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by Erika Lenkert



Walking in a Wine-ter Wonderland

Long before I moved to Napa I made an annual pilgrimage to the area for Christmas Eve. It was something I came to love and look forward to from the first visit onward. Why? Because in winter the Wine Country takes on a whole new and delightfully romantic identity. The traffic goes dormant, just like the vines. Tasting rooms are less crowded. Misty mornings and frequent rainfall provide all the more reason to stay under the hotel-room covers just a little bit longer. Hot days are replaced by warm seats in front of the fireplace. Overindulging in the region's culinary decadence feels far more guiltless when there's no need to squeeze in a clingy sundress or pair of shorts. And best of all to a budget-minded traveler like me, hotel rates are much cheaper and restaurant reservations are easier to come by. If that's not enough reason to follow my lead, consider a few of my favorite wintertime things to do and see in Napa Valley.

Shack up at Meadowood. It's one of the pricier options, but with sprawling grounds, common areas decorated with twinkle lights, large accommodations, and a roaring fire in the lobby and restaurant bar, it's the perfect place to call temporary home. (900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, 800-458-8080, www.meadowood.com)

Feast at Bistro Jeanty. Philippe Jeanty's French country fare fills the tummy and the soul. Don't miss the tomato soup in puff pastry, coq au vin with noodles, and chocolate-mousse layered crème brulee. (6510 Washington St., Yountville, 707-944-0103, www.bistrojeanty.com.)

Have a Dean & DeLuca picnic dinner in your hotel room. After a day of overindulgence or forging the rain it can be nice to slip into your PJs and call it a night. But that doesn't mean you have to go hungry or fill up on minibar offerings. Drop by Dean & DeLuca's gourmet deli area for provisions sure to make in-room dining deliciously elegant—especially if you add a little caviar and bubbly! (607 South St. Helena Highway, St. Helena, 707-967-9980, deanddeluca.com)

Sip at Frank Family Vineyards. They don't call themselves the friendliest winery in the valley for nothing. Stop in to sample delicious bubbly, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel—free of charge—and partake in friendly banter. (1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga, 800.574.9463, www.frankfamilyvineyards.com)

Browse the trinkets at the Vintage 1870 shopping complex. Some of the shops housed in this historic complex are quirky, while others showcase stunning keepsakes. Regardless, with around three-dozen boutiques it's a great place to explore, shop, and stay dry when the air is crisp. (6525 Washington St., Yountville, 707.944.2451, www.vintage1870.com)

Buy a memento at Napa Valley Grapevine Wreath Company. Those gnarled vines don't just look majestic in the vineyard. When woven they make for wonderful garden, front door, or tabletop ornaments. Drop by to get your hands on your very own grapevine wreath, basket, or even a large reindeer. (8901 Conn Creek Rd., Rutherford, 877-776-NAPA, www.grapevinewreath.com)

Enjoy a movie at the Cameo Cinema. St. Helena's adorable and very comfy renovated historic film house features first-run movies and small-town charm. (1340 Main St., St. Helena, 707-963-9779, www.cameocinema.com)