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The Best Napa Valley Wineries You’ve Never Heard of, Part 2

Off the beaten path at Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, and Spring Mountain.


The wineries of Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, and Spring Mountain have received a lot of attention lately from lovers of cabernet sauvignon and seekers of small production wines. But in these mountains, many of the best spots are on winding, dead-end roads, making them impossible to find if you don’t know where to look. We’ve found three off-the-radar wineries in each of these popular AVAs that represent the best Napa’s mountains have to offer.

Summit Lake Vineyards & Winery has been making bold hillside wines since 1971, and is known for its zinfandel, petite sirah, and cabernet sauvignon. High above Napa Valley, this family owned and operated vineyard throws killer hillside cookouts and parties, and the wines are as intricate as their label designs. Expect mighty flavors and spices, which are perfect to drink now if you love muscular reds with a subtle side.

La Jota Vineyards was founded in the 1890s and achieved international recognition when it medaled in the 1900 Paris Exposition and won gold at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. The winery and its caves have stood since 1898, and its 28 mountain acres are planted with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. The wines are elegant, the land beautiful and forested, and the visiting experience a gentle blend of history and casual charm.

Arkenstone is an architectural marvel, but the family that owns and operates this winery behaves as though they’re welcoming guests to a modest cabin. Using innovative techniques such as concrete eggs for their sauvignon blanc—far before it became popular—its wines are expensive—and worth it. Just about any wine you open for guests will have them asking what the heck it is and where you found it.

Von Strasser Winery's story blends famous French winemaking and American entrepreneurship. While best-known for its intense but smooth mountain cabernet sauvignon, it has also received great praise for its grüner veltliner and zinfandel. Von Strasser’s wine makers lunches and summer BBQ are jovial and reasonably priced, and its cave experiences are intimate and paired with cheese or chocolate.

Dyer Straits’ sole focus on cabernet sauvignon yields an intensely gutsy yet silky cab with a long ride of evolving and complex flavors. Bill and Dawnine Dyer have over 80 years of combined winemaking experience, and have been getting the highest praise from cabernet-lovers of every level since the beginning. They planted Dyer vineyard in 1996, do everything by hand, and practice environmentally-friendly farming.

Diamond Creek Vineyards was founded in 1968 and is reported to be the first winery to exclusively plant cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley. Its property has four “distinctly different vineyards,” each with its own microclimate and soil: gravel, volcanic, red rock, and lakeside. The winery's impressive bottle beautifully demonstrate unique and foundational elements.

Vineyard 7&8 is a stunning, spare-no-expense palace of a hillside winey. From the posh but not stuffy tastings to the elegant labels and manicured vineyards, every last detail is attended to with care. The views and tasting options are first class, and their meticulously crafted chardonnay, estate cabernet sauvignon, and Correlation cabernet sauvignon are approachable and refined.

Smith Madrone also sits on a hillside with breathtaking views, but unlike Vineyard 7&8, it will give you a taste of the way Napa was in the old days. Casual and country, the bearded Smith brothers are about as friendly and easy going as they come. And while your experience here will be homey, feel free to get serious as these gents have been winemakers and enologists since the 70s, and know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to mountain vineyards.

Peacock Family vineyard is a simple, beautiful place with expansive views and wines that are close to impossible to find if you don’t know the family. With rich flavors of dark fruit and French oak, Peacock cabernet is a favorite for locals to bring to fancy dinners, give as gifts to serious cabernet lovers, and should be at the top of your list if you value cabernets of rarity and reputation.

Click here for part 1.


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