Visiting Napa/Noma in May

They say that the month of May is merry.  We can’t vouch for that, but we do know that it is an excellent time to visit Napa/Noma.  (Not to say that the other months aren’t excellent in their own ways.)  This is the time of year that the vines are flowering and getting ready to set the fruit that will be crushed in September.  It is also a time when many vineyards release their new wines for sale, so there’s a lot to taste.

A grape vine in bloom.  Photo courtesy of Jordan Winery.

 Another very important benefit of visiting Napa Valley and Sonoma County in May is that the Big Heat has not yet arrived (although global climate change is pushing the heat sooner in the year) while the crisp coolness is out of the air.  That’s not to say you won’t encounter chilly, humid, misty mornings; these happen all year long in this sector of Wine Country.  Almost dependably, however, by around 10:30 the mist lifts and you are greeted by glorious sunshine.

Weekends, particularly Mothers and Memorial Day weekends, can be very crowded in the Napa/Noma tasting rooms and the roads leading to them.  If possible, avoid Route 29 in Napa Valley.  Sonoma County, being more spread out, doesn’t have quite the traffic problem that is found in Napa but Route 101 is likely to be more backed up.  On the weekends, it’s a very good idea to make reservations for tastings in the top wineries you might be interested in.  Another idea is to use these days for in-town tastings in Napa, Yountville or Healdsburg.

Springtime vineyards. Photo courtesy of TripSavvy.

The farm-to-fork restaurants that abound in Napa/Noma find themselves with fresh local ingredients again in May.  It’s not the same as the bonanza of fruits and vegetables that will come during the summer, but it is time to say goodbye to root vegetables and preserved fruits in favor of products right off the vine.  (No, not grape vines.  That comes later.)

If you can find the time to go wine tasting during the week in May, you will have the advantage that in most places school is still in session.  We love little children but they really don’t belong in tasting rooms.  That’s not to say that you will find the wineries empty in May.  Far from it.  But you will be able to sip somewhat more peacefully in May than in the following month.

Figuring out what to wear in Napa/Noma in May is a bit of a puzzle.  In a local climate that has cold mornings, warm afternoons (up into the 80s) and cool evenings (down to the 50s) you may want to have a wider variety of clothes than in other times of the year.  Wearing layers makes sense, because you can put on a sweater or a jacket at one time of day and take it off as things warm up.

In song and verse, springtime is seen by many as the best season.  Why not enjoy it wine tasting in America’s foremost winemaking region?

Visiting Napa/Noma in November

No matter what T. S. Elliott says, some believe that November is the cruelest month.  In northern California’s Wine Country, the grapes have all been harvested; the new wine is all in barrels; and even there you can feel winter coming on.  But at the same time, the frenetic atmosphere of harvest has past and the crush of high tourist season has disappeared with the summer.  The general bonhomie that settles in across America as Thanksgiving approaches can be felt in Napa/Noma as well.

A lot of the pleasures of visiting Napa/Noma depends on the time of the month that you are there.  In the early days, many of the trees are in their autumnal glory.  More important, so are the vines.  There will be many brown leaves but also bright yellows and oranges, a few hardy remaining greens and some vibrant reds.  Sadly, the red leaves are a sign of what is known as “leaf roll”, meaning that the vines are getting along in years and will soon enough stop producing.  They will be replaced by seedlings, but visitors can still enjoy their bright color in the fall.

Photo courtesy of Yountville.com

In the latter part of the month, Thanksgiving and the beginning of Christmas season lend a festive quality to Napa/Noma.  Almost all wineries have put on their holiday decorations; they sell giftware and a few are really little more than novelty stores that serve wine.  So you can get a lot of your holiday shopping done while you sip.  For those who favor wine-themed gifts, we have in the past bought a wreath made of vines and a gold-dipped grape leaf to hang on a Christmas tree.

Along with summer’s crowds, summer’s heat disappears in November as well.  Instead of searing 90’s, you’ll find afternoons in the 60’s and mornings rather colder than that.  We recommend packing a sweater and maybe even a heavier jacket.  It’s up to the individual whether this temperature is bracing or just brrrr.

November can be a season for tasting newer vintages.  Wines that sat in the barrels for 18 months or longer will have just gone through the bottling and labeling processes and are just hitting the stores and the tasting rooms.  Of course, these are young wines and you might prefer them with a bit more age to them.  November is really not about what you should be drinking now but what you will be drinking in a year or two.  It’s a good idea to bring a long a Clef du Vin if you have one, which can help you simulate what the wines will taste like a few years hence.

