Photo by Lindsey Brown

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.

In this week's column, he suggests Napa Valley wineries to visit Take it away, Chris.

I try to visit Napa once or twice a year. I put together a guide for you to make the most of the Valley. This will be a two-part series.

This week, I’m only focusing on wineries. Next time, I’ll write about my favorite restaurants and bars.

Before you go, know that things have changed since 2020. More pre-planning is required, and having a good strategy is key to maximizing your experience. Gone are the days of getting on a bus going from winery to winery and just dropping in. Almost all wineries are reservation-only now and need to be booked in advance, which I believe is a good thing.

I never really understood why people would want to hit as many wineries as you could in a day — not only is that dangerous, but it’s not fair to the wineries. Let’s be honest. You probably won’t remember your sixth winery of the day.

I believe that the perfect scenario for this kind of vacation is visiting one winery in the morning, then lunch, and one winery in the afternoon. Most tastings are an hour to an hour-and-a-half, so be aware when you’re making reservations. Also, in the past, I’ve booked wineries without considering their location. Make sure you’re scheduling wineries that are in close proximity on the same day. And stay hydrated out there!

We’re lucky in Houston that we have access to a lot of wine here. But when you visit the wineries, you have access to past vintages, winery-only releases, one-offs, and other cool stuff. Make sure to ask for any special winery-only offerings.

Here's my list of favorites. What did I miss? Share your favorites with me!

Staglin Family Vineyard
What to taste: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Why I like it: They produce a label called Salus that benefits mental health research. The Staglin family is incredibly philanthropic. Their Music Festival for Brain Health at Staglin Family Vineyard has raised over $460 million.

Fun fact: the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap was filmed at Staglin.

Robert Mondavi Winery
You can’t talk about Napa Valley without mentioning this winery. The man helped create Napa Valley.

What to taste: The Estate wines. To Kalon is one of the greatest vineyards in the world. So many of the cult wineries that people are searching for are buying fruit from this vineyard to make those wines. Respect the history. Mondavi is the OG.

Fun fact: Mondavi is about to begin a three-year renovation of the winery, so they’re moving the tasting room to downtown Napa.

Spottswood Winery
What to taste: They’re most recognized for their Cabernet Sauvignon, but their Sauv Blanc is delicious.

Corison Winery
This winery is really easy to find, because it’s right on Highway 29. Cathy Corison is an OG winemaker in the Valley, making some of the best wines out there.

What to taste: Her single vineyard wines are absolutely fantastic. The Cab Franc is a stunner, and her rosé is crisp, clean, and fantastic.

Heitz Cellar
Heitz has been in Napa since the late 1960s, but they’ve recently seen a major renaissance thanks to new ownership and a new CEO, master sommelier Carlton McCoy. They’ve instilled a new tasting room style, which is formal but relaxed in a beautiful setting. Back vintages are readily available, and they’re always doing something cool.

What to taste: Martha’s Vineyard is one of the most exceptional vineyards in Napa, and it’s a real treat to try their wine from this vineyard. The Trailside Vineyard is my favorite. You can find back vintages of both at the winery. These wines are built to age.

Chateau Montelena Winery
If Robert Mondavi is the guy who built Napa, Chateau Montelena is one of the wineries that put Napa on the map. The movie Bottle Shock (I talked about this in a previous column. Rent it! It’s great!) is based on Chateau Montelena’s Chardonnay beating out Burgundy’s top whites in a blind tasting involving only French judges in The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. This event changed everything for Napa, and you know what? It’s still delicious.

What to taste: The estate wines are great. The Cab is fantastic. But the Chardonnay is what it’s all about to me. There’s a reason it won. And it’s a beautiful estate to visit.

Dunn Vineyards
We’ve talked about Dunn a few times in this column, and I just had the opportunity to visit them at the top of Howell Mountain. In the snow!

What to taste: The Napa Cab and the Howell Mountain Cab are absolutely stunning and worth the trip, but getting to try second generation winemakers Mike and Kara Dunn’s Retro Cellars was really special.

Miner Family Winery
I’ve been a fan of Miner for as long as I can remember. They buy the majority of their fruit, so you’re not just going to taste Cab here.

What to taste: The Oracle, a Cab blend, is their flagship (and rightfully so), but they produce Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands — Rosella’s Vineyard and Gary’s Vineyard. Dave Miner is a big Rhone wine lover, so he also makes Grenache/Syrah blends and white varietals like Roussanne and Viognier. This is a good wine club to join.

ZD Wines
What to taste: Their Chardonnays are delicious, and their Pinots from Carneros are fantastic. Then there’s the elusive Abacus, which is a multi-vintage blend of Cabernet. The XXIV release is a masterful blend of 30 vintages of ZD Reserve Cab. How cool is that?

