Winter in Wine Country

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Winter in Wine Country

By Kelly Magyarics January 26, 2023

The hectic harvest season has finished, the crowds have thinned, and the wines are resting in barrels in the cellar: winter in Wine Country is an entirely different experience.

Sure, you won’t be able to take those IG-worthy shots of ripened grapes hanging on vines with golden- and orange-tinged leaves. But you will be able to take advantage of off-season, wallet-friendly prices, a more relaxed tasting room experience, and the chance to curl up, swirl, and sip in front of a cozy fireplace and explore a region’s terroir in a whole new way. Travel for a sojourn at one of these five wine regions ready to welcome you this winter:

Napa Valley

Archer Hotel
Photo Courtesy of Archer Hotel

Diversions in downtown Napa are close and concentrated—the perfect location to begin a winter California Wine Country jaunt. The Archer Hotel‘s suites have fireplaces on the balconies—especially appealing during their winter special of 15% off stays of two or more nights. A long bath in a freestanding soaking tub at the luxurious Andaz Napa Valley is just the remedy to warm up after a day of wine tasting, and you can up your cold-weather cuisine game during a hands-on cooking class on seasonal Italian dishes or Julia Child-inspired French bistro fare at CIA at Copia, This time of year you can easily belly up to the tasting bar at nearby Vintner’s Collective, which pours offerings from more than 20 small labels under one roof.

Because bubbly is always in season, you’ll definitely want to book Domaine Carneros’ sparkling wine experience paired with caviar on their expansive terrace (or inside if it’s too chilly). At the northern end of Napa Valley, enjoy mural-covered walls while you sip zippy Sauvignon Blanc and grippy red blends at CAMi Art and Wine in Calistoga.

Dr. Wilkinson’s
Food at House of Better, Photo Courtesy of Dr. Wilkinson’s

Keep those New Year’s resolutions at a table at House of Better in Calistoga, where wellness cuisine meets comfort food, or really ramp up the wellness at The Meritage Resort & Spa during a detoxifying winter facial with Arctic berry enzymes.

Hiking on Table Rock Trail in Robert Louis Stevenson Park is a tranquil, terrestrial alternative to a hot air balloon ride—you’ll likely have the trails to yourselves during this time of year, and on a clear day you can see San Francisco Bay.

Sonoma County

Jordan Winery
Photo Courtesy of Jordan Winery

Sonoma County’s earthy Pinot Noir and elegant Chardonnay are uber-sippable during sweater weather; sample these cool-climate varieties during a curated tasting in the new cellar room at Jordan Vineyard & Winery. During winter, a walking tour and tasting will not only give you a glimpse of the estate and its wines, but with fewer crowds this time of year, you’ll be able to really take it all in—from the grand library filled with vintage books, to the nuances of the library Cabernet you’ll be sampling. And while you can never go wrong with a visit to the castle-like Ledson Winery, there’s something extra special about sipping red wine beside the fire inside a castle in winter.

Suites at the Inn at Occidental come with overstuffed down beds and fireplaces, perfect for getting cozy on those chilly winter evenings, but to make a stay even better, take advantage of the Inn’s special winter rates: $50 off per night, including weekend stays. Over at the Stavrand Russian River Valley, a boutique hotel tucked among the redwoods, rooms feature a combination of gas fireplaces, freestanding soaking tubs, and outdoor cedar hot tubs: just what you need for a little winter R&R. Locals living within 35 minutes of the property shouldn’t miss out on the Thursday night staycation rate this season.

Farmhouse Inn
Photo Courtesy of Farmhouse Inn

Winter is Dungeness Crab season, so order them in several preparations at Tides Wharf Restaurant, but if a multi-course, farm-to-table dinner is more for you, head to the Farmhouse Inn Restaurant. Reservations at this sought-after Wine Country dining destination can be harder to come by in the summer months—all the more reason to visit during the off-season.

Winter is also Sonoma’s whale-watching season; catch a glimpse at Bodega Bay or Salt Point State Park, or hunt for shells and driftwood at Shell Beach. Follow your outdoor adventures with a relaxing spa treatment, such as the Rest & Renewal Massage at the Kenwood Inn & Spa.

Central Virginia / Charlottesville

Keswick Hall
Marigold Restaurant at Keswick Hall, Photo Courtesy of Keswick Hall

You can sample local wines and take part in winter pursuits on the same weekend in this charming region of Virginia, known for its storied history and stellar tasting rooms. Check into a room at Keswick Hall, which reopened last year after extensive renovations and is home to Marigold, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s first foray in Virginia; winter packages include breakfast and a $200 resort credit.