On or about November 1, the rates for hotel rooms in Napa/Noma go down, so you might get a better deal on accommodations.  The prices in restaurants, alas, do not follow suit but since there are fewer tourists, it becomes easier to reserve a table in some of the more exclusive places.  You might even find yourself sitting next to a winemaker, who finally has a chance to slow down and enjoy dinner out after a hectic few months.

That’s the theme of a wine tasting visit in November.  Everything is easier and more relaxed, which may be exactly what you are looking for.

Visiting Napa/Noma in August

There’s no getting around the fact that Napa/Noma in August is hot.  The average temperature in Santa Rosa is 82o, which many people would not consider too difficult to take.  But beware of the law of averages.  Nighttimes cool off quite a bit in Napa and Sonoma counties and the mornings can be foggy, humid and almost chilly even in mid-summer.  But when the clouds lift in the middle of the morning – the time you will likely be setting off to visit wineries – and into the afternoon, the temperatures usually reach into the 90’s and by 3:00 it’s not unusual to have the heat break over the 100o mark.

Now tastes in weather differ.  If you’re an Arizonan, these temperatures don’t sound too scary.  But if you’re a Canadian, for example, even the average daily temperature in August seems pretty hot to you.  So why go wine tasting in Napa/Noma in summery August?

Photo courtesy of medium.com

Perhaps the best reason is that August is the beginning of the harvest in this area.  Sauvignon Blanc is usually the first grape to ripen, with Chardonnay coming after that towards the end of the month.  The whole year in the vineyards has been leading up to this time, and there’s a burst of energy that even visitors can feel among the growers, the harvesters and the production line personnel actually turning the crop into wine.  It’s really fun to see.

Moreover, the vines are heavy with fruit, both white and red.  Yes, it’s interesting to see the bare branches of winter and the bud break of spring, but there’s nothing like seeing a vineyard with nearly ripened clusters of grapes just waiting to be harvested.  Power Tasting has said many times that one of the premier reasons to visit Wine Country, after the tastings, is to revel in the beauty of the vineyards.  And they are never so beautiful as when they are laden with grapes.

Another benefit of Napa/Noma is August is that it is not only grapes that are in season at this time.  California is America’s fruit basket and peaches, plums, strawberries, mangoes and much more can be found in the markets.  Between the wine grapes and the rest of the produce, you really do feel the bounteousness of Nature.

For many people, August is vacation time, so it can get crowded in Napa/Noma in August.  But a lot of those vacationers have their children with them and Wine Country really isn’t for kids.  Nonetheless, you will encounter many tasters with little ones in tow, from infants to teenagers.  Sorry to say, they do detract from the wine tasting experience a bit.

Again because there are so many people who enjoy wine tasting nowadays, there can be a lot of traffic.  There’s no gainsaying the many wonderful wineries along Napa Valley’s Route 29, which gets the most crowded.  Don’t avoid it, but do give some thought to when and where you intend to taste.  You want to be in the tasting rooms, not behind the wheel.  And again, weekends are always more crowded than weekdays.  You’ll find that the back roads of Russian River or the crossing roads at the center of Napa Valley are a little less traveled while at the same time a good deal cooler.

Don’t hesitate to visit Napa/Noma in August.  Take advantage of the best there and be forewarned about some of the drawbacks.

Visiting Napa/Noma in March

Maybe March comes in like a lion where you live, but it’s definitely lamb-like in Napa/Noma.  The US Weather Service says that the average daily temperature in Napa tops out at 67o.  There’s just enough rain to make the flowers – and the grape vines – grow.  Everything is coming alive again, and all’s well with the world. And if you travel to Napa/Noma in March you can see it and even participate in it a bit.

Bud break in March.  Photo courtesy of flickr.com.

In particular, March is the time of year in winemaking known as “bud break”.  The leaves are on the vines and the tiny buds on the vines begin to swell up and send out shoots.  The brownness of winter gives way to a light green.  The annual cycle that leads to barrels full of wine starts anew.

However, it’s not all green.  There’s a lot of yellow, too, in the form of mustard flowers, which begin to blossom in late January and reach their peak in March.  Some people think (okay, we used to think) that this was a trick that vineyard managers used to enrich the vines.  But no, it’s just because it’s pretty and vineyard managers like things to be pretty as much as tourists do.

Photo courtesy of Wine Country Inn

March is an especially good time of year for tasting the new releases from many of the best vineyards.  If you do the math, you’ll see that wines aged in barrels for 16 months from harvest (i.e., September) reach maturity at the end of January.  Allowing a month for getting it out of barrels and into bottles, you’ll have the chance to taste many of the newest wines in March.  At the same time, there will probably be many bottles left from the previous vintage at some wineries, so you’ll have the opportunity taste wines that have a little maturity to them.

