If your heart sinks when you pull into a winery parking lot and see a football field-sized parking lot crammed with tour buses belching exhaust, you may be tempted to give up on Napa altogether. That would be unfortunate, because the old Napa is still there, you just have to hunt a little harder — and get off the major highways — to find it.
Tucked into side valleys and terraced into the surrounding hills, Napa still has lots of small, family-owned and boutique wineries. And thanks to the advent of green farming initiatives, many of these smaller vineyards have introduced sustainable farming practices.
Some family-owned wineries are small enough that visits are by appointment only, but don’t be put off by that. Make a quick call, and you’re likely to have the memorable experience of sampling boutique wines that never make it to the shops. You might even be treated to a discussion of the wines’ character from the folks responsible for creating it. Here are a few of my favorites:
Honig – Tasty sauvignon blanc and cutting-edge green practices like owl breeding for rodent control.
Ehlers Estate – Worth making an appointment to taste these biodynamic cabs and merlots.
Palmaz - An appointment gets you a private tasting and tour of the maze of caves that extends under Mount George, a relic of this pre-prohibition historic winery.
Pina Cellars – Look for the rusty tractor with the sign hanging off it, and you’ll know you’re in the right place.