Right now there are over 600 wineries in Napa and Sonoma, with a vast majority of those in Napa Valley. Napa and Sonoma are in many ways a Disneyland for oenophile’s, and rightfully so. Though with so many options it is easy to be overwhelmed.
When faced with this dilemma, my wife and I relied heavily on local knowledge, which was great for creating a very personal experience. The wineries below we discovered based on the simple question of “what type of wine do you like to drink?” We answered with “a good Cabernet, Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay” and the rest is history.
4,000 feet above sea level with vineyards tucked into a mountain, the journey to Cain is not easy. We zigzagged for twenty minutes on a two-lane road up the mountain and upon arrival were warmly greeted by the Cain staff. Anna and I had the pleasure of touring the winery with its winemaker, Chris Howell. Chris studied his craft in Bordeaux and was sure to emphasize the role of terrior (the “earth”) in the wines, which shows in the finished product. Cain only makes three wines, but each is unique in its own way. My favorite is Cain Nuvee, which is a blend of two varietals of grapes (mostly Merlot and Cabernet, but finished with a little Malbec, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot) that is surprisingly light in contrast to Cain Five, which is big and bold on flavors. I wouldn’t say no to either, and be sure to try Cain Concept.
Set in a nondescript lodge just off of Silverado Trail near St. Helena, Failla is known for making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and for a good reason! Failla’s vineyards in Sonoma provides its grapes with the benefit of cooler temperatures that result in fruit forward Pinot Noir (lots of cherry and raspberry) and Chardonnay with a hint of oak matched with tones of lemon, green apple, and chalk. These wines can pass for those in Burgundy, but don’t be fooled and feel free to brag about these gems from California.
Founded and ran by a husband and wife who were former lawyers (so awesome), Acorn prides itself on natural and sustainable winemaking, with an emphasis on old-world varietals (i.e. Sangiovese, Zinfandels, etc.). Besides having a blast just hanging out and talking with the owners, the wines are not to be missed. Anna and I took home their Sangiovese and Zinfandel, but their Cab Franc, Syrah, and Medley are not to be overlooked. The best part about these wines – $30-60 per bottle. You can walk away with a lot of high quality wine at incredibly reasonable prices.
I’m sure that sooner or later this winery will be highly profiled in Food & Wine or Bon Appetite – the variety and quality of these wines in Sonoma are superb. Much like Failla, the focus at Arista is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but I found the dark horse of the group to be their Zinfandel. Dark fruits (plums and blackberries) compliment red fruits (cherries and currants) beautifully, and is a joy to drink. Actually, it is too easy to drink. Personally, I can’t wait to have my bottle with a roast come the fall.
Another winery that not a lot of people have heard of but I think it’s intentional. Located just south of St. Helena and close to the Culinary Institute of America, Vineyard 29 separates itself not based on the varietals it offers but the winemaking process itself. For instance, have you heard of transporting wines via gravity? Me neither – but Vineyard 29 does and the 100% Cabernet is mind-blowing. Like, please take my money good. Your credit card might be angry with you, but you will thank yourself later.