Hidden Gems


Ah, nothing like feel of a fresh page after a short hiatus from writing.  I wanted to start my article today by talking about Napa and just how many hidden gems can be found amongst the many, many, many wineries.  In my line of work, I get the opportunity to go out to other wineries than the one I work with, to taste their wines, to take their tours, and to get a feel for the experiences they offer.  

I meet people, I make connections, I expand my network and I get a grip on the industry as a whole.  But it’s not just about me and my career.  When you come to Napa (or any part of Wine Country) and you ask your servers and Educators about which wineries to go to, they’ll almost certainly name the big ones, but don’t be surprised when they tell you about the little winery that you’ve never heard of, tucked away on a back street or off the beaten path.  The reason we divulge this information is simple: if a winery has exceptional wines, it’s our job to inform the public.


I’m not sure exactly how other Educators set criteria for visiting other wineries, but mine falls along the following lines:


  • Initial Presentation - When I first arrived in the valley, I sought a position at a winery I’d both read about and sold the wines of, but upon entering their tasting room, I was appalled by how user unfriendly the room was.  This initial presentation has prevented me from recommending that tasting room to anyone else, so this is a strong part of my personal criteria.
  • Customer Service - Oftentimes Wine Educators will greet you differently or behave differently if they know you’re in the industry as well.  Some will see the situation as an opportunity and put on their best face knowing that their performance with you will inform your decision on whether or not to recommend the winery.  Others will do the exact opposite, treating you coldly or, worse, flat out ignoring you.  I base all my recommendations off of the service I have personally received. If a winery’s staff can’t treat me correctly, how am I to be assured they would treat anyone I’m supposed to recommend correctly?
  • Wine - And then it comes down to the most important thing, which is how is the wine.  When I judge the wines at a winery, I do so from two perspectives: my palate and a more objective palate.  What I mean by that, is that I first taste the wines to see if I like them, deciding whether or not they appeal to my particular flavor requirements, and then I taste them as if I’m a wine newbie, just to see if they can appeal to any part of my palate.  Will I send people to wineries with wines I don’t like?  Yes, so long as I can justify doing it based on their palate.  If a person demonstrates to me that they like sweet white wines, I have a good list of small, out-of-the-way wineries to send them to.  If they like Italian wines, I have a good list for those as well.  Whatever the need of my clients, I have a short list of wineries that will cater to them.


The moral of this week’s article is twofold:  1) If your Wine Educator makes a suggestion for a winery that you’ve never heard of, take the chance and trust them.  For the most part, they’ve done their homework on this.  2) If you see a winery while you’re in Napa, Sonoma or Mendocino and you’ve never heard of it, do what we do, stop in, introduce yourself and see where things take you.  You might be surprised and find yourself a hidden gem that you can share with your friends… or keep all to yourself.


It’s good to be writing again!




Zach Glassman is a Wine Educator with 8 years of professional experience in Napa, Sonoma and New York.  If you have any wine-related questions, want to share wine stories, or for pretty much any other reason, feel free to send him an email at [email protected]