Some wine country charms are the same year-round: a bucolic setting, stellar hospitality, world-class wine and food. But – depending on when you visit – the character of these charms varies thanks to that delicious inevitability that is the changing of the seasons. From the flowering of the vines and vineyards’ surround in spring to the golden-tinged harvest come fall, wine country presents plenty of reasons to celebrate its bounty year-round.
Read on for our tips on how to make the most of wine country from January to December. One thing you won’t ever have to worry about: an empty glass.
Spring is when the vines come alive, pushing forth tentative shoots that signal the beginning of a new vintage. Wine country fairly buzzes at this time of year with the possibility of another spectacular harvest, and the bounty that begins to show up in farmer’s markets is echoed in the lush blooms of flowering trees and plants.
Forecast – Springtime weather is often lovely, with warmish days followed by cool to quite cool nights. Sunshine is abundant as well, but showers are always a possibility and accordingly should be planned for. If you have outdoor excursions in mind, be sure to phone ahead to make sure conditions are amenable, especially if weather has been rainy.
Highlights – Driving outdoors in spring is always exciting, especially if you’re lucky enough to catch the vibrant mustard blooms that blanket vineyards this time of year (also gorgeous when seen from a helicopter or hot air balloon!). If you're looking for an excuse to spend time in the car, the many passport weekends that occur during spring months make excellent excuses: Pay a flat fee and taste at dozens of wineries in a given area over a one- to two-day period. Springtime is also when wineries traditionally hold new vintage release celebrations, and it's the beginning of the festival season. Whether music-oriented, art-inclined or culinary in nature, festivals are great ways to sample the bounty of wine country in spring.
Forecast – Summer months in wine country promise the most temperate weather, with rain a rare intruder, although temperatures are known to soar north of 100 degrees every once in awhile (pack accordingly!). Thanks to wine country's characteristically cool nights, however, hot days are tempered by comfortable evenings. This is the time when wine country offers visitors the greatest scope of activities, although crowds will need to be negotiated at all but the most remote or private locations. Advance reservations at restaurants, smaller wineries and for any sort of special activity are highly recommended during summer.
Highlights – Outdoor enthusiasts are in luck during summer, when activities from boating to hiking to bike riding, ballooning and beyond are ready possibilities. Wine tasting – available year-round – is complemented during summer months with the likes of twilight events, BBQs, live music and outdoor cooking demonstrations at wineries, especially Fridays through Sundays. This is also when the festival season is in full swing, with festivals of every sort imaginable – from film to craft, blues and more – occurring pretty much non-stop throughout the season. Consult our Events Calendar before venturing to wine country during this time in order to make sure you don’t miss something fabulous! And finally, this is high picnic time. Pack accordingly.
Forecast – Autumn brings the grape harvest and a shift towards cooler weather, especially as Thanksgiving nears. Happily, many wine country regions in California enjoy particularly warm autumns, although occasional showers and cool to cold evenings should be planned for.
Highlights – The single biggest event during fall is the grape harvest, which – rather than occurring all at once – occurs over a period of months from late August through November. Crush-oriented attractions in wine country include harvest camps and parties, with most requiring advance reservations. Beyond, the general splendor of the season is captured in evolving foliage colors throughout wine country, including in the vineyards (readily taken in by car, train, balloon or helicopter, depending on your whim). Apart from the grape harvest, autumnal activity options encompass mushroom foraging – the northern California coast is a hotbed for mushroom foraging, with September and October bringing mushroom festivals – apple picking and a host of outdoor excursions.
Forecast – With vines heading into dormancy until springtime, winter is wine country's sleepiest time of year . . . but that doesn't mean there isn’t plenty to see and do. Still, it bears noting that weather during wintertime can be decidedly cold and rainy, with the sun often taking on a hazy disposition when it comes out. Appropriate weather gear is essential. For more on wine country in the rain, check out The Wine Country Rainy Day Guide
Highlights – Happily, winter in wine country affords delights that would be impossible to obtain or appreciate to the same degree at other times of the year. Why? During these quiet, cool months, wine country savings and access are readily available, making year-round pursuits like golf at top courses, dinner at popular restaurants and treatments at top-shelf spas all the more possible. It is also a great time to make a last-minute trip to wine country, as reservations are often available on short notice (tip: don't forget to ask about off-season rates!). Coastal regions offer whale watching in the winter, and there's no better time to cuddle up with that special someone in front of a big fire.
Other guides that may be of interest:
Napa Valley and Sonoma County
Wine Tasting Etiquette