The California wine country is one of the top vacation destinations in America. From honeymoons and anniversary celebrations to graduation trips and wine tours, every year hundreds of thousands of people from around the world flock to the California wine country.
The “wine country” is made up of several counties in Northern California. It includes many famous wine growing regions such as Napa Valley, Sonoma, Russian River Valley, and Dry Creek Valley. By far the largest producer of wine in the wine country is Sonoma, though the most famous and prestigious is the Napa Valley.
So if you’re planning a trip to the wine country, the first question you may have is “When is the best time of year to visit wine country?”
Seasons To Visit California Wine Country
December and January in wine country are unique in that there are simply no crowds to contend with. If you’re looking to visit particularly popular wineries, like those in Sonoma or Napa, and you want to avoid groups of tourists and crowded restaurants (not to mention crowded wine tours), these two winter months are ideal for you. There is a certain beauty to the vineyards during these months, as the trellises normally supporting live vines will be all but completely bare. It isn’t that the vines are “dead” — they are simply dormant. For proof that even the dormant winter months can be beautiful, schedule your trip to wine country in December or January — as an added bonus, you may often be the only visitor to certain wineries.
In February, you may begin to see a few more wine enthusiasts popping up here and there, although you are more likely to be bothered by photographers or nature freaks. February is the month when wild mustard flowers come into bloom across wine country, and is considered one of the more picturesque times to be in northern California. Perhaps because there are still sparse crowds, and also because of the beauty of the wild mustard flowers, you are likely to meet many shutterbugs snapping away. Vines will still be dormant, although the trellises will not appear as bare because of wildflowers just starting to pop up among the vines.
In March and April, the tourist season will have truly begun. For one thing, the temperatures will have evened out, allowing for more time outdoors. Also, the wildflowers that can be found everywhere in the wine country are blooming while the vines in the vineyards are awakening and budding. Expect decent crowds when you visit the more touristy spots, though small wineries and out of the way locations will still be pretty bare.
Late Spring through Summer
From May to the end of August is the serious tourist season in wine country. Weekends will bring heavy crowds — not necessarily a bad thing. If you want to meet likeminded people and don’t mind waiting a bit for a table at your favorite wine country restaurant, this warm (even hot) season can be quite the vacation spot. During this time, the vines are budding and showing grapes, and people’s minds turn to the coming harvest, talking about the recent weather, the amount of rain, and how they feel the new crop will turn out. This is the most “exciting” time to visit the wine country, and certainly the most crowded.
September through October is harvest time — a unique time to visit the wine country if you’re a fan of viticulture. Depending on what part of the wine country you’re in, you could pull into a winery at its busiest, or maybe you’ve just missed the harvest but can still see the process finishing up. Once upon a time this was a pretty quiet time in California wine country, but these days just as many people will be visiting wine country during the harvest season as visited during the summer, most likely due to an increased interest in wine production.
November in wine country is similar to December and January, except that wildflowers and vines are just starting to lose their vegetation. The beautiful golden colors of falling leaves make for a romantic getaway, and another great photo opportunity for wine country tourists. Crowds will have fallen off considerably, but so will wine production, so if that is what you want to see, you must arrive in wine country earlier in the year.
No matter when you decide to visit, wine country is a unique destination for wine lovers. It is the greatest concentration of vineyards and wineries in America, and for those of us who call ourselves wine snobs, it is a kind of Mecca. Here’s hoping to do visit the California wine country, no matter what month you decide to take your vacation. Just don’t forget to bring plenty of film.
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