Hot Spots

What Not to Do in Napa Valley

by Christina Henry

Don't…
Fall for corporate marketing

Yes, you've heard of Mondavi, and of course there's Beringer, Domaine Chandon, and Francis Ford Coppola. These estates, with their fluttering flags, gracious fountains, and blooming gardens are opulent, beautiful…and jam-packed on a daily basis with tour buses. Remember that tranquil vision you had of sipping a rare crisp white on a breezy terrace and chitchatting with the vintner who made it? You won't find it among the hordes of camera-toting tourists. And you didn't come to wine country to buy the same bottles you can get at your local liquor store.

Instead…
Discover a few family-run operations

More often than not, you'll learn more and get more personal attention at smaller, less famous wineries. An under-the-radar family-run favorite, Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga has gorgeous gardens, picnic tables, and a hospitable tasting room run by charismatic wine guru Dennis Zablosky. Not far away, in Rutherford, the playful, refreshingly unpretentious Frog's Leap (pictured) rewards visitors with tastings on its shaded wraparound porch overlooking the vines (call ahead, but they're very accommodating). And if you're really serious about your grape juice, consider hiring a wine specialist, such as Jackie Richmond, who can get you into wineries that aren't ordinarily open to the public.

Next: The lowdown on Napa's casual side >

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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