Robert Sinskey Vineyards
Arguably, they offer one of the coolest tastings in Napa. I’m a big fan of both their wines and their food. Maria Sinskey was a Food & Wine Best New Chef, so their food is some of the best at any winery I’ve visited.

What to taste: They produce a lot of really killer white wines. I’m very much in love with the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The rosé is out of this world. And their single vineyard Pinots and bigger reds are beautiful as well.

Fun fact: The Robert Sinskey Foundation funded Southern Smoke’s mental health program in California that allows us to provide free mental health counseling to anyone in the food and beverage industry in the state.

Chappellet is up on Pritchard Hill — we’ve talked about their Cabs before — It’s a beautiful setting.

What to taste: All the wines are fantastic, but the two you don’t want to sleep on are the Chenin Blanc and the Cab Franc.

Stag’s Leap
We talked about The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. Stag’s Leap SLV Cab was the winner in the red wine category! Spoiler alert—Napa swept France in ’76.

What to taste: The wines I truly love are Fay, SLV, and the Cask 23.

Long Meadow Ranch
I originally visited this winery back when I was at Brennan’s because of their olive oil production, and I fell in love with their wines, too.

What to taste: Located in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, they produce some stunning Cabernet and make a delicious Sangiovese as well.

Ashes and Diamonds
Ashes and Diamonds is new to the scene with a winery in a fun, mid-century modern setting. Their food program is really interesting. I’m not currently a member of this club, but maybe I should be. The perks are cool—picnics and swimming pools!

What to taste: The Grand Vin, a blend of Merlot and Cab Franc.

Beyond Napa Valley

If you want to get out of Napa Valley for a tasting or two, head north into Alexander Valley and visit Jordan Winery. They’ve been making wine since the ‘70s, and it’s a beautiful estate.

What to taste: They only make two wines — Chardonnay and Cabernet. I hadn’t tasted these wines in quite some time, but they took me back with their sense of place. It’s a consistently delicious, consistently well-made wine. It almost surprised me a little with how delicious it was.

If you have a free afternoon on a beautiful California day, head out to Scribe. Currently, only Scribe members can visit, but trust me. This is a great club to join. When you’re a part of the wine club, they ship you wines that I didn’t even know existed.

What to taste: One of the wines we got as part of the club was an Estate Sparkling Mission. The Mission grape was the first European grape vine planted in California but has been rarely planted since Prohibition. Their Pinots are great, and their white wines are, too. Some are more on the natural side, which is fun as well.

There are so many wineries in Napa, and this doesn’t come close to scratching the surface. You wouldn’t want to read an article that long! Everyone has their favorites, and that’s the beauty of traveling. Go find yours, and then let me know.

Contact our Wine Guy via email at chris@chrisshepherdconcepts.com.

Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. Last year, he parted ways with Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that currently operates four Houston restaurants: Wild Oats, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Georgia James. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.

Chris Shepherd Modavi vineyard

Photo by Lindsey Brown

Our wine guy recommends visiting Mondavi.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Popular Indian restaurant adds second location offering exclusively vegetarian fine-dining experience

Delicious Dedication

Foodies in the know have been visiting Nirmanz Food Boutique in Sugar Land for the past six years, drawn by its wide variety of Indian cuisines that include Punjabi, North and South Indian, Indo-Chinese, Indian street food, and even Indian fast food.

Now, hungry Houstonians and visitors seeking bright flavors and high-end hospitality can flock to the second location in Richmond, which opened at 11143 Harlem Rd. in fall of last year. It will feature an exclusively vegetarian menu.

It's the first of many planned expansions, says chef Nirman Shah, who runs the brand with his wife, Niyati, and three daughters: Manushi, Aayushi, and Sreyanshi. “These girls of mine are my truest of assets,” he often expresses.

Shah and his family have always followed the path of vegetarianism, and it has long been a dream to have a restaurant that showcases only vegetarian cuisine.

"In the Indian culture, there’s a large population that follows vegetarianism and there is a lack of fine-dining vegetarian, Indian restaurants here in America," says Shah. "Our goal is to place a spotlight on this particular genre and spread awareness of this cuisine that's growing in popularity."

Shah revealed that all Nirmanz locations will be converting to exclusively vegetarian soon, and there will be an additional menu that features gluten-free, vegan, jain, and swaminarayan options for those with dietary restrictions. In the near future, there will also be additions to the menu featuring cultural root dishes, which are often not found outside of India

"Ultimately we want to create a dining space that is inclusive, where there is something for everyone," Shah says. "As professionals in the hospitality industry, nothing makes us happier than having loved ones dine in our restaurants, celebrating a joyous time, while leaving satisfied."

A graduate of Indian Hotel Management in Ahmedabad, Shah has more than 25 years of U.S. restaurant experience.

Before arriving in the U.S., Shah earned accolades working as a head chef at the renowned Rambagh Palace Hotel in Jaipur, now a luxury Taj Palace Hotel, and also studied food technology.

