These Wineries Are Rethinking the Napa Valley Tasting Experience

From underground sanctuaries to horseback-led tours, these experiences offer more than the conventional tasting.

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At Hourglass, owners Jeff Smith and wife Carolyn Duryea are as thoughtful about the tunes as the wines.

Photo by Matt Morris

The winery tasting experience is so universal that you often know what to expect before you arrive: a row of glasses; a few pours; perhaps some cheese; a comment or two about aromas or tannins. But it doesn’t have to always be that way.

Several wineries in the Napa Valley are reimagining the experience. They’re offering tastings in unusual environments or matching them with ATV adventures, horseback rides, or unconventional food pairings. Here are some places that are rethinking the whole thing.

Jarvis Estate Winery (Napa)

The hills covered with native grasses and trees on Atlas Peak northeast of Napa are so beautiful that Jarvis Estate Winery owners Leticia and William Jarvis built underground to preserve the landscape.

For visitors, each step deeper into the dusty tunnels with parabolic curves and moody lighting, past curved bronze doorways, oversize casks, and metal tanks, builds intrigue. The sound of rushing water creates anticipation for the moment you arrive at an underground waterfall not far from the tasting room. Here, estate-grown Burgundian chardonnays, silky cabernet francs, and merlot blends are precise and full of personality.

RD Winery (Napa)

During most tastings, there’s a moment when the host says something like this sauvignon blanc is delicious with sushi—but you’re nibbling on a breadstick.

“Unless you experience it, it’s hard to imagine how those pairings would work,” says Mailynh Phan, CEO of RD Winery, Napa’s only Vietnamese-owned wine brand.

The winery’s pan-Asian Fifth Moon pairing menu matches varietals like grüner veltliner with green curry–dusted popcorn and rosé with spicy chilled melon soup. Pork bao complements both the tart red fruit in the RD zinfandel and the alluring Hundred Knot grenache. Whether you’re on the patio, or in the serene blue tasting room, you’ll come away with a new wine pairing inspiration.

Inglenook (Rutherford)

The journey up Inglenook’s long tree-lined front drive feels like a scene from a movie, which is not surprising given proprietor Francis Ford Coppola’s flair for dramatic scenes.

The winery, which produced its first vintage in 1882, is filled with his favorite things, including a collection of vintage movie viewers and the car from the film Tucker. A highlight is the Athenaeum—a library with Gothic vaulted ceilings that’s filled with books, music, art, and games.

Get cozy with some estate cabernet sauvignon to the sounds of vintage jazz recordings by Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong, or perhaps a 1964 João Gilberto and Stan Getz album. Don’t miss original paintings by Robert DeNiro Sr. and director Akira Kurosawa.

The Terraces (Rutherford)

A pink and green cow visible from the Silverado Trail is the only clue to the immersive wine, art, and nature experience that awaits at the Terraces, an estate winery tucked into the Rutherford hills. Co-owner Sharon Crull says an ATV is the best way to explore the 120-acre property, which includes cider orchards, art installations, and a historic stone building.

After a stop for a balsamic vinegar tasting that includes seeing the tiny wood casks where it’s aged, head back to the winery for husband Timm Crull’s estate hard apple cider made like champagne, plus wines that include a lush chenin blanc sourced from the prestigious Clarksburg region, a tropical tasting falanghina, and a violet-scented cabernet franc.

Two riders on horseback in a vineyard

Explore vineyards by horseback at Shadybrook Estate.

Photo by Suzanne Becker Bronk

Shadybrook Estate Winery (Napa)

When the founders of Shadybrook Estate Winery purchased the Rapp Ranch’s Bordeaux vineyard in 2016, they learned the property once bred award-winning racing and rodeo horses. That equestrian heritage continues today in a stable of 12 horses that take guests on trail rides past vineyards and old oaks.

After your dismount, the Ultimate Ranch Experience continues with aromatic Carneros pinot noir, a bright cabernet sauvignon with more acidity that reflects the Coombsville style, and a charcuterie board generous enough for a large group. You’re just 10 minutes from downtown Napa, but gazing out at the mountains you’ll feel a world away.

Hourglass (Calistoga)

After the 2020 Glass Fire destroyed their minimalist digs, Hourglass Winery owners Jeff Smith and wife Carolyn Duryea created an alfresco tasting salon amid sculptural burned-out trees called the Boneyard.

A stripped-down green Airstream is ringed by trees, a garden, and a grand dining table topped in malachite print tile. Smith, a rocker turned vintner, installed a modern turntable and vintage Klipsch speakers to play a diverse vinyl collection.

A textured wine like its Blueline Estate 36 vibes with the Clash’s London Calling, while the silkier Hourglass Estate cab might evoke the Marias’ Cinema. “The mystery of sound is much like the approach we take with our wines—an old-school/new-school effort to create dimension, richness, vibrancy,” says Smith.

Maria Hunt, a freelance journalist specializing in cultural stories around wine, food, design, and wellness, has written for Esquire, Dwell, Architectural Digest, the New York Times, Wine Enthusiast, and the Christian Science Monitor. She’s the author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne + Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter, 2009).
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