(Sarah is the owner and operator of Sommelier on Wheels, which specializes in hosting guests to visit privately with ownership at wineries not typically open to the public.)
With Christmas behind us, one doesn’t traditionally associate the Napa/Sonoma Wine Country as a winter getaway. Wine Country is a great place to drive around with the top down as you jaunt from winery to winery to taste the local wares, but did you know that now’s an even better time to visit the Valleys? Here are ten reasons why (in no particular order):
1. Fewer crowds:
Less people means more opportunity to do what you want to do. In the summer months and on big weekends, tasting rooms are full, restaurants are jam-packed and hotel rooms aren’t always easy to come by. I’m not sure where Sonoma and Napa got their reputations as mostly summer destinations…it’s great here year-round. In fact, from now through March, you’re likely to have some of your best experiences here.
2. You’ll get the vintner’s full attention:
If you’re a wine buff, visiting Wine Country isn’t just about tasting the wine: You can taste wine anywhere. You come here to experience the wine, not just taste it. Part of that experience is seeing where your favorite wine is made and hearing all about it. And there is no better way to hear about your favorite wine or grape varietal than by talking to the vintner in charge of it. In the summer peak period, you’re less likely to have access to the people crucial to the wine making process. You’re also more likely to have a more intimate and detailed tour of the winery.
3. It’s all about taste:
Napa and Sonoma Counties are world-renowned for their amazing red wines. You know when isn’t a good time to enjoy a full bodied red? When it’s 90 degrees outside! Our mild winters and myriad red wines go hand in hand.
4. Places to stay and plenty of options:
They don’t call peak season the peak season for nothing. From December to March, there are some great hotel rooms available across both valleys, whatever your tastes, budget or preference. You’ll always get great customer service here, but with fewer visitors around, you can count on a more personal experience.
5. You’re contributing to an already vibrant tourism economy:
Wine Country represents the 6th largest tourism area in California, and counts for nearly 12,000 jobs generated by visitor spending. We’re already committed to being here, you might as well make the most of it all year-round!
6. Dinner reservations at a decent hour:
Wait, you don’t like having dinner at 4pm or 10pm?!?! Guess what? Come between December and March and you can find a table at a human dining hour. Sonoma and Napa Counties are home to some of California’s finest restaurants, let alone some of the best dining experiences in the world!
7. Less traffic:
This goes hand in hand with fewer crowds, naturally, but one of our dirty little secrets is that the fall months are when most of the road construction occurs. To make matters worse, enormous, slow-as-molasses grape trucks abound: more traffic, fewer roads isn’t a winning combination.
8. Fire makes it good:
Any Wine Country hotel/winery/restaurant worth its salt has a fireplace or a fire pit, made just for you and your friends to sit around and sip that assertive Cab, Zinfandel or Pinot Noir you bought earlier in the day. Try doing that on a hot August night!
9. Beautiful scenery, mild temperatures:
It might rain while you’re here, but it’s less likely than you think. And thanks to that rain we experience lush, green pastures and ground cover under the bare, gnarly vines as well as an incredible array of ferns, wild flowers and the little yellow mustard flowers coating the valley floor which have become a famous and favorite aspect of winter in Wine Country. Come early spring we enjoy myriad blooming fruit and nut trees, lining driveways and covering whole orchard sites that remain amidst the vineyards. Many of Wine Country’s best activities are indoors to boot. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the view.
10. It’s not just wine:
Of course the Napa Valley/Sonoma Wine Country is synonymous with wine, but there’s so much more…and much of it you already know about – the great food, the rolling hills, the hospitality, but did you know there’s glassblowing, botanical gardens, ziplining, soap and what’s wine without cheese?
If you haven’t planned your trip to Napa Valley/Sonoma Wine Country yet, you might want to get on it. The peak “non-peak” season is running out.
For more information about Sommelier on Wheels, check out Sarah’s website here.