The winery visiting experience in California’s Napa Valley — an ever popular tourist draw — is getting a shake-up. A spate of new wineries in innovative spaces promise to offer guests a visit unlike the traditional group tour and tasting that's typical in the region.
Judy Stein, a Napa Valley specialist and president of Stein Collective, a travel consultancy that’s part of Ovation Vacations, said that it can be challenging to find unique wineries for her clients to see when they’re in Napa. “Most of the wineries tend to have a cookie cutter feel and shuttle you in and out,” she said. “Finally, however, that’s starting to change.”
The Prisoner Wine Company, a label that’s a favorite of wine collectors, is the newest of the bunch and is expected to open a new winery in September in St. Helena. The San Francisco architect Matt Hollis designed the 40,000 square-foot contemporary building to have an industrial aesthetic, with high ceilings and a mix of metal and reclaimed woods in its construction.
Besides a large tasting room, the building has an area called The Makery, which has five studios where local artisans from a variety of creative fields will serve three-month residencies and interact with guests. The initial batch of artisans includes a soap maker, jelly maker and ceramist.
There’s an outdoor component, too: the garden grows herbs that will be used in the dishes served at the winery, and the terrace has a fire pit and wood-fired oven that will cook pizzas, smoked meats and seasonal vegetables like blistered heirloom peppers.
Chrissy Wittmann, one of The Prisoner’s two winemakers (Niki Williams is the other), said that guests will be encouraged to linger. “The idea is that you should come here and stay for a few hours,” she said. “We want to be a place where you spend time and make memories.” The winery is free to visit, but tastings are by appointment and start at $40 a person.
Another inventive space, Ashes and Diamonds, opened last November on Highway 29, about a 10-minute drive north of the town of Napa. Kashy Khaledi, the owner and founder, said that he wanted a building that was a nod to the area in the 1950s before it became overrun with tour buses. He hired the American architect Barbara Bestor for the job, and the midcentury, light flooded building she designed has a zigzag roof and portholes.
Wine tastings at Ashes and Diamonds can be paired with vegetable-forward dishes such as stone fruit salad with feta or pistachio and lime oil, and the staff can arrange for a picnic on the grounds. The winery also hosts monthly concerts and speaker series. In June, for example, the actress and singer Jena Malone, along with her bandmate Lem Jay Ignacio, will perform from their album “I’m Okay.” Wine tastings start at $40.
Tank Garage Winery, on the outskirts of Calistoga, is situated in a 1930s service station adorned with vintage gas pumps. The Art Deco building has a roll-up glass door entrance and a 1930s Indian Chief motorcycle inside that belonged to the original service station owner, along with a pinball machine from the 1970s.
Chemistry flasks from the 1960s serve as decanters, and behind the long tasting counter, there’s a speakeasy style bar with velvet booths and wallpaper, and Prohibition-era photos of Napa Valley. Local singers perform at the winery every Friday night, and there’s no charge to watch them play. Wine tastings start at $25 a person.
Promontory, in Oakville, owned by Will Harlan, son of the famed winemaker Bill Harlan, is among the lot of these new wave of wineries, too. Its concrete, steel and glass building, designed by American architect Howard Backen, is perched on a hill overlooking Napa Valley.
Visitors, who must make an appointment, are greeted by a private host who will lead them through a tasting of one older and one current vintage. All tastings take place in small rooms scattered throughout the building, and Mr. Harlan said that guests are unlikely to see any other visitors during their time at Promontory. The whole experience, which is approximately 90 minutes long, is $200 a person.
With the one-year anniversary of the devastating Napa Valley fires approaching in October, Ms. Stein said that these wineries are invigorating a staple tourist destination with a new energy. “Whether it’s for the first time or a return visit, people need a reason to get excited to go to Napa, and these uncommon wineries are certainly an incentive,” she said.
As for Napa’s other 400 to 500 wineries, Clay Gregory, president of Visit Napa Valley, the destination’s official marketing organization, said that they’re all open. “Our tourism business has been busy these last few months, and we want to look past the fires and celebrate what a fantastic place Napa is,” he said.
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