check into Four-Star Bardessono, an eco-friendly property spread throughout five acres in Yountville.
The boutique hotel offers all-suite accommodations with fireplaces, outdoor living areas and roomy tubs.