Editor’s Note: This guide to 10 of the best off-the-beaten-path and unique wineries to visit in Napa Valley is written by Winetraveler contributor and founder of Uncorked Adventures, Mark Aselstine. Mark has toured Napa extensively and offers his advice from the perspective of an industry professional and someone who has worked with many of the Napa Valley wine makers discussed below.

10 Lesser Known Wineries That Let You See the Real Napa Valley

Most Unique Napa Wineries | Vellum Wine Craft Napa Valley
Vellum incorporates a small percentage of Merlot in their Cabernet Sauvignon dominant red wines. In fact, just one row of Merlot is harvested each year from a gorgeous vineyard block in the St. Helena appellation. Image courtesy Vellum Wine Craft.

Vellum Wine Craft Napa

Vellum’s winemaker Karl Storchman is the assistant at Storybrook Mountain by day and combines with Jeff Mathy to produce Vellum Wine Craft. One of the few true startup labels in Napa, the pair raised money by signing promissory notes with friends and family and sourced fruit from Coombsville, well before it was popular. Largely because it was the cheapest spot in the valley to find fruit a handful of years ago.

If you’re looking for an intimate tasting, it doesn’t get much better than Vellum. You’ll see either Jeff or Karl pouring and then talking about their wines, the wider wine industry, the challenge of bootstrapping and much more.

Winetraveler Tip: Want to stay on a vineyard? Take a look at some of our favorite vineyard hotels in Napa and get updates on flight deals into San Francisco as they arise. if you’re a wine lover, consider signing up for the Grand Reserve MasterCard credit card. You’ll earn extra points at many of the wineries in California, as well as anytime you purchase wine at shops all over the world.

RELATED: The Napa Valley AVA – A Brief Summary and Regional Wine Guide

Benessere Vineyards Napa Valley Winery | Best Small and Boutique Napa Wineries
Benessere Vineyards. Image courtesy Art and Entertain Me, Photo captured by Yuri Krasov.

Benessere Vineyards

One of my favorite stories in all of Napa Valley wine, I think we’re all familiar with Trader Joe’s at this point and Benessere was the original $2 Chuck property. In the 80’s, the property went into a significant state of disrepair and the bulk wine company — Bronco Wine — bought the $2 Chuck name. They then started bottling the line of wines for Trader Joe’s. More recently, the property has had better ownership and it’s older vines and history offer an interesting take on Napa Valley fruit. Good Syrah and Sangiovese is still grown here where St Helena runs into the hills that separate it from Calistoga.

People’s Wine Revolution

Matt Reid is the winemaker at Benessere by day, but he also makes wine at People’s Wine Revolution. He started the brand for a simple reason: not even winemakers in Napa Valley can afford to open the juice they’re making all the time.

PWR offers a range of $18 wines and some of the best value in all of California. Like many small labels, Matt’s as likely to meet you at his house for a tasting, as he is at Benessere. Fruit is sourced from a variety of sources in Northern California.

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Bud Break at Emerson Brown Winery in Napa Valley | Unique Napa Valley Wineries for Wine Tasting
Bud break in Napa Valley. Image courtesy Emerson Brown Wines.

Emerson Brown Wines Napa Valley

Another winemaker personal project, Emerson Brown is the combined work of Vineyard 29 winemaker Keith Emerson and Round Pond winemaker Brian Brown. Both those properties are worth an appointment in their own right, but combining some of the best Cabernet fruit in Napa from Round Pond and perhaps the best gravity flow, geothermal powered production facility at Vineyard 29… makes the $75 price point seem low by Napa Valley standards.

Raj Patel Winery in Napa Valley | Lesser Known Napa Valley Wineries to Visit
Image courtesy CAWineClub.com.

Patel Winery

Raj Patel’s label that carries his name burst onto the scene a year or two ago when Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate bestowed a 94 point score on their Cabernet Sauvignon. Raj is a different kind of winery owner though, he still wasn’t exactly thrilled with the direction of the winery. So, he changed winemakers and convinced Luc Morlet to come on board and make his wine. The focus is on balance and the winery produces an outstanding Malbec, which is exceedingly rare in Napa Valley in addition to their Cabernet Sauvignon.

RELATED: 15 Tips To Plan The Perfect Wine Vacation

Best Small Napa Valley Wineries to Visit | Morlet Family Vineyards
The beautiful interior of Morlet Family Vineyards tasting room and small winery. Image courtesy Paul Kelley Architecture.

Morlet Family Vineyards

Luc Morlet is the aforementioned winemaker now for Patel, the winery that bears his name is his families project.  A 4th generation winemaker who was born in Champagne, he married the woman of his dreams, who happened to be from Sacramento and thus, ended up making wine in America. A decidedly old world bent on Napa fruit, they make a few wines outside of the regular Napa rotation like a varietal Cabernet Franc as well as a late harvest (ie dessert) Semillon.

Attune Wines in Napa Valley
The Attune House in Napa Valley. Image courtesy Uncorked Adventures.

Attune Wines Napa Valley

Carneros is the odd region that exists in both Napa and Sonoma, Attune offers one of the absolute classic spots to stay, if you can fork over the $2k per night for their 5+ bedroom chateau in the middle of their vineyard it’s one of the most memorable stays imaginable.  For the rest of us, the winery itself makes only a few hundred of cases per year, selling much of their fruit to others, but the Pinot Noir is exemplary and priced fairly for the region at under $50.

RELATED: 5 Up-And-Coming Wine Regions You Should Visit This Year

Visiting Larkmeade Vineyards in Napa Valley | Boutique Napa Wineries, low key wineries in Napa Valley
The Decantress tours and tastes at Larkmeade Vineyards in Napa Valley. She also offers a good perspective on her blog. Image courtesy Decantress.

Larkmead Vineyards

Perhaps the biggest name on this list, despite numerous incredible scores from critics in vintage after vintage, Larkmead hasn’t ascended into the consciousness in the same way that larger production places like Caymus have.  That isn’t to say these wines aren’t that good, they are every bit as good as more famous Napa addresses.  Stop by to taste in one of the most picturesque old farm houses in Napa Valley.

Also, check out some of the best deals on boutique, wine-themed and vineyard hotels available to stay at based on your travel dates.

Girard Winery Napa Valley Yountville
The Girard Winery tasting room in Yountville, Napa Valley. Image courtesy Girard Winery.

Girard Winery

Only now able to build a tasting room on their vineyard site, Girard offers a tasting room in the beautiful and restaurant centric walkable village that is Yountville.  Long one of the quality leaders for Sauvignon Blanc in the valley, well worth an hour of time as you look longingly across the street at French Laundry.

10 Off the Beaten Path Wineries Napa Valley | Prime Cellars Wine Napa Valley
Image courtesy Napa Wine Project.

Prime Cellars Napa 

Winemaker and owner (along with his wife, Lisa) Ted Henry spends his days making wine at Jarvis, but Prime is their family owned project with a small tasting room in downtown Napa. Downtown is undergoing a renaissance that doesn’t get enough press outside of the occasional earthquake and Prime offers a nice spot to enjoy an Oakville Cabernet and Chardonnay, in the style that originally made the Valley famous, while you contemplate new development and how it might affect agriculture as time goes by.


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