Spring is always a perfect time for a trip to the Napa Valley, but where to go can be daunting. Let’s face it, Napa is an expensive place, so if you’re going to spend money, you want to make sure it’s worth it. Here’s your cheat sheet to sound like an industry insider and plan the perfect 2-day or 2-week trip to wine country.
The Industry Insider Knows…
The best wineries do not have public tasting rooms (they often don’t even list their address online — it’s usually only a PO Box).
Hwy 29 is the main tourist lifeline that connects the outside world to the never-ending row of Napa’s big brand wineries. Look beyond the immediate winery driveways connecting the highway to their amusement-park-like parking lots and your glass will be rewarded with wines far more incredible than those “made-for-the-tasting-room-only Chardonnays”.
Behind those big brand wineries in Napa lie the secret cult wineries opening bottles of wine away from the chaos of tourist buses. Quiet and revered, an experience at one of these wineries will change you forever as you take in the magnificent surroundings and sip incredible wine.
There are two kinds of “Insider Wineries:”
- Wineries that are refined, cult, hidden and open only to existing members.
- Wineries that are refined, cult, hidden and yet easy on the attitude. You don’t have to be a member, just a really awesome and appreciative human being who loves exceptional wine.
The first kind of “Insider Wineries” make allocation-only wines for which you must sign up online and wait to be added as a member. Once added as a member, you can make a private tasting appointment. At the appointment you will meet with the owner or winemaker and sip on some truly special wines while walking through the vineyards. Some are even invited to join the winemaker in their private home.
The second kind of “Insider Wineries” are also allocation-only and are very protective of where their wines end up, but there’s an assumption that if you have their name and number then you must be an insider and someone of excellent taste. These are our favorite secret spots, where one phone call can get you in:
- Lamborn Family – 1984 Summit Lake Drive, Napa 925-254-0511
- Gargiulo Vineyards – 575 Oakville Cross Road, Napa, 707-944-2770
- Entre Nous Winery – 7688 St Helena Hwy, Oakville, 707-982-8000
- Arietta – 3468 Silverado Trail N, St Helena, 707-963-5918
- 750 Wines – 1224 Adams St, St Helena, 707-963-0750
There are other wineries in Napa where it’s a little tougher than just a phone call — this is where the wait lists come in — but just because you may not be a member yet, doesn’t mean you can’t impress your friends as you drive through wine country with some insider knowledge. Here are some of our favorite wineries to tell our friends about:
As you drive North along Hwy 29 and approach Robert Mondavi, look past the queue of cars waiting to get in and point to the rising hill above. This is the home of three of Napa’s most delicious Cabernet Sauvignons, all next to each other and the tourists have no clue!
- The Vineyard House – 1581 Oakville Grade Road, Oakville (Shhh, this one we can get you into – www.iknowthewinemaker.com)
- Harlan – 1580 Oakville Grade Road, Oakville
- Futo – 1575 Oakville Grade Road, Oakville
From Robert Mondavi you’ll continue north along Hwy 29, approaching the famed Opus One winery on your right, but this well-known winery is again not you’re looking for. Instead, we’re going to let you in on Napa’s greatest wine secret: Pritchard Hill. Never heard of Pritchard Hill? That’s OK, most haven’t. Wine Enthusiast put it best when they wrote: “The best grape-growing region in Napa Valley you’ve never heard of is Pritchard Hill.”
This hill is no ordinary hill, rather a very special (and secretive place) in Napa Valley. Wines from Pritchard Hill fetch $4,000-$10,000 per six pack at recent Sotheby’s auctions. Despite the fact that Pritchard Hill is probably the best wine growing region in California, the 16 wineries on the hillside fiercely protect its pristine location. ‘Pritchard Hill’ is rarely seen, if ever, on any wine label and only a very limited number of bottles are made available for sale to the lucky club members of each winery. The rest stay in the hands of the winemakers, owners and billionaire/celebrity investors.
- Colgin – 1581 Sage Canyon Road, St Helena
- Ovid – 255 Long Ranch Road, St Helena
- Bryant Family – 1567 Sage Canyon Road, St Helena
While you may not be able to get into every winery listed here, take solace that there are other ways you can get to this wine if you really want it. One of these ways is through me at I Know The Winemaker. It’s my pleasure to connect thirsty drinkers to amazing wine.
Happy wine country vacation!
Michelle Reeves is the owner of David Family Wines, a producer of Pinot Noir in California. She’s also a Co-Founder of iknowthewinemaker.com, helping people skip the wait list of allocation-only wineries. Forever the optimist, she believes every glass of wine we drink should be exceptional and wants to share the truly great wines of the world with everyone.