For millennia, those who live by the land have done rain dances in times of drought and wrung their hands when Mother Nature sent them more than they’d bargained for. Fortunately, wine tourists have little to fear from wet weather. With a little extra planning, a wine country visit during the rainy season needn’t yield fewer delights than those embarked on during calmer times, and can even be a portal to delightful experiences otherwise unimagined.
WHAT TO KNOW:
* Seasonal Notes: The rainy season in California extends from late October through March, and can bring heavy rains and even flooding. Be sure to keep an eye on local news and weather reports while in wine country to stay abreast of any troublesome spells on the horizon or flooding you should avoid (lowlands in Napa and Sonoma are prone to flooding, though this rarely interferes with wine touring activities).
* Indoor Delights: Given the wet weather outside, you’re best off sticking to activities that can be done indoors. On the more active side, think cooking classes and demonstrations, wine blending lessons and museum going. On the more relaxing front, simply sitting in front of the fire and enjoying its warmth is always a winner! Generally speaking, all indoor wine country activities are a go during even the nastiest weather.
* Shower Session: We get a lot of questions about when to head outdoors in wet weather: When it’s sprinkling? Is a downpour too much? Your inklings are right-on:
If it’s sprinkling to moderately raining, go! But be sure to check the forecast before you do; if it’s slated to really pour, consult the next bullet point. If continued moderate rains are forecast, get out there and enjoy yourself (focusing on indoor activities, natch).
* Downpour Drama: As locals know, when it rains in wine country, it can literally pour. During the most torrential downpours – and when they’re forecast for later in the same day – we recommend staying indoors and perhaps even sticking close to your hotel. Not only is visibility compromised during heavy rain, roads are prone to flooding at this time, which can make for tricky navigating (wine country roads aren't always well marked, further complicating things). Of course, there is always the traveler favorite - Napa Valley Wine Train where you can enjoy wine and food and the beautiful Napa Valley landscape all from the comfort of your train seat! You might also consider hiring a driver: they boast the dual benefit of sobriety and being familiar with the area. Napa Valley Tours & Transportation / Sonoma Tours & Transportation
* Gear Change: Heading out with the right gear – think plenty of sturdy umbrellas, proper shoes and clothing – will go far to help you enjoy your time in wine country in the rain. Sticking to activities that can be easily accessed from your hotel or car are also a good idea; most wine country destinations offer easily accessible on-site parking, which bodes well for your wet weather outings.
* Time to Plan: While wine country travel in the rainy season may put a damper on your plans to bask in the sunshine or bicycle through the vineyards, it’s also an opportunity to see a different side of wine country. To wit, you may find you do things you otherwise wouldn't do, such as take a cooking class, opt for a winemaker-led tasting, visit a museum, take a train ride or see a performance you’d have otherwise missed. After all, stumbling into unexpected things can lead to magic where travel goes…
THINGS TO DO
* Spa Time: Our hectic lives rarely leave time for pampering. Take advantage of rainy wine country weather to indulge in one of the area's myriad spa treatments, cocooning yourself against the elements by way of massage, mineral bath, steam session or the like. If "to soak or not to soak" is the biggest question you face all day, life is looking good (and so, too, is your complexion). Napa Valley Spas / Sonoma Spas
* Cozy Up: Let the weather be an excuse for you to generate your own heat. After all, sometimes cozying up with that special someone and watching a fire is a treat in and of itself. To complete the atmosphere, break out the board games (many Bed & Breakfasts and Inns provide these), epic films on DVD (the better to go with the mighty elements outside), some gourmet snacks and – of course – the vino. Napa Valley Lodging / Sonoma Lodging
* Get Gustatory: If ever there was a time to tuck into an epic feast (think multi-course tasting menu at a Michelin-starred haunt), it’s now. Just take a cue from France's famed Champagne region, an area celebrated for the delicious dichotomy of its constantly poor weather and always warming restaurants. Translation: there's never been a better time to spend three hours at lunch. Napa Valley Restaurants / Sonoma Restaurants
* Go Tasting: Tasting rooms are open rain or shine, and inclement weather brings fewer guests, meaning more face time for you with staff. It's also when you may be able to score tours and private tastings – or other unforeseen delights (tasting lesson with the winemaker, anyone?) – without a reservation. In all, it may be tougher to get there in the rainy season, but it is well worth the effort. Napa Valley Wineries / Sonoma Wineries