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The Five Best Wineries You’ve Never Heard of in Oakville

From a down-to-earth vineyard where you can bring your dog to a special-occasion splurge, Oakville has it all.

 

Oakville is something of a wine country paradox: It draws the largest crowds of newbies, yet it’s also a favorite among tourist-fleeing Napa aficionados. The reason this little AVA can seemingly do the impossible? It’s home to tourist magnets Mondavi and Silver Oak as well as some of the valley’s best-kept secrets. With apologies to the keepers of these secrets, here’s our guide to five of the best unsung wineries in Napa Valley’s most-visited appellation. 

Winery: Saddleback Cellars 
Wine to try: Chloe’s Blend, $45
What makes this place great: Even though Nils Venge, the winemaker behind Saddleback Cellars, is the guy who made the first 100-point wine from Napa Valley, this vineyard at the end of a dirt road is as down to earth as wine country gets. Bring your kids and your dogs, hang out at the picnic benches, wander around the winery, and taste through their extensive lineup of well-made, earthy, and flavorful wines. Chloe’s Blend is the perfect wine for cabernet lovers or just anyone who loves a good red blend. It’s got the bold and pushy personality of a Napa cab with the subtle and juicy delicacy of a merlot. 
To reserve a table or book a custom tasting, call for a reservation.

Winery: B Cellars 
Wine to try: 2014 Blend 23, $39
What makes this place great: Hit B Cellars on a nice day to take advantage of the winery’s lush grounds, ample outdoor seating, hikes, and group excursions. We recommend the Oakville Trek ($60), in which your host gives you a glass of wine and takes you on a walk through the culinary gardens, winemaking facilities, and wine caves, before you sit down for a pairing of seasonal bites (prepared last-minute and therefore a surprise) with their flagship and reserve wines. If you’re hungry, go for the Chef’s Garden Pairing ($135), a hearty, four-course meal of dishes from the garden, beef from local farms, and California fusion dishes designed to complement the wine. Don’t leave without trying Blend 23—it’s a really fun, citrusy, food-friendly white that will please everyone.
By reservation only; up to 12 people per group (prices are per person).

Photo courtesy of Cardinale

Winery: Cardinale 
Wine to try: cabernet sauvignon, $250
What makes this place great: Perched on a hill overlooking the vineyards of Oakville, Cardinale is an impressive place for a special occasion. It looks like a historic manor or castle perched on a knoll in the middle of the valley. Very much the opposite of Saddleback, this winery makes only one wine per year—winemaker Christopher Carpenter even goes so far as to compare the wine and tastings to a symphonic composition. Carpenter takes the best fruit from his vineyards in Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, and Mount Veeder to create each annual release of this massive, balanced, silky cab with flavors of black cherry, bittersweet chocolate, sweet vanilla, and earthy spice. If you don't want to blow $250 to take home a single bottle, Cardinale offers wallet-friendlier wines from other estates. Right now they've got a limited-quantity sauvignon blanc for $50 a pop. Reserve a tasting in the grand hall or opt for a cozy nook with a deck. Wherever you go, you’ll get a view.    
Tasting fee: $75. By reservation only.

Winery: Gargiulo 
Wine to try: Aprile, $60
What makes this place great: Judging from this reservations-only winery’s cryptic website, you might expect Gargiulo to be stuffy. But this family winery is quite down to earth and, dare we say, rock and roll (there are guitars on display and even a full recording studio). The wines are spicy, deep, brooding, bold—and pricey. But Gargiulo does have some more accessible wines, like the cab-sangiovese blend Aprile. It’s aggressive in attitude and flavor but also dusty, smooth, and drinkable right now. Plus, sitting on the terrace and staring out at the vineyards from a location that few get to visit has a way of making you more willing to open your wallet. 

Winery: Rudd 
Wine to try: Samantha’s Cabernet, $100
What makes this place great: One of the more influential families in Napa Valley, the Rudds are known for their kindness, business savvy, and hard-to-find, world-renowned wines. Rudd may not be rock and roll like Gargiulo or laid back like Saddleback, but the winery is grand yet welcoming, with verdant grounds dotted with ponds. You might run into the owners’ daughter Samantha (Sam), who’s everywhere from the vineyards to the office as she learns to fill her parents’ shoes. So it fits that Samantha’s Cabernet is youthful and fun yet also complex and full of promise.
By reservation only.

 

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