Many of 450 or so wineries in Napa Valley are too far off the beaten path for an easy day-trip from SF. But it might surprise you to learn how many of the best “off the beaten path” spots are actually only a stones throw away from the iconic wineries that line Highway 29. Here are a few new favorites:
Larkmead Vineyards is nestled at one of the narrowest points of the valley floor, surrounded on all sides by vineyards and mountains. It feels like you’re a million miles away from anything, but the truth is, you’re in between Calistoga and St. Helena and less than a mile of Highway 29. The vineyards are renowned, the winery is designed by famous architect, Howard Backen, and the wines are good enough that they forced me to re-organize my small wine fridge to make some room.
Frank Family is across the street from Larkmead and provides an educational, quirky and personal tasting experience. They make great wines (try the Cab) and are known for their customer service, meaning you’ll feel comfortable no matter what your level of wine education or interest may be.
Titus Vineyards, who make a great Zin to pair with BBQ, is a tiny place that looks more like a rustic, antique home (because it was) than it does a winery. This also makes it very easy to pass even when you’re looking for it. Titus is on the Silverado Trail (one of two main veins that run up the valley) and located just past a “busy” intersection that leads to Angwin, Calistoga or Highway 29 (trust me, you’ll still pass it the first time). Their wines are serious but their picnic table tastings and hospitality are laid back and relaxed.
Round Pond is right in the heart of Rutherford and hidden just behind Peju, Cakebread and the other grandiose wineries that line Highway 29. You’d never see it if you didn’t happen to turn onto Rutherford Cross Road, and even then it’s set back so far that you'd think twice before turning down the long driveway without a personal invitation (which is a good thing, because they’re appointment only). The view from their deck and their Friday night sunset parties are reason enough to go but the olive oils, flavored syrups (made from their fruits and used as mixers at resorts and restaurants in the Valley), big wines and enthusiastic hospitality definitely make it worth traveling 1.5 miles off the main road.
Gargiulo Vineyards is family-owned and operated and only slightly off the beaten path. It’s fun and casual but elegant and the wines vary from collectables to bottles that are ready to drink on the spot. Right in the center of Oakville, Garguilo has a deck/lounge with views of the valley, a flower garden that winds throughout the artistically designed property and guitars casually displayed inside that are available to play.
Keever Vineyards can be spotted from highway 29 and is less than five minutes up the hill from Yountville. Keever is also family-owned and operated and the sophisticated machines and processes they use from to vine to barrel to cave to customer parallel the quality of any in the valley. The view is beautiful, and the tasting room designed to be an extension of the family's home.
Swanson Vineyards is literally only a few feet off of highway 29, across from Peju on Manley Lane in Rutherford. This is a perfect place to go with a group if you want a very exclusive but fun, specialized, French-style Salon tasting paired with cheeses, chocolates and other treats. Sit and sip their Angelica (which is fantastic) in the shade in front of the cottage-like winery.