Timing Considerations for Your Next Napa Valley Trip
Wondering when to visit Napa Valley? Having visited Napa during each of the four seasons, I’ve seen the benefits and drawbacks of traveling to this beautiful region throughout the year. For those considering a first time trip or a return done differently, I’ve included a summary of what you could expect from Northern California’s Wine Country from now through next November.
We’re coming upon my favorite period of the year to visit Napa – during the doldrums of winter. No, the weather isn’t that much warmer than what I experience in Chicago (and you’ll likely need an umbrella), but for a true wine lover, this is one of the best times to go. Why? Flights, hotels and car rental prices are significantly cheaper. By shopping around, I’ve observed that room night costs are reduced by up to half of their peak season rates. In addition, many properties offer packages or buy-three-nights-get-one-free deals, which might allow you the opportunity to stay at a hotel you previously were not able to swing within budget. And, isn’t the thought of cozying up to a fire or jumping in a hot tub after a chilly day of tasting appealing? Restaurant reservations also should be fairly easy to come by. (Another plus for me is Dungeness Crab season, which makes for some of my favorite meals.)
Additionally, with far fewer people in town, you’ll have more unique and intimate tasting experiences. When visiting December – February, we’ve been more apt to taste wine out of a barrel, tour a cave, meet the winery owners or winemakers and taste new releases. Most times, we’re the only people there for an appointment and without a rush to finish up before someone else arrives. During winter, we’ve built wonderful relationships with wine educators because we’ve been able to ask questions, discuss taste preferences and learn about each wine in greater detail.
While the vineyards are now naked; winter brings mustard season! Stunning yellow flowers fill the valley and can stop you in your tracks when the sun hits them just right.
The fairly obvious downside here is the travel/weather risk for those flying in from out-of-state. Last January, we planned a quiet weekend escape from Chicago and were met with a blizzard in Illinois and dense fog in San Francisco, leaving us little time outside of airports. However, one could argue this is a risk we take the majority of the year!
With many of the same benefits as a winter visit, a springtime trip is enhanced by slightly warmer temperatures and the beauty of budbreak (if you prefer to see a little something on the vines).
Napa starts to look like a valley of vineyards again. Tiny grapes hang from the vines and lush, green leaves form their sweeping, protective awnings. Tastings and meals will begin to move back outdoors, delivering that quintessential “vacation” feeling for visitors. Wineries will become busier, though you still may luck out with some sparsely populated tastings.
Something to consider: one word, h-o-t. Trips between June and August help to serve as a virtual advertisement for crisp Sauvignon Blancs and refreshing Chardonnays, which isn’t a bad thing! I love white wines during the summer months. While temperatures certainly fluctuate, there have been a few 90+ degree days I’ve had to step away from wine tasting because I physically wasn’t able to appreciate the experience – especially with full-bodied reds. Most to all wineries will have air conditioning – or caves – though some lengthy outdoor tours or tastings will occur in the direct sunlight. On these days, you could just opt to stay back at the hotel pool, schedule a spa treatment, catch a movie or shop.
Prices also will creep back up and you’ll have to be more cognizant of booking restaurant reservations in advance.
Ahh, the best and worst time to visit Napa. Any wine lover should experience harvest at least once. The valley is abuzz with crush parties and throngs of tourists. Vineyards display breathtaking yellow and orange-hues and grapes are ripe for picking. There’s just a great energy in the air! I love watching grapes travel down the roads on truckbeds to be processed and eventually enter a bottle I may one day consume. I like taking this time to appreciate all the work that goes into each glass of wine.
As expected, prices are at their absolute highest and winery/hotel/restaurant reservations must be well thought-out. Traffic along Highway 29 becomes more congested than usual and wineries are packed to the brim with tasters.
I love Napa for all that it brings. As you consider your next trip, just take a step back and ask yourself what aspect of a visit is most important to you. There’s never a bad time to go.
What experiences have you had during the seasons?