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The Best Wineries You’ve Never Heard of in Napa’s Final Frontier

Last to partake of the Napa hype machine, Chiles and Pope Valleys are a throwback to wine country in the ’70s.

Volker Eisele Family Estate, Chiles Valley.

 

Just east of Napa and over the Vaca Mountains, the usual tour bus route gives way to a place winemaker Trent Ghiringhelli calls “the Napa Valley time warp.” Chiles and Pope Valleys—a short drive east on Highway 128 from Rutherford or on Deer Park Road from St. Helena—are technically part of the Napa Valley wine country and AVA. But you won’t find bus traffic, grand winery facades, or other hallmarks of booming Napa. Instead, you get something much closer to wine country as it was in the ’70s and earlier: rolling expanses of hills and forests with nary a vineyard, restaurant, or tasting room. Even as Napa prices went gangbusters, land in Chiles and Pope remained cheap and mostly undeveloped for a long time, making these two valleys among the last places for wineries to expand—and for seasoned visitors to explore. Here are six of the best wineries to visit in Napa Valley’s final frontier.


Pope Valley

Winery: Heibel Ranch Vineyards 
Wine to try: sauvignon blanc, $28
What makes this place special: Owner and winemaker Trent Ghiringhelli offers back-country tours of Heibel Ranch in his convertible Jeep. Chachi, his pup, will join you as you journey through vineyards, over creeks, and to a picnic site where you’ll taste the wines and enjoy cheese, salami, olives, baguettes, and chocolate. While the crisp and tropical sauvignon blanc is perfect for the summer, you’ll likely find yourself stocking up on the savory, dark Lappa's Napa Valley Red. 

Heibel Ranch Vineyards, Pope Valley.

Winery: Clark-Claudon Vineyards
Wine to try: Estate cabernet, $84
What makes this place special: Like true Pope Valley naturalists, the Clark-Claudon family only planted 17 of their 115 acres, leaving the rest of the wilderness open for family and friends to explore. The shallow soils and hot weather here grow powerful, rich, earthy grapes that ripen early and yield complex and brooding wines. That said, the sauvignon blanc ($34) is all about acid, citrus, and pear—an all-around great summer find. The winery is dog friendly and offers walks, hikes, picnics and even a rustic cabin for overnighters. Die-hard cyclists may want to bring their bikes: The scenery’s beautiful and the rides are hard, with steep hills and challenging distances between wineries. Bonus: Napa Valley Aloft launches hot air balloon rides directly from the property. 

Winery: Parady Family Wines
Wine to try: Ore Cart cabernet sauvignon, $38
What makes this place special: The Paradys, a Napa Valley family now in its seventh generation, runs a tour that covers both the vineyards and a defunct 1874 hotel bar in Pope Valley. They’re gearing up to reopen the building—which has been closed for 50 years—as a restaurant, tasting room, and hotel. If you do the vineyard tasting, try the Ore Cart, an easy-drinking cabernet with refreshingly light alcohol, tart notes of plumb, earthy undertones, and just a touch of  boysenberry jam. If you have an extra hour to burn in town, take a spin through the family’s mining museum, which will make you feel like you've rolled the clock back 150 years. Phone only: (707) 592-7370


Chiles Valley

Winery: Volker Eisele Family Estate 
Wine to try: Gemini white blend, $25; Terzetto red blend, $75
What makes this place special: Tours and tastings are run by members of the Volker family, whose ancestors built the winery in the 1800s. If the timing is right, you’ll taste grapes, measure sugar levels, and learn how the soil, climate, and organic farming techniques influence the wines you’ll be sipping. Look to the white blend, Gemini, for a silky and delicate expression of Semillon and sauvignon blanc that’s refreshing despite its oak influences. Terzetto is an equal blend of cabernet, cabernet franc, and merlot—a balanced bomb of dark fruit, coffee, and smoke. 

Winery: Brown Estate 
Wine to try: Napa Valley Estate zinfandel, $45
What makes this place special: Brown Estates is famous for zinfandel and makes quite a few, so this is a top pick in Napa Valley for zin lovers. The hour-long tour includes a walk in the vines and a formal tasting at the vineyard’s stone and redwood barn, built in 1859. You’ll learn about family history and visit the estate’s Queen Anne Victorian home, as well as a wine cave that was blasted out of a solid granite hillside (they say it was "designed by dynamite"). The Estate Zin is complex like a syrah or even cabernet and is supple, unctuous, and silky, making for a complex wine that pairs especially well with BBQ.  

Winery: Somerston Estate 
Wine to try: Stornoway red blend, $115
Why this place is special: Somerston Estate chooses grapes from only the best of their vineyards and focuses on very small-production wines, which leads to high prices and very big, complex flavors. But a visit to this massive, wild, and mostly untouched 1,615-acre estate in the mountains is the kind of experience that will make you want to splurge on something special. You can do a buggy tour of the whole estate, picnic while you’re there, and even take photos with the grazing sheep. If you’re simply not in a position to spend big on Stornoway—a blend of merlot, cab franc, and petit verdot—go for the sauvignon blanc ($40), which is full of citrus and fruit but has impressive layers of complexity. 

 

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