The first time I visited Napa Valley was in a red Volvo convertible my older cousin drove from Oakland to Calistoga. I remember thinking at the time how there was a grand sense of adventure to the whole thing, an idea speedily forming in my mind with each passing mile that we were traveling someplace magical.
The little car whipped around a bend of the road, a sign announced we’d made it to Napa Valley and the highway was at once embraced by a postcard-worthy vista of grapes growing neatly on their vines. Everywhere the colors were brighter—blue skies bluer, green hillside greener, sunshine shinier; it was like the world had let out a beautiful sigh over Northern California and from mother nature’s own breath formed this place of unearthly goodness and wine.
I know not everyone can just hop in a car and take a last-minute trip up the California coastline à la Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church in Sideways, so for those unable to visit wine country anytime soon, I feel ya and offer this temporary fix of 10 Napa Valley wineries to follow on Instagram that will bring a satisfying taste of the grape life to your feed. Though fair warning, you might want to pour yourself a chilled glass of Chardonnay before finishing the post … Cheers!
2. @cain_vineyard_and_winery – The only reason I happened to find myself tasting wines at Cain Vineyard & Winery was because my cousin (see convertible reference above) got herself on some fancy wine list and so the good people of Cain let me inside. And once they opened their elegantly etched wooden cellar door to me, wine tasting—nay life—was never the same again. Perched atop a crest in the Spring Mountain District of Napa, Cain is best known for its three Cabernet blends: Cain Cuvée, Cain Concept, and Cain Five. To sit in their floor-to-ceiling windowed tasting room overlooking the bowl of vines below is to feel yourself an unworthy queen ruling over a life so good it might not even be real. Then you take another sip and it is, it really, really is …
3. @cakebreadcellars – A family affair from vine to glass, Cakebread Cellars is a celebration of the sweetest, warmest varietals Napa has to offer. Their motto, a tribute to both the year the winery was founded and its aura of warmth and welcome, was spoken by founder Jack Cakebread and pretty much says it all: “One heartbeat, since 1973.”
4. @whiterockvineyards – White Rock’s impeccable wines are made “with a focus on balance, complexity, concentration and ageability,” explains the vineyard. The story goes that in 1870, Dr. Pettingill, a bombastic Napa character who was also a dentist/brewer/horsebreeder/winemaker (but aren’t we all?) built the winery in the southern foothills of Stag Leap’s range. Years later, Henri Vandendriessche, a Berkeley University economics major of Northern French descent, met then fell in love with a woman named Claire; the two soon decided they’d revive the winery together to its old 1870s glory. The starry-eyed duo got to work making a wine cellar out of century-old white rock quarried from the property and thus, out of the embers of true love and ancient grapevines grew what is today known as White Rock Vineyards.
5. @fantescawine – There isn’t more to say about Fantesca Wine than this: Fantesca’s resident winemaker, Heidi Barrett, has received five 100-point scores on her wines by major industry critics, and has subsequently been dubbed “the first lady of wine” and “the Queen of Cult Cabernet.” Heidi, I bow down to you (and then I drink your wine).
6. @vsattui – V. Sattui Winery bottles its wine with strong, pungent notes of history. In 1885, Vittorio Sattui founded the vineyard after emigrating from Genoa, Italy. One long prohibition later and his vines grew dormant until 1976 when his great-grandson, Dario, resurrected V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena, CA. Hailed one of the largest small-batch, small lot wines in Napa, V. Sattui produces wines with a flavor as deep and rich as the history of the vineyard itself.
7. @cornerstonenapa – In the wise words of Cornerstone Cellars Owner Mike Dragutsky: “Each of our wines expresses the essence of vineyard, variety and vintage, which combine each harvest to create something never to be exactly repeated.” In the not-so-wise words of Melissa: “They allow dogs!” Besides the sophisticated, artisenal wines, which of course are a big deal, Cornerstone Cellars is so dog-friendly it even hosts events for the Napa Human Society. Saving pups while drinkin’ handcrafted vino? IN.
8. @cliffledevineyards – The three most important things to know about Cliff Lede Vineyards: 1. The place was established in 2002 when a Canadian-born Bordeaux enthusiast named Cliff Lede bought a sixty-acre plot in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley but today the vineyard has been expanded to include 25,000 square feet of winery goodness as well as an intricate cave system that weaves through the hillside . 2. Lede meant business and hired viticulturist—I’ll save you the dictionary.com look-up and tell you a viticulturist is an expert in the scientific study of grapes and their cultivation, especially for making wine—named David Abreu to take the vine-shaped reigns at Cliff Lede. 3. Vineyard blocks are named by Lede after his favorite rock songs and albums, which in a twist of air-guitar-awesome fate, means you could be tasting wine made from blocks called “My Generation” or “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
9. @chmontelana – When all the cool kids of 19th century Napa Valley were making their wineries out of wood, Chateau Montelena Founder A.L. Tubbs decided, like a castle-creating boss, to construct his from stone. Built with due drama into a hillside of Calistoga, the Chateau Montelena, is described as resembling “an English Gothic castle gatehouse complete with rusticated stone walls, battlement with crenels and merlons, narrow arched windows, large arched door in the place of a portcullis, and bartizans with faux arrow slits.” Because really, what’s a Napa Valley winery without bartizans, battlement and faux arrow slits? Nothing I tell ya, absolutely nothing.
10. @kuletoestate – Don’t be fooled that I listed this winery last. To ascend the winding road up to Kuleto Estate—a path so narrow only one car can fit up or down at a time and you must receive a radio OK by the Kuleto folks to even attempt the journey—is to ascend toward the closest thing to wine perfection you might ever taste, see, smell and feel. Because Kuleto is an experience to rock the very vino-loving core of you, a smorgasbord of awe-inspiring vineyard views seen across 761 acres of billowing hillside high above Napa Valley’s Eastern terrain. I’d best describe this place as a fairy tale winery, except where happily ever after doesn’t end with a kiss from a prince or a ride off into the sunset but with award-winning wine and perfectly paired cheese. And wine. Lots and lots of wine. Ah Kuleto, Napa Valley dreams do come true.