Any time is a good time to visit Napa and Sonoma, but Wine Country in autumn is an exciting place. Fall is harvest season and it brings with it a festive frenzy or sorts. Acre after acre of grapes need to be picked at just the right time, and when that time arrives, things can get a bit frantic. Vineyard employees work extra hours, friends and family members get called into action and wine makers often get little sleep.
Harvest is not an exact science. Timing can vary from year to year, and is very dependent on summer weather. Light-skinned grapes such as Chardonnay are typically picked first in late August, early September. Dark-skinned grapes such as Syrah and Cabernet are traditionally harvested later in September or October. But picking times can vary greatly from year to year, and don’t always line up with the best laid travel plans.
Visiting wine country in autumn allows folks to actually see and hopefully better understand the process of getting grapes from the vines, to the bottles to your glass. From picking, to crushing, and fermenting there are so many elements that go into making good wine. Many vineyards put on special events and harvest parties during September and October. Along with have wines paired with gourmet food, vino enthusiasts can often sample and purchase exclusive vintages that aren’t otherwise easily available.
The fall is a very popular time to visit, so even though harvest times can be unpredictable, it’s a good idea to book your plans as early as possible. Randomly hopping from one winery to the next in traffic quickly loses its appeal. Ditching the car, and booking an excursion like the Hidden Wineries of Napa and Sonoma not only provides a valuable driver, but an informative guide that can answer questions about wine country and wine making.
If you decide to go at it on your own, have a flexible tasting plan. Wine country is a big place, but you can see and taste a great deal if you focus on one area at a time. The Silverado Trail is a scenic route that runs for 29 miles through popular Napa Valley destinations including Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Calistoga. But think about where you want to go before you’re behind the wheel. Smaller wineries like Phifer Pavitt require reservations for tastings, whereas you can just walk into larger attractions like Castello di Amorosa.
Autumn is a fabulous time to be outdoors. Though Indian summers can still send temperatures into the 80s and 90s, heat waves in Napa and Sonoma are unusual. Days with clear blue skies outnumber foggy ones and evenings are cool and comfortable. Rain typically holds off until November, so the odds are in your favor if the umbrella doesn’t fit in the suitcase.
Napa and Sonoma wine country also has its own beautiful rendition of fall colors. Leaves on grape vines change from green to beautiful hues of red and yellow, giving even the best known fall locales serious competition.