Napa Valley: The Lowlife Guide to High Class Wines

Credit: Bob Jagendorf

I’m a lowlife.

I enjoy eating with my fingers… drinking cold beer in questionable establishments… and hanging out at the track with other lowlifes.

And you know what?

I’m OK with that.

But sometimes even lowlifes thirst for a taste of “the good life.” Where we could swirl aged Cabernet Franc in a crystal glass, pontificating on its finer, more delicate attributes.

Then sniff… swirl again… and sip.

Or something like that.

So if you and your buddies (or date/girlfriend/wife) ever get the urge the visit Napa Valley for a taste of the good life, let this be your guide.

But before we even think about discussing wines, let’s talk about…

3 Winery Discounts No One Tells You About

Let’s face it: wine tasting – especially in Napa – can get expensive quickly.

On average, you’ll pay $5 – $10 per person (and up to $50 for a tour/tasting). And you’ll probably visit 3 -5 wineries… which can add up to $100 for two people!

But fear not.

Here are three simple (but rarely used) tactics to drink for free:

Go with a local. It’s an unspoken rule in Napa that locals drink for free. Usually a winery will let their friend (i.e. you) drink for free, too. Just don’t go pretending you’re a local!

Free tasting passes. Sure, us lowlifes would call them “coupons”… but in Napa they’re called “complimentary tasting passes.” You can pick up several of these at the Napa Valley visitor center. Ask one of the staff if they have any suggestions, too.

Industry discounts. These are absolute GOLD in Napa. If you or your fellow lowlifes work in a bar/restaurant/winery be sure to take business cards with you. When you show up for a tasting, ask if they have any “industry discounts” (use this phrase exactly); chances are, everyone in your party drinks for free.

And if you call ahead, you can also schedule a free tour, too!

OK, that should save you at least $30 on tasting fees. Now let’s talk about…

Great Wineries For Tasting (No Snobbery Required)

There are lots of wineries to choose from.

And no matter which ones you choose, map them out beforehand so you don’t waste time.

Here’s something interesting: two main roads (Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail) run parallel along the wine routes. This makes it easy to drive up one, then turn around and head back on the other.

The following wineries are just off either road:

Silver Oak
If there was one winery in all of Napa for lowlifes, Silver Oak would take the title. While their wines usually sell for $120 – $250 in restaurants, you can taste their two wines for only $5.

And the setting?

Magnificent. A recently built porch provides excellent views of the surrounding vineyards.

Both wineries are run by the same owner (hence the names) and both are excellent. The wines (especially the Merlots) are full bodied and delicious. Paraduxx offers tasting in a restaurant style: you sit down and staff pours wines and answers questions along the way. Duckhorn is set inside a small cottage and has one of my personal favorite Merlots in Napa.

Sterling Vineyards
I’m going to come right and say this: Sterling’s wines are NOT the reason you should visit here.

Instead, you’re here for the scenery.

First off, take a gondola uphill to the winery. Once there you can walk around the perimeter, trying wines and enjoying spectacular views of Napa Valley from every angle.

Far Niente Tour
Remember all that money I saved you?

Here’s something worth blowing it on: a private tour of Far Niente. Not only do you enjoy a tour of the gournds – including the gardens and collection of muscle cars – you also get a private tasting with different cheeses. Awesome.

Seventy Five Wine Company
The name? It was founded in ’75.

The wines? Some of the best in Napa.

Best part? No one really knows about it.

Seventy Five winery uses the same grapes as Opus One (a grossly overpriced wine) for about a quarter of the price.

If that ain’t high-class for lowlifes, I don’t know what is!

Now that we’ve covered some truly excellent wineries, let’s talk about…

Sparkling Wine

Even lowlifes need help every now and then. So please, please… please do not call sparkling wine “Champagne.”


Because Champagne is sparkling made specifically in Champagne, France. Therefore, every where else in the world simply calls it “sparkling wine”.

Two wineries known for sparkling wine are Domaine Carneros and Domaine Chandon. Both are a good time, though Carneros has a better view. (Note: Carneros is way off the main route).

If you’re not picky and just want some bubbly, by all means visit Mumm.

So there you have it: the lowlife guide to high class wines.


Further Information on Napa:

Awesome maps (print and interactive) of Napa Valley
Search Napa valley wineries