As the biggest demographic currently consuming wine, millennials are virtually shaping the future of the wine industry. And in Napa, it’s led to the uncorking of some very creative combinations that – while catering to the emoji-loving, Snapchatting crowd – are undoubtedly being relished by all ages.
The rise of rosé, chardonnay in a can, naturally made vinos – if it seems like the wine industry is evolving overnight, that’s because it is. And there’s a particular demographic that is doing the disrupting: millennials. According to a recent study by the wine industry nonprofit Wine Market Council, millennials drink nearly half of the wine (42 percent) consumed in the country today – that’s more wine consumption than any other generation. That, in turn, has led the industry to evolve with the younger generation’s desires, because, let’s face it, instead of the standard stuffy sniffing and swirling, millennials want their wines to come with more of an experience. Wineries throughout Napa Valley and Sonoma seem to be noticing, adding everything from bocce courts to Instagram-ready mini-horses to their winery and tasting tours. The result is a free-flowing assortment of immersive wine experiences that add something extra to the glass – regardless of your age.
Liana Estates [Napa]
Cheese is for Baby Boomers. At this chic farmhouse located among the rolling hills of Napa’s Carneros region, vintners pair pours with mini-cupcakes from local bakery Kara’s while guests play bocce and cornhole. Run by sisters Lisa and Ariana Peju – they dreamed of becoming winemakers when they were teenagers and bought the former Carneros winery in 2016 – the 100-acre vineyard also sells aerodynamic bike jerseys and hoodies and arranges Sunday yoga classes and sunset barn dinners.
Raymond Vineyards [St. Helena]
If you’re looking for a traditional Napa Valley winery experience, then Raymond Vineyards is probably not for you. In fact, pretty much everything about this winery is unconventional, starting with the fact that it’s home to Napa Valley’s first dog winery, Frenchie Winery (named and themed around proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset’s beloved frenchie). Here, your dog will lounge out in his very own wine barrel bed while you peruse the rest of the property’s six uniquely themed rooms – two of which you can’t miss: the Crystal Cellar and the Red Room. Bordered by stainless-steel walls, the Crystal Cellar is a dark and sultry space where mannequins dangle from the ceiling among crystal chandeliers, while the Red Room is an exclusive tasting room adorned in dark red velvet walls, seductive red couches, and a black onyx bar. Think of it kind of like 50 Shades of Grey meets James Bond.
JaM Cellars [Napa]
It’s not just the pop of the cork at this downtown Napa tasting room, but also the pop vinyl records that keep the eclectic lounge covered in Oriental rugs (reminiscent of a rock stage) buzzing with Jimi Hendrix and other music among slightly buzzed millennials. Plan a visit for a Thursday or Friday night, when second-generation vintners and husband and wife John and Michele Anthony host JaM sessions with live music. The cleverly named Butter Chardonnay, JaM Cabernet, California candy dry rosé, and Toast sparkling keep the unicorn-petting, avocado-toast-eating generation coming to JaM.
Jamieson Ranch Vineyards [American Canyon]
A horse? Of course – a mini one, at this winery that offers “Mini Moments” of wine tasting while visiting with one of three 38-inch-high equines named Whinnie the Pooh, Sweet Jane, and Molly. Participants sip a chilled sauvignon blanc or chardonnay and learn about horse therapy from community outreach coordinator Brandy Lipsey, while sharing selfies on social media. Jamieson Ranch also offers marriage proposal packages for smitten millennials.
Hill Family Estate [Yountville]
Typically, wine stains are a turnoff, but not at this small and quirky tasting room, featuring miniature deer skulls and a framed Playboy Magazine from an event at the Playboy Mansion where their wine was poured. Vice President Ryan Hill attracts millennials by way of his unique wine-staining projects, where he teams up with local businesses to produce one stain by taking the venue’s Hill Harvest Red Wine and purposely tinges local wood. He then has that wood transformed into various items; past projects have included a surfboard, baseball bats, and a Fender guitar, which go on display at the tasting room. Embark on the Secret Garden tour of the 120-plus fruit trees to discover the notes that go into the wine varietals.
Scribe Winery [Sonoma]
Travel + Leisure called this Hacienda-style winery, located on a former turkey farm that also happened to be an important stop for bootleggers headed into San Francisco during Prohibition, “the most buzzed-about vineyard on social media.” That’s because the whole scene looks like a spread out of Kinfolk. Founded by 30-something-year-old brothers Adam and Andrew Mariani, the property features carefully curated rustic decor, from cozy patio furniture and long farmhouse-style tables to locally made pottery and cacti and succulent plants. Soft indie rock plays from the speakers, dogs run around on the grass, and staff mingles among guests who sprawl out on Mexican blankets. As for the wine? It’s devoted to being different, featuring nontraditional grape varieties and winemaking methods, like the nutty, copper-colored, skin-fermented chardonnay and a red made from the rare, delicate, earth-toned Austrian grape, St. Laurent.
Napa Valley Wine Train // River Terrace Inn