With the crazy weather patterns that are typical of Napa/Noma, you may well want a winter coat in the mornings in March, as well as in the later evening.  But by midday, you’ll shuck the outerwear and visit wineries in your shirtsleeves.  Overall, it is wise either to wear a sweater or wrap it around your neck.

There are no national holidays in March, so hotel rates are a little lower than in the high summer season.  On the other hand, crowds do begin to show up on weekends, so be prepared for more crowded tasting rooms than you will find in the coldest winter months, but less so than in summer.

There is, of course, St. Patrick’s Day in March.  Napa/Noma doesn’t do it up like New York or Chicago, but there are places that celebrate rather boisterously.  One such is Hurley’s in Yountville.  Now, a hurley is the lethal instrument used to play Gaelic football, so this restaurant/bar is honor-bound to make a St. Pat’s statement.  (It’s also one of our favorite restaurants in Napa Valley.)

So see if you can find a shamrock among the mustard flowers and enjoy your time wine tasting in Napa/Noma in March.

 

Visiting Napa/Noma in July

Let’s face it: it’s hot in Napa/Noma in July.  Of course, it’s hot everywhere and if you like it that way then it’s no problem.  We are split on the matter, so while we have been there in the height of the summer, we don’t go at that time very often.  The afternoon temperatures are generally in the 90s and it’s scant consolation that in other grape growing areas further south the 100s are regularly reached.

There are other drawbacks as well.  July 4 weekend brings crowds and at this time of the year, the crowds often mean tourists with children.  The roads are jammed and in many cases so are the tasting rooms.  So why go in July?

Because the days are long.  Even though the wineries are closed by 5:00 or earlier, you still have time to laze by the pool at your hotel, visit a state park or just enjoy strolling in the pretty towns. Some wineries, especially those with a view, take advantage of the lengthy daylight and stay open later for special events.  We well remember evenings at William Hill Winery (https://www.williamhillestate.com/estate#our-winery), sitting in comfortable Adirondack chairs with a bottle of Chardonnay admiring the view in the approaching dusk.  (Of course, you have to buy their wine to take advantage of their grounds).

William Hill Estate Winery

There are some pleasures only available in the summer months.  For example, the Santa Rosa Wednesday Night Market is open from May to August and the fruits and vegetables reach their peak in July.  There’s music, barbecue and a chance to meet the locals.  July also brings music festivals in the parks in St. Helena, Calistoga and Santa Rosa. 

Santa Rosa’s Wednesday Night Market.  Photo courtesy of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

July can lay claim to being the month when the vineyards are at their most beautiful.  It is the month in which veraison begins, when the red wine grapes attain color.  It can be quite stunning to see the clusters of grapes – some green, some purple – giving promise of the harvest to come.  Each month has its own beauty, to be sure, but there is nothing quite like seeing the vines heavy with fruit.  Earlier in the year, there are only tiny berries.  Later, the fruit is dropped or picked.

If the temperatures are your bugaboo, take advantage in July to go wine tasting in the cooler, higher elevations.  A case can be made for the quality of mountain wines over those made from fruit grown in the valleys, so taste up there and avoid the highest temperatures.  We remember a summer tasting at Storybook Mountain Vineyards (https://www.storybookwines.com/), in the very north of Napa Valley, when we were positively shivering in their caves.

If you do visit Napa/Noma in July, you’ll enjoy wine tasting most if you go on weekdays and make appointments for tastings on the weekends.  You’ll also get a better price in some hotels on weekdays, but prices will still be high compared with those in winter months.  Heat notwithstanding, there are many pleasures to be had in Napa/Noma in July.

Visiting Napa/Noma in June

This article continues our occasional series on the “best” month to visit Napa Valley and Sonoma County for wine tasting.  Of course, there is no best month; they’re all great and each has its own special attraction.  In past editions we’ve discussed January, February, April and October.  It’s time to include a summer month.

Ah, June! The days are warm; the nights are short; the bees are buzzing and all’s well with the world.  All surely is well in Napa/Noma.  The vines are full of leaves and the aforementioned bees have done their job of pollinating the plants, so fruit is beginning to appear.  What will be formidable grapes in a few months are only be tiny green berries, but the hope of great wine has been lit.

An afternoon in June at Château Montelena.

