Napa's tour drivers are the unsung heroes of wine country—we asked them to dish on their favorite spots to celebrate the fruit of the vine this spring.
Hill Family Estate in Yountville features plenty of new space for wine tastings.
As the weather warms and the mustard blooms, we decided to try a slightly different tack this year for discovering outstanding wineries. Why not ask local tour drivers for their recommendations? After all, they know the tried-and-true spots and hidden gems, and they’re truly the unsung heroes of wine country. Many were born, raised and still live in the regions they traverse every day, and they have lasting relationships with winery owners and stewards.
Hill Family Estate owners Doug and Ryan Hill
Not only are the drivers an integral part of the community, but it’s also their job to make sure clients have perfect experiences. Big-name wineries? Easy. Wineries with great views that allow picnics? No problem. Wild spots where guests can be loud and let loose? Yes, they know those too.
These insiders even know places where guests meet the owners, vintners and winemakers. Bonus: Many of these legends become long-term friends and advisers, enabling clients to return to the places they love and find new favorites every time.
PAUL BAILEY, OWNER AND OPERATOR, NAPA VALLEY WINE EXCURSIONS
Bailey, who grew up in Napa Valley, is as charismatic as he is knowledgeable; he’s also a specialist at customizing trips. His picks:
This family-owned estate offers tastings at its new vineyard property in Yountville, which has an intoxicating combination of rich family history and complex but approachable wines. The Hill family began their Napa adventure in 1981 as farmers; they turned into vintners in 2001 and still grow exceptional produce for The French Laundry.
Enjoy a feast of Paradigm Winery, where most of the 55 acre estate is planted with cabernet sauvignon followed by merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. The wines are made by winemaker Heidi Barrett. PHOTO: BY LEIGH-ANN BEVERLEY
A new, chic, yet down-to-earth gem tucked away in Napa Valley’s newest AVA. This property offers great wine from winemaker Rudy Zuidema, panoramic valley and hillside views, tasty food and wine-pairing options, horse stables and even trail rides.
Amici Cellars in Calistoga offers a breathtaking setting for weekend tastings.
PAUL PERRY, OWNER, PERRY’S TOURS
As a Napa native with strong connections to the wine industry, Perry is another invaluable asset for planning memorable insider trips. His picks:
A true classic, the Oakville-based winery manages to maintain an authentic sense of old-school Napa Valley. It also boasts gorgeous views and wines made by worldr-enowned winemaker Heidi Barrett. Lean into the winery’s world-class cabernet, red blends and rosé, which guests may even be lucky enough to sip with owners Ren and Marilyn Harris—a rarity in Napa these days.
Nestled just outside of Calistoga, this hidden spot has a cinematic quality: Guests pass old oak trees, spacious lawns, picnic tables and vineyards as they make their way to the winery’s classic white house. Known for making wines from famous vineyards like To Kalon, this is a must-visit for oenophiles looking to add some depth to their cellars.
GARY THOMPSON, OWNER, WINE TASTING DRIVER
Thompson, a legendary Napa Valley driver, offers customizable tour services with a knowledgeable, local crew of drivers. His picks:
This venue is perfect for those who want to add a sense of adventure and scenery off the beaten path. Situated at the base of the mountain, this grand winery offers a step back in time in what feels like a million miles from everything. Wander the vines and the hidden valley, and taste the winery’s powerful, graceful and complex wines in a grand old Victorian house.
Julie Johnson, who founded this Rutherford-based winery, is a leader in sustainability and biodynamic farming. The venue is a local favorite and has a vibe and energy that will make guests feel immediately at home. This is the type of place to relax and enjoy the land in an inviting setting without the pomp and circumstance from some of Napa’s bigger houses. Guests also can check out the caves, dine and sip at picnic tables, wander the gardens—and, yes, dogs are welcome.
Photography by: FROM TOP: PHOTOS BY MARIA CALDERON/COURTESY OF HILL FAMILY ESTATE; PHOTO BY LEIGH-ANN BEVERLEY; PHOTO COURTESY OF AMICI CELLARS;