The Bay Area’s 11 most exciting new spots to taste wine

There are upwards of 1,000 places to taste wine in the Bay Area — and counting. But this year, a slew of new options arrived with diverse experiences for a wide spectrum of tastes, curiosities and budgets. 

Some are extravagant estates, indicating a push for a more luxurious and exclusive atmosphere, while others are chic and casual tasting rooms, clearly looking to attract younger consumers with neon signs, record players and natural wines. As the California industry continues to overflow with classic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, a handful of renegade producers are promoting discovery in the form of lesser-known, underdog grape varieties. A few new spots even require out-of-the-box exploration in lesser-known regions beyond Napa and Sonoma. 

Read on for the 11 most exciting tasting room openings of 2022. 

Aeris Wines in Healdsburg is the first California tasting room to focus on Sicilian wines. 

Erik Castro/Special To The Chronicle

Aeris Wines

French tradition has informed California’s wine industry, but Italian grapes are having a moment, fueled by trendy wineries like Idlewild, Matthiasson and Massican. Aeris Wines, located on the Healdsburg Plaza, is taking an even bolder stance: it’s the first in the state to open a tasting room that focuses exclusively on the burgeoning region of Sicily. While the average U.S. drinker has likely never heard of Nerello Mascalese or Carricante — one of Italy’s most coveted white wines — these grapes now have a valuable ambassador stateside; Aeris founder Kevin Harvey is also behind Rhys Vineyards, which produces some of California’s most sought-after Pinot Noirs. While Rhys has never been open to the public, Harvey is taking a more inclusive approach with Aeris, and the tasting room arrived just as fervor for Sicilian wines is picking up steam. (The latest season of HBO’s “White Lotus” should propel it even further.) Tastings (from $30) feature side-by-side comparisons of Aeris wines grown in California and Sicily. 

37 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. www.aeriswines.com

Bannister 

The one-block downtown of Geyserville doesn’t see much foot traffic, but the utterly charming Bannister Wines is worth the trip to this sleepy town — and makes for a great stop before a dinner reservation at the new Michelin-starred Cyrus. The tasting room is set inside a 1919 bank building with the original teller and vault, which visitors can walk through to the back patio. Inside, it’s eclectic and colorful, featuring many of second-generation owner Brook Bannister’s furniture designs. The wine lineup (tastings cost $35) is quite whimsical, too. There are classic California wines, like Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Chardonnay; these are a tribute to Bannister’s mother, a trailblazer for women winemakers who started Bannister in 1988. Guests can also try several wine varieties that are rare to California, such as Italy’s Ribolla Gialla and Sagrantino. There’s even an orange Riesling. 

21035 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. bannisterwines.com

Downtown Napa’s newest tasting room, Benevolent Neglect, quickly became a hot spot among local wine industry pros. 

Downtown Napa’s newest tasting room, Benevolent Neglect, quickly became a hot spot among local wine industry pros. 

Jess Lander

Benevolent Neglect 

Downtown Napa has over a dozen tasting rooms. Most of them cater to tourists, but the newly-opened Benevolent Neglect was quickly embraced and vetted by the local wine industry’s cool kids. (Mondays and Fridays are even dedicated industry nights with $9 wines on tap.) Set in a former dry cleaner on Napa’s up-and-coming Second Street, the cozy tasting room feels like a chill lounge where friends meet to wind down after work. Pick vinyl for the record player — you’re even encouraged to bring your own — and work your way through a flight of minimal intervention, Rhone-inspired wines ($35), including Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise, plus some other fun varieties like Gamay. 

1417 Second St., Napa. bnwines.com

Brendel Wines

Like Benevolent Neglect, Brendel has also brought a fun dynamic to downtown Napa that goes beyond big, Bordeaux-inspired wines. And at a time when the wine industry is grappling with attracting younger consumers — mainly Millennials — Brendel is leading the way. Last spring, owner Lawrence Wine Estates (which also owns Heitz, Burgess and Stony Hill) opened this trendy tasting room that speaks to the Millennial aesthetic: bright, light-filled and minimalist with playful design elements, like a pink neon sign that reads “Brendel is French for Brendel.” The winemaking approach continues this theme with wines that are fresh, restrained, lower in alcohol and, most notably, affordable. (Several bottles retail for $30.) Try something new, like Grignolino, a red Italian grape that Brendel uses to make a sparkling rosé. 

1227 First St., Napa. brendelwines.com

Swinging chairs sit outside large glass windows of the tasting room at Caymus-Suisun Winery in Solano County’s Suisun Valley. It’s the valley’s largest winery and marks a major milestone for this low-profile wine region that's long been in Napa’s shadow.

Swinging chairs sit outside large glass windows of the tasting room at Caymus-Suisun Winery in Solano County’s Suisun Valley. It’s the valley’s largest winery and marks a major milestone for this low-profile wine region that’s long been in Napa’s shadow.

Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

Caymus-Suisun

A fancy tasting room opening in Suisun Valley is noteworthy on its own, but it’s especially significant that this undistinguished slice of Wine Country was the choice of expansion for Napa Valley pioneer Caymus Vineyards. The resort-style tasting room, designed by the same architecture firm behind Apple Store and Blue Bottle Coffee locations, is a big deal for this eight-mile stretch of Solano County, which until this year, consisted of only a handful of mom-and-pop operations. The indoor-outdoor, glass-walled tasting pavilion from one of California’s most famous wine brands could be the first step in finally legitimizing a region that was established in 1982 and feels like “Napa 50 years ago,” according to Caymus founder Chuck Wagner. Tastings ($25-$50) include Napa and Suisun Valley wines, and conclude with a complimentary espresso.