The weather will often follow its usual California pattern.  Mornings will be grey and dank, sometimes downright cold.  Then sometime around 10:30, as if on cue, the clouds will part and disappear leaving blue skies and bright sunshine.  You’ll like it and so will the grapes.  By midday it will start to get hot and by the middle of the afternoon there will be no doubt about it.  Fortunately, when the sun goes down, the evenings will be pleasantly warm and you may want a sweater on occasion.

June 15, 9:00 p.m., Etude Winery in Carneros.

Many of the wineries have special events for their Club members in June.  If you are a member of one or more, these make visiting in June even more alluring.  If you aren’t a member, you might be able to participate in a barrel tasting or the opening of special bottles just because you’re there and it wouldn’t be polite to exclude you.  But you may also find visiting hours curtailed for an event, so it’s best to call ahead if you plan to visit near the end of the day.

Tasting rooms can become quite crowded in June, especially on the weekends. You will see more tour buses, stretch limos and bachelorette parties at wineries. The locals have been enjoying good weather since March, even if the vineyards haven’t been at their best.  Visitors from northern climes are drawn to Napa/Noma this month for the combination of scenery, temperature and fairly new releases of their favorite wineries.  Try to come on weekdays and if that’s not possible, prepare to be patient and maybe schedule some appointment tastings.  With an appointment, you will make sure you will be served the wines you are looking for.   They may even set a table for you to avoid the weekend crowd.

Hotel reservations may be a bit harder to get in June and prices are certainly going to be higher than in cooler months.  On the other hand, this is generally the first time in the year when you can come back from wine tasting and take a dip in the pool.  [We particularly enjoyed doing that at the Wine Country Hilton which was, sadly, a victim of the 2017 fires.]  The sun doesn’t go down until 8:30, so you have lots of time for a dip and maybe a sunlit aperitif too.

Many restaurants and groceries feature seasonal local produce.  You’ll find some of the best strawberries, peaches and plums you’ve ever tasted.  Santa Rosa’s Night Market is a great place to sample them.  Again, it is always a good idea to make a reservation at the restaurant where you’d like to eat.

What is so rare as a day in June…in Napa/Noma Wine Country?

Visiting Napa/Noma in February

This is another in Power Tasting’s series on the best time of year to visit Napa and Sonoma Counties for wine tasting.  The answer is that there is no “best” time; each month has something special to offer. 

One thing to be said for wine tasting in Napa/Noma in February is that you’re one month closer to warm weather than you were in January.  It’s still winter to be sure and you are more likely to get a rainy day in February than you are in the summer.  But we have also experienced some wonderfully warm days in February, when with a sweater or light jacket you can sit outside and enjoy your wine under blue skies.

A particular advantage of going wine tasting in February is that many of the wineries issue their new releases that month.  We have always made sure to include a visit to Heitz Cellars in St. Helena in February, because that’s when you get to taste the Martha’s Vineyard (although we have recently found it in recent visits in other months as well).  Of course, there is a cloud to this silver lining; new releases haven’t had a much time in the bottle.  You’ll have to bring your imagination with you to have an idea of what these young wines will taste like when they grow up.

Another advantage is that the mustard is in full flower in the vineyards, a lovely sight to compensate for the absence of leaves and grapes on the vines.  The yellow flowers brighten up even the coldest day.  And yes, it can get fairly cold in February, despite the possibility of warmth – and often on the same day!

Mustard in the vineyards and lilac on the trees, as seen in February at Domaine Carneros.

That hot restaurant where it’s impossible to get a table in June has lots of empty seats in February.  The streets of Yountville and Healdsburg aren’t as crowded with tourists; you can actually take time in front of the paintings in the galleries; and the salespeople in the gift shops are actually glad to see you.  Many hotels have special package deals.  On the other hand, February has Presidents Day weekend and then every place is as full as in high season.  That weekend may be your only chance to get away for wine tasting, so anticipate the crowds.  If you can choose another time, especially midweek, we recommend you do so.(We experienced it and it was very unpleasant.)

You’ll get more attention from the servers in the tasting rooms those days.  In particular if you’re tasting on a cold miserable day,  the servers may be so glad to see anyone that you’ll be treated like visiting royalty.  To be fair, that advice applies more to smaller, out of the way wineries.  The big ones, especially those that take busloads of visitors, are still likely to be packed.

A February afternoon at Limerick Lane Winery

Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes cold weather.  If you’re a Floridian or a Southern Californian, February in Napa/Noma is definitely the depth of winter.  But if you’re a New Yorker or a Québécoise, a day when you can walk around outdoors sporting only a sweater is the first sweet breath of spring.  No grapes on the vines?  Forget about it; the buds will surely be breaking soon.  You can have the satisfaction of having your wine tasting vacation sooner than anyone else and the pleasure of doing so without the crowds.

