Our favorite time to visit the region is November through early March. There is less traffic, the crowds are fewer, and it’s easier to get reservations in wineries, hotels, and restaurants. Airfare is also less expensive during this time (outside the major winter holidays).
Winter is the time of the year when you’re most likely to meet seasoned staff at wineries (or even an owner or winemaker!), since harvest is complete. Another perk is that some wineries will run promotions around the holidays, such as older vintages available for purchase that are not available other times of the year.
Do note that it can be cool and rainy during this season in Napa and Sonoma, with temperatures around 60 F during the day and low 40s at night — perfect fireplace weather!
Wildflowers will be in bloom this time of year, as well as the yellow Brassica in vineyard cover crops. Many shades of green cover the landscape as grasses are awakened by the warmer weather and recent rains. Baby calves and lambs dot the nearby pasture landscape. The vines are full of leaves by April, followed soon afterwards by fruit set. Many wineries will be bottling rose and white wines.
The number of visitors increases as people take advantage of the pleasant weather for biking, running, and hiking, and there are a number of races and biking events. Daytime temperatures will creep into the 70s and low 80s, but evenings remain cool (50s) by the end of May. Most of the rain has stopped, with the exception of a few pop-up showers.
Summer hums with the buzz of travelers and day trippers from the Bay area. Restaurants and hotels are typically full with the bustle of summer weddings, anniversaries, and summer travelers. The warm days and cool evenings bring out artists and musicians, and there’s plenty of live music. Evenings are still cool, with nighttime temperatures in the upper 50s, and daytime highs in the 80s sometimes spiking to over 100 F. There’s very little chance of rain during the summer in either region.
During summer and autumn, you are more likely to encounter interns or part time help in the tasting room while more senior staff coordinate or conduct vineyard management activities and are busy readying the winery for the upcoming harvest.
Harvest can run from August to October depending upon grape variety, altitude, and that year’s weather. Most of the grape picking happens very early in the morning, to take advantage of the cool temperature of the grapes. Natural yeasts exist on the outside of grapes; if they get too warm in the tractor buggies they can start to ferment quite quickly as the day warms up.
This is the height of the tourism season — rooms sell out early and restaurant reservations can be difficult. Cellars are very busy, and so is the tasting room. The rural roads swell with tourists, tractors, and workers rushing to get in the harvest (which happens during a narrow window of time). There’s a crispness in the air, with daytime temperatures starting to fall into the 70s and nighttime temperatures in the low 50s.
Where to Stay
For hotels, motels, and B&Bs, plan well in advance (at least 30 days in advance for winter and spring and as much as 90 to 180 days in advance for summer and autumn). While there are many luxury hotels in the area, there are also more affordable options at smaller, family-run inns and chain hotels in the area. However, the economy hotels are typically 30 minutes or more from wineries and restaurants, so they may not be the most budget choice when you add in transportation costs. Depending on the distance, many hotels will offer shuttle service to nearby restaurants and vineyards at no charge.