4991 Suisun Valley Road, Fairfield. wagnerfamilyofwine.com

Darling Wines

This small Sonoma winery — whose wines can be found on the lists of top fine dining restaurants like the French Laundry, Atelier Crenn and Saison — should be on the radar of all cool-climate wine enthusiasts. Darling makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah from some of Northern California’s chilliest pockets, including Santa Cruz, the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino. The wines are ethereal, lively and often savory, made in a minimal intervention style (native yeasts, minimal sulfur, no new oak). Tucked off the Sonoma Plaza, Darling’s new tasting room has a coastal theme — a tribute to co-owner Tom Darling’s summers at Cape Cod growing up — with soothing blue tones and beautiful ceramic pieces from a local artist inspired by the California drought. Tasting flights ($40) are enjoyed at antique wedding banquet tables with the tranquil sounds of the courtyard fountain in the background. 

27 E. Napa St., Suite A, Sonoma. darlingwines.com

Eco Terreno, a new tasting room in San Francisco from a biodynamic Sonoma County winery, also includes a supper club with live music, called Lyon & Swan.

Eco Terreno, a new tasting room in San Francisco from a biodynamic Sonoma County winery, also includes a supper club with live music, called Lyon & Swan.

Courtesy Robert Bengston

Eco Terreno

Eco Terreno — arguably the most ambitious tasting room opening of the year — is in an unexpected location: San Francisco. The owner of this biodynamic Sonoma County winery thought this could give him a competitive edge, tourism-wise, over the saturated Wine Country. Eco Terreno is housed in a historic three-story building in Jackson Square, with a tasting room on the ground level; a private tasting and events space on the upstairs level; and a supper club, named Lyon & Swan, in the basement. The 10-year-old winery specializes in Bordeaux varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, from the Alexander Valley region. In the cozy tasting room, visitors can choose from four experiences, ranging from a five-wine flight with a snack ($50) to a five-course meal with six wines ($130). 

140 Columbus Ave., San Francisco. ecoterreno.com

Heitz Cellar

One of Napa Valley’s most iconic wine estates now has the look and vibe of a Michelin-starred restaurant. It also has the price tag of one: Heitz Cellar’s top tasting experience costs $1,000 (tastings start at $125). Founded in 1961, Heitz sold in 2018 to Lawrence Wine Estates. The renovated stone building, ironically one of the last wineries in Napa Valley to offer free tastings, reopened this year and is completely unrecognizable inside: light-filled and elegant with towering ceilings and crisp white table linens. Jazz music and a caviar amuse bouche greet guests in a French-styled courtyard. Inside the salon, Heitz’s single-vineyard Cabernets are poured from fancy decanters — by hosts plucked from fine dining restaurants like the French Laundry — and Iberian pork is sliced tableside. This metamorphosis is the epitome of a trend of Napa Valley’s most classic wineries embarking on costly rebrands in an effort to reclaim their glory from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. 

436 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena. heitzcellar.com

L’Apero les Trois in Winters is the first California tasting room dedicated to Aperitifs. 

L’Apero les Trois in Winters is the first California tasting room dedicated to Aperitifs. 

Courtesy Craig Lee/Craig Lee

L’Apero les Trois

Spurred by the Aperol Spritz boom, aperitifs — a fortified wine tradition that’s been popular in Europe for centuries — have been trending in the U.S. for a few years now. Brands like Mommenpop, Veso and Haus, which shut down operations earlier this year, have experienced fast and furious growth. But the owners of L’Apero les Trois believe their Winters (Yolo County) storefront is the first tasting room in California dedicated to aperitifs. Made with locally-sourced produce, L’Apero’s vermouths are an homage to traditional French flavors, like green walnut, fig and Meyer lemon, and utilize a range of grape varieties for the base. Set inside a French bistro setting, tastings ($10-$17) include a flight of six aperitifs alongside bites, such as black olive tapenade and gougeres. Spritz cocktails are available as well. 

22 Main St., Winters. 530-402-1172 or laperolestrois.com

Newton Vineyard

Before it was destroyed in the 2020 Glass Fire, Newton Vineyard had one of Napa Valley’s most enchanting wine estates, complete with a whimsical “Alice in Wonderland”inspired garden on the top of a mountain. The winery is still a ways off from hosting visitors back at its original home on Spring Mountain — for many Napa wineries, the rebuilding process has been incredibly slow and arduous — but Newton hit a significant milestone this summer when it reopened for tastings in a temporary spot in Calistoga. The new tasting barn is intimate and modern, opening to a dramatic panorama of the Vaca Mountains and craggy palisades. Tastings ($100) include a flight of Newton’s single-vineyard Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons; crafted with a natural, minimalist style, these iconic wines predated California’s modern-day natural wine movement. 

1171 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga. newtonvineyard.com

The interior of Verite’s new French-inspired chateau in Healdsburg.

The interior of Verite’s new French-inspired chateau in Healdsburg.

Brontë Wittpenn/The Chronicle

Vérité Winery

After four years of construction, Vérité Winery’s modest tasting digs have transformed into a fancy, French-inspired chateau, which makes a grand entrance down a rural backroad in Healdsburg. Founded in 1998 by a pair of wine visionaries — Kendall-Jackson founder Jess Jackson from Sonoma County and Pierre Seillan from France — Vérité is an embodiment of Sonoma’s underrated ability to produce high-end Bordeaux-style wines (a skill that Napa Valley has historically owned). The chateau brings classic, old world style to Sonoma and tastings ($175-$350 per person) take place among wood beam arches, elegant drapes and opulent chandeliers. Soon, the barrel chai, a 9,000-square-foot barrel storage room and the estate’s statement piece, will open to the public, too.

4611 Thomas Road, Healdsburg. veritewines.com

Jess Lander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @jesslander