Autumn in Napa Valley is all about the scent of the crush — visitors are welcomed by a perfume of late-harvest grapes.
This scent is so delicious, it makes October the perfect time to visit California’s most famous wine region.
Wine-tasting crowds have thinned, so there’s more time to tour wineries, meet the owners, and sample wines. Visitors can sip in exclusive barrel rooms or at intimate patios, tucked in between vines.
This is especially true at some of the valley’s smaller wineries, like award-winning Zahtila Vineyards, founded by Laura Zahtila Swanton, still one of the few women winery owners.
“We live on the property, we’re involved in every part of the winery, from planting to pouring,” Swanton says. Her husband, Michael Swanton, is vineyard manager.
She paused to chat about the beauty of handpicking grapes over machine-harvested, making it clear why Zahtila “has a big reputation, but we’re still a small place.”
Zahtila came from high-tech sales at Cisco in 1999 to take over a small vineyard, and became an expert on producing finicky Zinfandels.
All bottling is by hand, so this is an appointment-only winery, visited mostly by serious collectors and wine club members. They ensure inventory is sold out almost as soon as it’s produced.
Zahtila is a small winery, at the north end of the valley near Calistoga.
“It’s a sleeper community,” Swanton jokes. “Not many people get up here.”
But this is where most of Napa’s family-owned wineries thrive, producing hand-crafted wines not available anywhere else.