For many, Napa evokes images of bumper-to-bumper traffic and elbow-to-elbow wine tastings at $50 apiece. Forget all that.
While that may be true of some Napa wineries, a new generation of boutique tasting rooms and renegade, small-lot winemakers known as ‘garagistes’ offers a different taste.
Tank Garage Winery
There’s something inherently Americana about an old, abandoned gas station. And that’s exactly what James Harder had been looking for when he spotted a 1930s garage in Calistoga, at the northern tip of the Napa Valley.
Inspired by the original garagistes of Bordeaux, who really did make wine in garages, he and business partner Jim Regusci launched Tank Garage Winery as an alternative to Napa’s fustier, fussier tasting rooms.
The interior, from the white-and-spearmint gas pumps to the layered copper tones of the ‘speakeasy’, is an Instagram dream.
They source grapes from various vineyards to create limited edition, small-batch blends poured and sold exclusively in the refurbished gas station and through the wine club.
Unusual bottles include California Stroke, produced from skin-fermented white grapes. They also released 500 cases of Chrome Dreams, a traditional Napa blend in a not-so-traditional bottle.
It’s chromed, as the name suggests, and bears a wing motif evocative of classic American automobiles.
The Crusher District
Imagine visiting several wineries without driving or causing your pedometer to explode. You can in the Crusher District, where rebel winemakers have teamed up to offer a funkier, more personal tasting experience.
Next door to the luxurious Meritage Resort & Spa, home to Trinitas Cellars wine cave, around a dozen wineries are dotted around the sprawling industrial estate south of downtown Napa. Most are appointment-only aside from the quarterly ‘wine hopper weekends,’ where one fee covers tastings at all the wineries.
For a truly immersive experience, The Wine Foundry has tank-side tastings, wine-blending classes and ‘crush camps,’ for hands-on (and feet-on) oenophiles.
Nothing to do with the crinkly cabbage (but just as hip), Kale Wines are handcrafted from grapes planted in vineyards around north California.
It’s very much a family operation. Winemaker Kale Anderson works alongside wife Ranko, with two sons and a chocolate labrador, Duke, never far away.
Their punchy Rhone blends and subtle, honeyed rosés can be sipped at The Wine Thief, opposite Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. You can also book private tastings, with pours paired with local cheeses and lavender honeycomb.
Durant & Booth
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The perfect #napavalley picnic. ~ ~ ~ | #Repost @lisadieder ・・・ Stopped at the perfect picnic spot on the drive from St. Helena to Napa! @Oakvillegrocery is cheap & cheerful, and of course there is a winery next door for the perfect cheeseboard pairing 🧀🍷👌🏼 @durantandbooth // @visitnapavalley #durantandbooth
Casually elegant with a dash of whimsy, this chichi tasting room – tucked off the Saint Helena Highway in Oakville – has crystal chandeliers, brocade armchairs and a floor-to-ceiling library of wines. A mezzanine level has cabinets stuffed with curios, and is home to a stuffed peacock called Gorgeous George.
Downstairs, bow-tied Brian Allard tops up glasses with small-production pinot noir and atypical Napa blends like the Blanc – chardonnay with grenache blanc and roussanne. The labels are hand-marbled with colors reflecting each wine’s aromas.
Pop into Oakville Grocery, next door, to stock up on doorstop sandwiches, huge salads and chocolate-coated cherries, which patrons can devour on the winery’s sun-speckled back terrace.
*This article was originally published in November 2017.