Northern Exposure

As president and principal at Wally’s Wine & Spirits (, Christian Navarro is constantly in touch with top wine makers around the globe. Here, he shares his recent discoveries and insights after an early summer trip to the Napa Valley.

Every year I journey to Napa and Sonoma to meet with and discover what I feel are the greatest wine estates in America. For weeks in June, I tramp through the north counties of California turning over every stone, visiting dozens of properties, and talking to hundreds of wine folk to bring what I feel is the very best to the world. This year, seven estates stand out above all the others. Here is what I discovered.


Occidental (New)
You can tell the moment you pull up to this incredible, hilltop minimalist estate that there’s something special here. The owner, Steve Kistler, is a sort of quiet mad scientist with a special aura that radiates creativity. When we taste the wine in his modern tasting room that overlooks the vineyards and across the valley, he rarely mentions the wines, but mentions the purity of the grapes and the specialness of the soils. The results are some of the finest examples of modern Pinot Noir I have seen in years.

Freeman (New)
Few have heard of this brand, but once you taste the wines, you’ll never forget it. Driving up to the property, it’s easy to get lost, as it’s in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of town. Once through the gate though, you see a true micro-winery complete with caves. It all seems odd until they start pulling corks, then the only thing you are thinking about is this amazingly perfumed balanced Pinot Noir.

Kistler (Old)
This may seem like an obvious choice because of its success, but what Jason Kesner is doing is raising the bar for top-quality Burgundy varietals. He is fine-tuning through natural techniques, and has incredible discipline walking the vineyards every day, creating through passion one of the best Chardonnay and Pinot properties in the world.


Marciano Estate (New)
Morgan Maurèze, who helms this 10-acre jewel and previously worked at Screaming Eagle, Château La Mission Haut-Brion, Dalla Valle, and Domaine del la Romanée-Conti, to name a few, is quietly crafting some of the most exciting and delicious Cabernet Sauvignon wines of the Napa Valley. These wines over time will be held in the light with all the greats.

Realm (New)
I spent almost an entire day kicking dirt and talking philosophy while tasting wines with proprietor Benoit Touquette, who feels and sees Napa like no one else. He understands the history, he lives in the present, but he dreams and works for the future. He is a renaissance man who truly thinks outside the box and is the future of the Napa Valley. He makes wines of purity, a sense of place, and a depth not seen anywhere else in the valley. Keep your eye on this one; it’s special.

Shafer (Old)
Always a crowd-pleaser and always high quality, this vineyard opened my eyes to the magic of the property. The estate is located in the Stags Leap region, a fabulous place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is on a beautiful spot perfectly situated on a west-facing hillside just off the Silverado Trail. After tasting Doug Shafer’s Hillside Select, it reminded me that the old guys are still sometimes the best.

Screaming Eagle (Old)
This winery is widely considered one of California’s greats, and after spending the day in the vineyard with winemaker Nick Gislason, some of the elements you don’t see or taste were illuminated. We talked about how they farm, and how they grow, and how everything that they do to care for their land, vine by vine, as if it were a family member, results in them creating the very best.