A hearty welcome to Bay Grape, Napa’s latest addition to an impressively vibrant wine retail scene. I love the space, airy and brimming with natural light. Happy staff, eager to help and then back off when the customer wants a little peruse time. If you want cutting-edge, well-priced wines from near and far, Bay Grape is for you. Same for drinks and nosh on the patio. Very hospitable. I bought a snappy, sparkling Loire Valley Chenin Blanc, which was noticed by owner Josiah Baldivino on my way out. He recommended the wine I’d just bought in his sincere, heartfelt way. I can tell the good wine vibes start at the top and trickle down to everyone on staff. It’s pleasantly infectious.
Look over the shoulder of Napa Valley’s luxury brand and see our profound interest in esoteric, artisan, international wines. The desire for the different and generally more affordable has been answered by Napa Valley wine shops, wine bars and restaurants for decades. I opened Napa’s Back Room Wines in 2002 with a smart selection of international wines, and locals responded with fantastic support. And I wasn’t the first such shop, not even close. All Seasons and Palisades Market in Calistoga, St Helena Wine Merchants & Sunshine Foods in St Helena, and JV Wines & Spirits collectively go back to the 1980s. You know, when you could buy ’82 Margaux for $30/bottle. But I digress.
Local wine shops (and wine shop/wine bar combos) have for years been the most accessible and hospitable source for Napans to explore “the world of wine.” Bay Grape gives a unique twist to the artisan, micro-winery retail concept, and it fits in nicely with similar but different establishments in Napa Valley. The more the merrier: what is lost by competition is dwarfed by the increased interest in this intriguing sector of Napa’s wine industry. It’s where wine drinkers current and future feel the heartbeat of international wine culture.
In addition to Bay Grape, check out the selection and the vibe in these Napa Valley wine shops.
• Back Room Wines, downtown Napa. “BRW” juggles a big selection of artisan international wines with every grape, style, and region out of California. They have a brave, smart international selection for the starving wine student as well as the three-figure, Napa trophy red for the deep pockets staying at The Archer. Most impressively, every wine and spirit in the story has wine notes, aka a “shelf talker,” written in-house. I’ve never seen another retail store do the shelf talkers so well. Wine bar and education-focused tastings returning soon.
• Compline Restaurant and Wine Shop, Downtown Napa. A carefully curated selection of local and international wines, plus everything in between greets you just past the entrance. The selection is most wine-nerdy, so I feel comfortable there. Nerdy does not necessarily mean expensive: There are plenty of good values to be had. Be sure to check out their wall of “Best Bubbles In Town!” Oh yeah, it’s one of the best restaurants in town, too.
• Gary’s Wine and Marketplace, St. Helena. While Napa Valley luxury wines are given priority, there is ample energy put into the worldly and well-priced at Gary’s. Extra points for their groceries also available online and free delivery service within Napa Valley.
• Oxbow Wine Merchants, Oxbow Public Market. Their wine alcove covers the world’s important wine regions along with California’s best small producers of all grapes and styles. One of my favorite indulgences is choosing a bottle and opening it on the market’s back patio with an Oxbow Wine Merchant cheese platter.
• Raley’s Supermarket. Peel off the layer of “grocery store wines” and you’ll find an awesome selection of international wines. Granted, you’re pretty much on your own in making your choices here. If you can handle that, you’ll walk out with a bevy of world-class wines for the best prices you’ll find in Napa Valley.
More recommended wine shops and retailers in Napa Valley, for Napans: Bounty Hunter, Cadet (retail online), Cellar Collections, Sunshine Foods, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods.
Wine pairings with Cooking For Comfort recipes returns next week. Next Friday, in honor of baseball season: Ballpark Bites and Wines To Match. Ken Morris and I are studying the subtleties of Nacho Cheese Sauce.
Until then, be well and drink well.