Even if it’s below freezing outside, it’s always sunny and welcoming inside Early Mountain Vineyards’ inviting tasting room (named the best in America); sink into a sofa and warm up with a glass of their benchmark Cabernet Franc—one of the region’s signature grapes. Stay equally toasty around a roaring fire pit at Chisholm Vineyards at Adventure Farm with their Farmer’s Reserve, a structured blend of Petit Verdot and Tannat, or at Eastwood Farm and Winery, where the best pairing for their Meritage is a side of gooey DIY s’mores.

Virginia Wine
Photo Courtesy of Virginia Wine

Be sure to carve out time to eat and drink your way through Dairy Market, Charlottesville’s newish 23,000-square-foot food and market hall located in a former dairy—perfect when it’s just too cold for a stroll through town. Grab a table and a round of craft cocktails with eclectic ingredients at Milkman’s Bar inspired by a 1960s drugstore soda fountain, then dine on Latin American churrascaria fare at South & Central, where succulent rib eye, skirt steak, and picanha are cooked on a wood fire asado-style.

For sheer, exhilarating, snow-filled fun, don your boots and parka and whiz down the 10 lanes at Plunge Tubing Park at Wintergreen Resort, Virginia’s largest snow tubing park.

Walla Walla, Washington

Eritage Resort
Photo Courtesy of Eritage Resort

Since many of the producers in Walla Walla are small and boutique, a visit here is always guaranteed to be personal and immersive; even more so in winter, when this wine region slows down after harvest.

Make The FINCH your home base, Walla Walla’s newest hotel with Northwest craftsman-inspired design, which is offering $50 off per night for February stays. For more of a bucolic feel, Eritage Resort is nestled on 300 acres of wheat fields and vineyards, with suites overlooking a man-made lake and the snow-capped Blue Mountains.

Even though the crowds are thinner in winter, avoid the winery traffic and let Tesla Winery Tours transport you in modern style to your wine tasting excursions. While away a few hours around a table in the cozy barrel room at Northstar Winery during a blending experience, where you can play winemaker and learn the process behind crafting their renowned Merlot. Follow up a guided tasting at Foundry Vineyards with a walk through their fine-art gallery; it’s also where you can stay focused on your winter wellness goals during Saturday morning yoga.

Colville Street Patisserie
Photo Courtesy of Colville Street Patisserie

Walk down Main Street, ducking out of the chill by popping into boutiques including 35th + Butter, a quirky gift and accessories store, and the Colville Street Patisserie for an affogato with their homemade gelato. It’s much easier this time of year to snag a table at the popular Hattaway’s on Alder, which fuses Southeast and Northwest cuisine in seasonal standouts like braised beef cheeks and chicken cassoulet.

Breathe in some of that restorative Northwest air during a stroll at Pioneer Park or while bird watching at Bennington Lake, where winter is the best time to spot red-tailed hawks or long-eared owls.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Bella Collina Bed & Breakfast
Photo Courtesy of Bella Collina Bed & Breakfast

Winter here is called “cellar season,” when the cloud-filled sky is an atmospheric backdrop and light rain maintains that vibrant, green landscape. Peek at those Ponderosa Pines and Pacific Dogwoods from one of seven suites at the intimate Bella Collina Bed & Breakfast, which are all inspired by different Oregon regions and are much easier to book in the off-season.

Forage for the elusive Oregon truffle—which grows from December through February—with Black Tie Tours, whose team of canine sleuths can help you unearth the prized fleeting ingredient and tell you how to use it in your kitchen. Wineries with fireplaces to duck out of the dampness are aplenty, like King Estate, whose Pinot Gris jumps out of the glass with notes of pear, lime, honeysuckle, and lemon blossom. It also happens to be home to the largest Certified Biodynamic vineyard in North America. Cellar season is also Pinot Noir season—indulge in single-vineyard expressions at Ken Wright Cellars; their tasting room is located in a 1920s train depot that’s as inviting as it sounds.

King Estate
Photo Courtesy of King Estate

Get snug during an herbal infusion massage at The Allison Inn & Spa, where essential oil aromatherapy and local herbs are combined with steamed towels and heat packs for the ultimate in relaxation; keep that pampering vibe flowing with dinner at their posh farm-to-table restaurant Jory.

Embrace the region’s veiled mist this time of year (which makes for striking, brooding photos, by the way) during the Silver Falls Tour Route, a 55-mile drive with waterfalls, mountain vistas, and dense forests. If aviation is more your thing, geek out at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, which houses the Spruce Goose and also has new exhibits with an F-86 Sabre fighter jet and a 135-year-old telescope.