Owner Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars has always been interested in the world of wine, but it wasn't until he tasted a Chateauneuf-du-Pape that the cosmos unfurled before him. "To go from tasting only single varietals to a blend really opened my eyes," he wrote in his bio. He started crafting his own wines and tinkering with production methods, experimenting with different yeast strains. Cohn eventually produced the 2003 Rhodes Vineyard Zinfandel, which was named number three on Wine Spectator's Top 100 List—the first time a California Zinfandel had even been in the top 10.
Now, Cohn curates a roster of 21 vintages based on Rhone grape varietals at JC Cellars. The wines are the product of both his own production techniques and time-tested French methods. Visitors to the cellars can gaze upon the aging barrels during tastings led by seasoned wine educators, before taking a bottle home to christen a life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon.
The open wine tasting salon Taste at Oxbow aims to expand palates with an eclectic menu of wines chosen to accompany artisanal cheeses and gourmet food items. Energy-efficient fixtures illuminate the salon's olive and merlot-toned walls, which owe their hues to chemical-free paints.
Now that eating on an ordinary table or atop a stack of Chinese acrobats seem horribly passé, adventurous foodies are seeking the next unconventional dining experience. Today's Groupon puts a little motion under your meal with two gourmet dinners on the Napa Valley Wine Train for $99 (a $198 value for dinner, $188 value for lunch). Treat yourself and a loved one to a three-hour ride through Napa Valley on an antique locomotive engine, accompanied by a delicious gourmet meal in lieu of the traditional mysterious murder.
Cornerstone Cellars piles oenophiles' palates with tastings of wine and cheese in an elegant tasting room adorned with eclectic artwork and TVs. Drinking duos will imbibe the winemakers' vintage Stepping Stone Rocks! red and white nectars, carefully comparing the French-inspired amalgamations of varietals, aromas, and Parisian mime tears. A smattering of cheeses complements each wine's unique flavors, allowing guests to experiment with pairings until they find the combination that unlocks wine's hidden notes of bacon. After emptying glasses and polishing off plates, pairs receive bottles of Stepping Stone Rocks! red and white to sip at home or use to strengthen core muscles by balancing them on their heads.
Somerston Wine Co. stocks its modern, ranch-style tasting room with casks reflecting the diverse yield of local vineyard blocks. Set taste buds to “sommelier” with a Highflyer wine tasting, which features 2-ounce samples of eclectic vintages including the fruity and floral grenache blanc 2009, the chocolate-toned Centerline 2007 red blend, and the cherry-laden pinot noir 2008. Two plates of artisanal cheeses, locally dried fruits, and pistachios, or local chef Chris Kollar's chocolates accompany sips of wine, which guests may nosh outdoors, on the rooftop terrace, or in the ranch’s replica bathysphere.
Music, ceramics, architecture, and grapes: Art Finkelstein worked with a wide range of creative media over the years. But nothing spoke to him quite like winemaking—not even running his first successful vineyard, Whitehall Lane Winery. Seeking to return to a more hands-on role in the winemaking process, he opened Judd's Hill Winery on 14 sprawling acres of Napa Valley countryside. Here, his family devotes their attention to keeping the quantities of their wine small, but the quality of those batches high. The resulting bottles tempt palates of every persuasion and astrological sign, with selections ranging from crisp, refreshing whites to complex and balanced reds. And the Finkelsteins freely share their viticultural knowledge—the winery offers microcrush services to aspiring vinters, and hosts educational courses on blending wines and pairing quaffs with cuisine.