There are about 500 physical wineries in Napa with tasting rooms of some capacity. That number nearly doubles to over a 1,000 when you account for winemakers overall. Needless to say, most visitors barely scratch the surface when tasting a handful of wineries on an average tour. And the daunting number of wineries is only part of the challenge, there are also a host of stories and experiences to be had beyond just dropping by for a few pours.
Thankfully there is a solution to this challenge – Beyond the Label Napa Valley. Third generation Napa native Doug White is the founder of Beyond the Label, a private tour service for Napa Valley. Doug launched the operation five years ago after seeing the large void in tourism for people desiring to see a more authentic and less traveled side of Napa.
Growing up in the restaurant business instilled him with a keen sense of hospitality and extensive knowledge of Napa history and natives. Doug recalled his fond days as manager at one of Napa’s hallmark restaurants, Don Giovani’s, “On any given night, the dining room would be filled with farmers, vintners, celebrities, locals and visitors – bottles would pass from table to table and conversations across the room like a family event.” It’s that same cornucopia of culture that Doug endeavors to share on his tours. The inspiration of his namesake brand, he wants to take people “beyond the label” – to understand the inspirations, story, joys and struggle of running a winery.
Napa today is inspiring but understanding what came before is equally important. 20 years ago when the French Laundry had not yet been graced by Thomas Keller, seatings were a mere $35 per person. Or when downtown Napa had more butcher shops than tasting rooms. While Napa has been known for wine since the great Paris tasting, it has only come in to its own in the past decade. Doug still finds the growth and evolution amazing, joking that “fortunately my hometown became famous”.
This growth is also interesting on the wine front with many second generation winemakers assuming the helm and looking to make their mark by taking the industry in interesting new directions. While style and palate is part of the evolution, experience and philosophy is greatly the other. They’re throwing out tired traditions and old stereotypes for a fresh point of view on what people should feel when uncorking a bottle.
This is exactly what Doug wants his guests to experience – something unexpected, a twist on classic Napa. While he customizes every tour based on personal requests and desires, the tour always goes beyond the requisite “Napa Cab” pursuit and formal tasting rooms. Every experience will be off the beaten path (most likely not open to the public at all) and involve one-on-one time with the winemaker and an intimate look at the vineyard and facility. Typically, everything is very low production (sub-1000 cases per year), where their heart and soul goes into every bottle.
This is why Beyond the Label Napa Valley is such a special experience. Doug’s goal is not to simply end the day with a smile on everyone’s face but hopefully some dirt on their shoes from a vineyard walk, wine on their hands from sampling with a thief and the lingering scent of oak barrels stacked in a cool cellar. Do treat yourself to this “1 in a 1,000” tour and tell Doug The 29 sent you.
Doug White, Beyond the Label Napa Valley
- Mike Casey, The 29 Napa