The Millennial’s Guide To Navigating Napa’s Wine Country

Josh Phelps, founder of Grounded Wine Co.

Photo Credit: Meg Smith Photography 

There are hundreds of wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties—so many that planning a trip to wine country can be an intimidating and daunting task. Where to stay? What to eat? What to drink? To help answer some of these questions, it’s best to turn to a local professional, specifically someone like Josh Phelps. Having grown up in the valley in a winemaking family (his dad Chris Phelps makes wine at Francis Ford Coppola’s Inglenook), Phelps is practically St. Helena royalty.

Josh Phelps

Photo Credit: Grounded Wine Co.

The handsome winemaker has been named to every list, from Forbes 30 Under 30 to Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40, and can often be found pouring his wines at events around the region. Phelps has learned how to make wine from Napa greats like his dad, Joel Gott, Kimberly Jones, and Leslie Rudd, and at Grounded Wine Co. he’s making a name for himself. Phelps’ wines reflect his incredible knowledge of the region—and are lovely and easy to drink. You can’t go wrong with Space Age, his pretty pink Central Coast Rosé.

With BottleRock on the agenda next week, we asked Phelps to share his favorite places in the area. Here’s his insider guide to the best restaurants, wineries, and more in Napa County.

Burgers at Gott’s Roadside

Photo Credit: Gott’s

Gott’s Roadside

Phelps says: “I grew up in St. Helena, so it’s always been the neighborhood burger joint. Joel Gott is a friend of mine, and I’ve always supported him. Although my order varies, I most often get the Texas burger with avocado. They also have great salads. When I come home from a business trip, I’ll stop by and grab a Vietnamese chicken salad.”

Housemade pasta at Cook

Photo Credit: Cook St. Helena

Cook St. Helena

Phelps says: “Cook is where the winemakers and locals go to have dinner. It’s an awesome and tiny spot on Main Street. They’re best known for pasta, and my favorite is the cavatelli. It has a spicy red sauce with housemade sausage, and it’s the perfect comfort food. It’s a concise menu with a very local wine list. The owner of Cook and Cook Tavern next door is a local, who grew up in St. Helena, from a big family that I know.”

The back patio at Press

Photo Credit: Press


Phelps says: “Press is a beautiful space, and it’s a place that people get dressed up to go out to dinner. It is my favorite hangout in the evenings, where if I’m going to meet somebody for a drink, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be at Press. I love to have dinner there. Press has the most amazing wine program in Napa Valley. I love it because they’re promoting Napa, which is great, and it’s a 100% Napa Valley wine list, and it goes back into the 60s, 70s, and 80s. There’s such a crazy breadth of what you can order there, but you can also have affordable Napa wine. There’s a level of service that I’ve witnessed nowhere else in Napa Valley. It doesn’t matter who you are, and the staff will make you feel like you’re the most important person in the room. The food is classic farm-to-table steakhouse food.”

Rutherford Grill’s ribs

Photo Credit: Rutherford GrillRutherford Grill

“There’s probably nothing better for lunch in Napa Valley then Rutherford Grill. If you want to sit at a bar and see every winemaker in the valley, you go to Rutherford Grill at lunch; you have a French dip sandwich or the sashimi platter. It’s unbelievable; it’s the power lunch spot. Sheri is the best bartender in the valley.”

The vineyards at Smith-Madrone

Photo Credit: Smith-Madrone

Smith-Madrone Vineyards

Phelps says: “Smith-Madrone is one of the oldest wineries in Napa. It’s founded by two brothers, who are my dad’s friends. It’s a salt of the earth family-owned operation, that has tremendous views. It’s all estate wine, and they have Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Bordeaux varietals planted. They farm it themselves, and they make the wines. It’s a very grounded experience in Napa. It’s very real; it’s very raw. It’s like, this is what you get. The wines are old world Napa style, which I appreciate. It’s an off-the-beaten-path special place. Everyone that goes there falls in love with it, and they buy the wines, and they’re just like, ‘That was amazing’ because the wines are fantastic.

Bottles of Mad Fritz

Photo Credit: Mad Fritz

Mad Fritz Beer

Phelps says: “Nile Zacherle is a winemaker at David Arthur, but he decided to start brewing beer about a decade ago. He does all kinds of beers and ages some of them in wine barrels. They are uber interesting craft beers and made by a winemaker, so I think that adds a little special something. He has a great palate. He makes beer for Meadowood and French Laundry, so it’s a cool project.”

El Bontia’s lobby

Photo Credit: El Bonita

El Bonita Motel

Phelps says: “El Bonita is this motel on the main drag in St. Helena, and it’s the most affordable option in the area. It’s an adequate place to stay, and it’s $200 bucks a night, which is cheap for St. Helena. There’s even a pool.”

A lineup of wine at Cadet

Photo Credit: Cadet Wine Bar

Cadet Wine Bar

Phelps says: “If you want to go out after dinner, I recommend going to Cadet in downtown Napa. It was founded by two girls that are in their early 30s. They are both hip, young, and cool. They have a list that’s very much focused on Champagne, and Burgundy. It’s fun to go there and order bottles of Champagne. They have a DJ a lot, it’s small and intimate, and it’s an industry place.  Every Wednesday, a winemaker pours, so you have an opportunity to taste with a local winemaker, and those are pretty up-close and personal tastings, and it’s a flight for $20.”

The trail

Photo Credit: Napa Open Space District

Oat Hill Mine Road

Phelps says: “I like to mountain bike, and I love to hike, so I try to encourage people that are visiting to find some other activities besides drinking. The trail that’s my favorite is in Calistoga and called Oat Hill Mine Road. Hiking is great on that trail. You can hike four miles up and have a view of the entire Napa Valley.”