A different side of Napa Valley awaits those who venture off the beaten path. Indeed, many of the region’s most intimate experiences unfold from the front seat of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) ridding the rugged terrain that molds some of Napa’s finest wines. In an unpretentious setting, these small-scale, family-owned wineries offer a chance to get in touch with Napa’s rural roots and long-standing history, often while being guided by the owners themselves. Like a breath of fresh air, these wineries allow one to indulge in a more casual-paced and tailored-made Napa experience, so buckle up!
The Terraces Winery is unassumingly tucked off the Silverado Trail in the heart of Napa Valley. But beyond the front gates lie terraced vineyards and fruit orchards consisting of olives, pears, and apples, some of which are harvested to craft the winery’s popular Sparkling Apple Cider. This Rutherford property was purchased in 2001 by Timm and Sharon Crull, the winemaking couple dedicated to continuing the site’s 130-year farming legacy and sharing its incredible story with visitors.
The best way to experience their 120 acres of land is by way of ATV, bringing one up close to estate orchards, cork trees, bee colonies, a solar-powered mobile chicken coop, and the historic ghost winery dating back to 1885. Best of all, guests have the opportunity to step inside one of Napa’s only “acetaia” or vinegar house where the Crulls have been patiently aging balsamic vinegar in the traditional Modena style for the past twenty-four years, expected to release in 2021.
Following the exhilarating off-roading tour, guests are invited to relax on the property’s back deck where a sampling of current releases will be poured at leisure. The Terraces produces Napa Valley standards like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but also rare wines such as Riesling, Tempranillo, and Falanghina, a crisp white wine with Italian origins. “I enjoy meeting guests, sharing our wines with them, and connecting with our community,” said Sharon. “Either Timm or I try to meet nearly every guest, and we are a true, hands on, unpretentious family operation, with both of us doing cellar work, vineyard work, and hospitality.” The Terraces 4WDrive Tour and Tasting is a private experience available by prior appointment, $50 per person.
JERICHO CANYON VINEYARD
Off the beaten path by definition, Jericho Canyon is located off the narrow Old Lawley Toll Road in Calistoga and is home to a one-of-a-kind estate. Once a cattle ranch, Jericho Canyon was acquired in 1989 by Dale and Marla Bleecher, who had the foresight and grit to transform the rolling 135 acres into hand-terraced vine rows dedicated to Bordeaux’s main varieties.
Until 2001, the Bleechers sold their fruit to A-list wine producers, such as Ramey and Rudd, before releasing their own Jericho Canyon label. Their impressive wine collection is a collaboration between the founder’s son, Nicholas Bleecher and consultants, Aaron Pott and Michel Rolland, each bringing their expertise, passion, and genuine love of the vine to the mix. “We only use free run juice of our best fruit; if it’s not perfect we don’t bottle it,” said winemaker and general manager, Nicholas Bleecher, echoing the winery’s commitment to crafting distinctive wines that are true to the land.
Jericho Canyon offers a limited number of private wine tastings each day. Guests are invited to walk the expansive natural-rock caves that lie beneath the hillside Merlot vines before embarking on an ATV tour throughout the property (weather permitting). Savor a view of the steep-sloping vineyards from both an eastern and western perspective, before sitting down to a tasting of the Eastern Elevation and Western Elevation Cabernet Sauvignons, among others. Here, there are no itineraries to keep or a script to follow. Each tasting experience is customized to the specific party, making for a truly authentic Napa experience. Upon booking, guests may select the Current Release Tasting, $75 per person or the Library Tasting, $100 per person.
HEIBEL RANCH VINEYARDS
Heibel Ranch is a personal project of Trent Ghiringhelli, fourth generation Californian and grandson of George B. Heibel, the original owner of the family ranch in Pope Valley. In 1945, George B. Heibel purchased the historic Aetna Springs Resort, a once-popular summertime destination for vacationers from San Francisco and Hollywood in the late 19th century. Today, the property is sprawling with sequoia groves, two ponds, and an organic vineyard that is the very definition of “roads less traveled.”
Trent established his family winery in 2001, releasing its first vintage ten years later with the support of friends and family, including wife and wine industry veteran, Marion Blanchet Ghiringhelli. The vineyard specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah that go into small-production proprietary blends and a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, called “GBH” in honor of his grandfather. Reflecting Trent’s love for his family, each wine in fact is named after a paternal figure in his life; the resulting bottles are equally thoughtful as they are eye-catching.
While Trent only hosts a handful of guests each month, the lucky few are in for a treat. The 135-acre ranch is mountainous, with rolling stretches that demand a 4WD vehicle and a sense of adventure. Trent, along with 13-year old vineyard dog Chachi, deliver both as he personally drives guests around in his 1963 aqua-toned convertible Jeep Wrangler, fondly referred to as “sugar magnolia.” The tour wraps with a picnic of cured meats, fresh local cheeses, baguette, estate-grown olives, and of course, Heibel Ranch wines. “A visit to Heibel Ranch incorporates my vision to offer a laid-back setting which allows our guests to connect with the land, the wine, and the people behind it,” said Trent. “It allows them to break bread with the winemaker and discover the dreams, passion, and terrior behind each bottle.” The Back-Country Tour is available at select times throughout the week with an advanced reservation, $125 per person.