I love drinking with club members at wineries I have never visited before. In addition to the extra pours you can stumble your way into, you hear crazy stories about the winery or owner’s background that approach the level of urban legend. I happened to have one of those experiences at Robert Sinskey. Have you ever had to settle a debt with someone before without using cash? I have, but it certainly did not include 42+ acres of prime Napa real estate!! When I heard this story, I pictured the $100M Poker Tournament in Montenegro from the movie Casino Royale. Does that mean Robert Sinskey Sr. is James Bond? Who knows… What I do know is that starting in 1988, he began to assemble what is now 200 acres producing 9 grape varieties all around northern California. And while their estate vineyard and winery is in the Stags Leap District, because they hold land in seven Carneros locations, it is one of the rare Napa estates where you can find plenty of Pinot Noir to taste! So if it’s too hot outside for Cabernet, stop by and relax for a while at Robert Sinskey!

I make no effort to hide the fact that Kapcsandy is one of my favorite wineries in the Napa Valley. But I also recognize that most people, including myself, can’t afford to drink a $300 bottle on a weekly basis. Enter Goosecross Cellars. The literal next-door neighbor to Kapcsandy on State Lane Road. I had to stop by for a tasting and see if it compared (and at what fraction of the price). Although it doesn’t have the brand name recognition nor 100 point scores of its neighbor, it does produce wines that improve each year. Once its vines reach maturity, who knows what’ll happen. It’s definitely a place I’ll be keeping my eye on as future vintages come and go.

WALT Wines is the sister winery of HALL Wines. HALL wines is the more famous of the two, having two locations in Napa and producing many high scoring, award winning Cabernet Sauvignons. But WALT Wines is no slouch, producing many great wines from AVAs in both California and Oregon. It’s more accurate to think of WALT as the Chardonnay/Pinot Noir branch of HALL Wines than as a little sister winery. And if you love the pronounced, fruit forward style produced by HALL, you are going to love the wines coming out of WALT. Many people in the region do as the winery is consistently packed with visitors. So while walk-in tastings are welcome, you may want to make a reservation to make sure you get a table!

Auteur Wines is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of Sonoma. In fact, as of this writing, I think there are only 10 reviews on Google. Many of the places that I rave about in reviews already have a strong reputation, but this is one of those wineries where the members hope that it remains in stealth-mode forever so that they don’t have to share allocations with anyone else. And I understand their feelings - the wine coming out of Auteur is almost too good to be true, but there is never enough of it. If you want to beat others to the punch on some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot coming out of Sonoma, hurry there for a tasting and sign up for one of the last membership slots. The only thing you may regret is that you can only get one allocation per household and that might not be enough…

Hanzell Vineyards is the most comprehensive farming tour I have ever received from any vineyard. And I am very grateful for that experience. Every single detail about the vineyard and wines have layers upon layers of thought to them. Almost as if a team were given a crazy engineering problem and they iterated with many different tools to get the balance of everything just right. It’s one thing to discuss the philosophy of Organic farming. It’s another to implement it meticulously and be able to explain all of your decisions. If all you want is a wine tasting, you certainly get that too, but if you come with a thirst for knowledge, you will significantly enjoy all that Hanzell has to offer. High class wine that comes with an even better experience.

Walking around the different wine bars in 850 Bordeaux Way is like being Charlie in the Chocolate Factory; sampling all of the different types of wines and hearing their stories leading to wine overload (theoretically). Cornerstone is another winery that has a couple of tasting venues (their other is in the town of Napa), but not a large estate to visit and tour. If you are looking for decent Cabernets for under $100, Cornerstone will fit in your category, but I recommend going after their Rhone blends instead which deliver outsized value for their modest $30 price points. That and you’ll also be able to take an Instagram photo like everyone else holding their empty Melchior-sized bottle.

If you asked me to name one person in Napa who has a truly inspiring story of achieving his or her dreams, Rolando Herrera is one of the first names that comes to mind. From immigrating to California from Mexico at age 15, to washing dishes at night while in High School, to starting at the bottom as a harvest laborer at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, to eventually making it to Cellarmaster, to winemaking at Vine Cliff and eventually becoming Director of Winemaking at Paul Hobbs Consulting (Paul Hobbs is a very famous name in the wine world), Rolando has always made the best of his situation and continued to grow. It is only natural that he started his own label (Mi Sueno means “My Dream” in Spanish) with his wife Lorena and continues to tackle new challenges. The wine quality is excellent and well worth the visit. It’s so good that you’ll forget about the fact that you aren’t at some grand estate. Heck, I didn’t even remember to take a picture! But I did remember to buy some wine…

Many of the wineries I taste at, even the ones I love, will focus on a price range and ensure that their brand and products align with their targeted market. As a consumer, it is common to find that as you continue your wine journey, you will graduate off brands and prices as your means and your tastes evolve. At least, that’s what my friends continue to tell me (and sometimes blame me for, haha). I love places like Clos Du Val because they offer a range of products across the price spectrum, enabling you to grow into their portfolio. Not to mention the winery is beautifully clean/classic/chic, the hospitality is great, the wine quality is high, and they are built to drink now or age. Just a great, holistic wine tasting experience.

Everyone has those days when they prefer to interact with as little people as possible and aren’t in the mood for taking Instagram-worthy photos. On those days, they want to settle at home and drink good wine that doesn’t ask too much from them in terms of analyzing and appreciating complexity. But for those that don’t have good wine lying around at home, you can just make an hour drive to Rocca Family Vineyards and settle down there instead. The Hospitality Manager will serve you good, enjoyable wine and you may even pick up a few high QPR bottles to bring home with you like me (HINT: Get the Syrah). Just relax and enjoy your day off.

Imagine you own 3,800 acres of pristine land in wine country and had the resources to hire world-class experts in every aspect of the winemaking process. Now open your eyes. You aren’t standing in front of Screaming Eagle, Harlan, or any other big name in the cult world today. You are standing in front of Kenzo Estates. Established by Kenzo Tsujimoto in the mid-1990s, this estate is the equivalent of the Royal Palace of Oz in from a fantasy wine novel… You know I love it since I am posting nine pictures of our tour and tasting there! It is quite a drive outside the town of Napa (both to its gates and then from its gates to the winery itself), but well worth it. If the pictures aren’t enough to entice you, how about these names: Heidi Barrett, David Abreu, and Thomas Keller (assuming you get the food pair option). The style of wine is very different from its Napa brethren (much more elegant with herbal notes) but carries similar price tags to the best. But as 80% of the wine is exported and consumed in Japan, don’t expect much availability in the market.