My friends want it all when they come to the wine country. They want to visit all their favorite places but grumble when they’re left with little or no time to discover new things. They want to try limited production wines, brands and varietals their friends haven't heard of, but don’t want to spend the extra bucks on random picks at restaurants or drive to the far reaches of the valley. In the past, my answer to their plights was simply: "Visit more often and stay longer." But there is another solution: Winery collectives and downtown tasting rooms.
Silenus Vintners is a collective that's a highly personal, “multi-winery operation." This means that winemakers and vineyard owners collaborate and produce their wines together at Silenus and the tasting room to pour and sell. You'll get to try over 30 wines from 18 different producers (not all wines available at all times) with no drive time in-between. With a diverse group of winemakers comes a diverse group of wines that range from big, complex, Napa reds like Poem Cellars to tasty, unusual finds like Due Vigne Dolcetto or Nebbiolo. This way you can visit your favorites, try some unusual new things and still be able to fit in a picnic or lunch or whatever else suits your fancy.
I also highly-recommend Napa Wine Company, a much larger collective, whose facility is used by over 60 brands that produce over 150 wines each year. Though you wont necessarily have the same kind of personal experience that you can expect of Silenus (winemakers/owners running around working, pouring and helping each other), you’ll have the opportunity to try lots of super premium brands, like Pahlmeyer, and hip limited-production wines that are featured on a rotating menu to keep things interesting.
A stop at Silenus and/or Napa Wine Company saves a lot of time and exposes you to new, hard to find, wines, but if you're in no rush, there are other collectives to try as well. Two of my favorites are Ma(i)sonry Napa, which is a great place to chill, check out some artwork, and taste from a wide selection of wines and Vintners Collective in Downtown Napa, which has a relaxed atmosphere, a sharp and trendy feel, and many top-notch and small production brands.
If you’re looking to fit a few more wines into your day or weekend in Napa, spend some time downtown. Within about a 10-minute walking radius you’ll find wineries (20 Rows), tasting rooms (X Winery), wine shops with tasting bars, wine events and parties (Backroom Wines) and restaurants with reasonable deals by the glass or bottle (Bounty Hunter). You can also fit a lot more in and skip the traffic. You can even stay late and kick back at one of these late-night wine country hangouts. Alternately, if you want to try thousands of different wines from all over in one or two days without leaving San Francisco, check out Vintners Market.