The new location in Richmond is a celebration of Shah's culinary journey throughout his time in America. Beautifully adorned with antique furniture and pieces that were brought over from the city of Rajasthan, the restaurant's ambiance helps tell the story of the chef and his family.

The authentic menu tells its own delicious tale with comforting favorites like palak, tikka masala, and koftas, plus some unexpected fusion creations.

Thanks to both its food and its family spirit, the beloved restaurant brand is a popular choice for weddings and has catered at some of the city's most stunning venues.

Shah also believes in giving back — community is extremely important to him. He has gone out of his way to deliver free meals to medical offices and clinics during the pandemic, and helped feed locals during Hurricane Harvey and the devastating ice storm.

Bringing cuisine and culture together has always been Shah's goal, and now there are twice as many opportunities for his fans to experience that.


Nirmanz Food Boutique's original location is at 16338 Kensington Dr., suite 160, in Sugar Land (832-532-0699). Its new location is at 11143 Harlem Rd. in Richmond (832-281-9990).

Nirmanz Food Boutique

Photo courtesy of Nirmanz Food Boutique

The second location in Richmond is now open.

2 star chefs roll out sushi spot with fresh-from-Tokyo goods along with intimate new bar in buzzy Buffalo Bayou hub

sushi in the park

Two of Houston’s most prolific sushi chefs have signed on to an eagerly anticipated mixed-use development. Chefs Patrick Pham and Daniel Lee, the owners of 2023 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Best New Restaurant winner Aiko, will open Doko, a new sushi restaurant, and Bar Doko, an intimate cocktail bar, in the Autry Park mixed-use development.

Expected to open this fall on the ground floor of the Hanover Parkview mid-rise, Doko will serve a menu of sushi that utilizes fish flown in from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market. The 1,900-square-foot restaurant is expected to seat 50 in its main dining room and 12 at its bar.

Tiny Bar Doko will occupy just 600-square-feet in a space that’s adjacent to Doko. The group’s first bar, it will serve Japanese-inspired cocktails. Houston architecture firm JT ARC Studio and Los Angeles’ JAW Collective will create the designs for both establishments

Taken together, Doko and Bar Doko are the latest projects from Duckstache Hospitality, the company that chefs Pham and Lee established with business partners Andrew Lin and C.J. Short. In addition to the aforementioned Aiko, they also operate Kokoro in downtown’s Bravery Chef Hall, Himari at the Stomping Grounds in Garden Oaks, and two outposts of hand roll concept Handies Douzo.

“Autry Park is an amazing opportunity to continue to showcase our culinary creativity in a unique setting,” Lin said in a statement. “We look to evolve our offering in Japanese cuisine to provide our guests with memorable dining experiences.”

Doko and Bar Doko will join a number of new restaurants at Autry Park. They include two new concepts from Berg Hospitality, Annabelle Brasserie and Turner’s Cut; two restaurants from MF Sushi chef-owner Chris Kinjo, MF Lobster and Ceviche and Annam, a Vietnamese restaurant; Auden, a vegetable-forward, globally inspired restaurant; a second location of pilates studio and coffee shop Duo; and the first Houston location of Austin favorite Lick Honest Ice Creams.

Developed by local real estate firms Lionstone Investments and Hanover Company, Autry Park occupies 14 acres on the western edge of Buffalo Bayou Park. The project's three-phase masterplan includes five towers encompassing 1,450 residential units, 350,000 square feet of Class A office space, and 100,000 square feet of retail, according to press materials.

Dave Chappelle heads to Houston as part of 4 Texas arena stops

Chappelle's Show(s)

Comedian/actor Dave Chappelle will soon bring his "Dave Chappelle Live" stand-up comedy show to arenas in four cities in Texas, including Toyota Center in Houston on July 1.

Other dates include American Airlines Center in Dallas, on June 29, AT&T Center in San Antonio on July 12, and Moody Center in Austin on July 14.

Chappelle is a complicated figure who's been celebrated for his trailblazing comedy and vilified for his controversial stances. Chappelle's Show, which ran from 2003 to 2006 on Comedy Central, was widely praised, and Chappelle remained extremely popular despite the abrupt end of the show and him choosing to recede from the spotlight in the following decade.

His re-emergence in the late 2010s brought success in the form of three straight Grammy wins for Best Comedy Album, but also continued jokes aimed at transgender people. He has been the subject of multiple protests over that material, and has even had a show canceled by a venue in Minneapolis after receiving criticism for hosting him.

As if to underscore the contentious nature of his comedy, no cellphones, cameras, or recording devices will be allowed at any of the four shows. All phones and smart watches will be secured in special pouches that can be unlocked at the end of the show. Anyone caught with a cellphone in the venue will be immediately ejected.

Tickets for the four shows will go on sale at 5 pm on June 5 at ticketmaster.com.