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 winemakers discussed below.
10 Lesser-Known Wineries That Let You See the Real Napa Valley
Fantesca Estate & Winery
”Sexy, Smart, and Unpretentious,” might be some of the best ways to describe Fantesca Winery. A 53-acre piece of land was purchased in 2004 by winemaking couple Susan and Duane Hoff with a 10-acre vineyard already on the property. Since then, they have honed their style to something special.
Personal, professional, and exceptional are all words frequently used by visitors to describe their experiences on this stunning property. From the quality of the wine, to the interaction you can expect with the staff, you won’t leave this winery disappointed.
Note that visits to Fantesca must be made by reservation-only and are considered to be unique and private. Enquire ahead of time here to book your experience!
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. Separately, save yourself the hassle of planning and driving, and consider booking a privately guided wine tour experience in Napa with concierge service.
If you’re interested in experiencing Napa Valley with an expert guide or driver, you can find a number of our highly recommended tour options below.
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.
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’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.
Morlet Family Vineyards
Luc Morlet is the aforementioned winemaker now for Patel, the winery that bears his name is his family’s 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 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.
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 farmhouses 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.
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.
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.