 

 

Visiting Napa/Noma in October

We are returning to the topic of the best time to travel to Napa Valley and Sonoma County, which we consider to be essentially one place called Napa/Noma.  All times of the year are good times, but each month presents its own enticements and occasional challenges.  Previously we have discussed January and April.

As East Coasters and Québécois, we see one of the advantages of autumn to be the extraordinary coloration of the foliage that we are treated to each October.  Until we first visited California Wine Country, it had never occurred to us that the vineyards come alive with color each year as well.  I guess we never took the Turning Leaf brand from Gallo all that seriously.

This photo was taken on St. Helena’s Pritchard Hill, looking towards Lake Hennessy

If you go in the first part of the month, especially the first week, you’ll have the chance to see the last days of the harvest.  As global climate change takes hold, the beginning of the crush is coming earlier and earlier.  It used to start in mid-August but now July harvests of some white grapes is not unheard of.  In October, most of the grapes are in the process of becoming wine, so you’ll have less chance to see them hanging on the vines.  What will be there will be red grapes in the higher elevations and those that are destined to be late harvest dessert wines.  October is, after all, late for a harvest.

All of this is made up by the glorious display of colors in the vineyards.  We’d like to say that the red leaves are Cabernet Sauvignon leaves and the yellow ones are Chardonnay, but that just isn’t so.  As with oak trees and maples, different leaves have their own pigmentation that is overwhelmed by chlorophyll during the spring and summer.  As the chlorophyll fades in fall, these colors come out.  The predominant hues are a golden yellow and orange.  In time, as they dry they become a light brown.  There always seem to be some green leaves that hang on, so it’s quite a palette.

The red leaves you see in the photos accompanying this article are a special case.  As tourists, we love to see them.  Vineyard managers and wine makers aren’t very happy though.  Red leaves are a sign of leaf roll, a virus carried by bugs that live in vineyard soil.  It seems to be an increasing problem, according to some industry publications.  So temper your pleasure at seeing fields of blazing red, as it’s an indication that there may be problems down the road for some of your favorite wines.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When you visit wineries in October, and taste at their bars, the staff you encounter would have a right to be a little tetchy.  Harvest season is full of stress in the wine business.  We’re glad to report that we have never encountered anything like that, but we also haven’t seen too many wine makers at that time, either.  One time, however, a wine maker handed us a stick and asked us break the cap on a vat of bubbling grapes, so be prepared!

Since autumn is the harvest season for fruits and vegetables other than grapes, you’ll have the chance for something special in the Napa/Noma restaurants that feature local produce.  Mustards  in Yountville and Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg fall into this category of restaurant, and there are many others.

Days are still warm, although you may want a sweater in the morning and in the evening.  You won’t usually encounter the blazing heat of Napa/Noma’s summers but again with climate change, you can never tell for sure.

Visiting Napa/Noma in April

This is the second in Power Tasting’s series on the best times to visit Napa/Noma.  Since all months are good months, this isn’t much of a challenge.  We wrote about visiting in January in a previous issue.

Ah, springtime!  T.S. Eliot may have said that April is the cruelest month, but we bet T.S. never went to the Napa Valley or Sonoma County in April.  It is a particularly lovely time of the year.  If you go in the early part of the month, you may catch the end of mustard season, in which the space between the rows of vines is occupied by brightly colored yellow flowers.  Even if you don’t, you will be there for bud break and the initial flowering of the vines.  In the colder areas, like Carneros and in the mountains it will be later in the month (or even into May).  In warmer spots like Calistoga you are likely to see greenery earlier in the month.

With winter past, you won’t have the freezing days that can happen even in Napa/Noma in winter.  There probably won’t be any rain either.  You might want to have a light sweater or a long sleeve shirt in the morning but you’ll leave the sweater in the car and roll up your sleeves in the afternoon.  If you come from colder climates, you’ll think that summer is upon you.

Napa Valley in April, with art on display among the vines.  Photo courtesy of Visit Napa Valley.

But note that we said you won’t see freezing days.  It can get pretty cold at night, sometimes getting below 32 degrees.  As bad as that temperature is for visitors, it’s a lot worse for grapes.  The tender buds are at their most vulnerable and a snap freeze can cripple a harvest before the grapes even appear.  You’ll see giant fans in the vineyards to blow the cold air away.  Others wet the vines so that the resulting ice insulates the vines.  It gives you an alert to bring your jacket with you for dinnertime.

The crowds of wine tasters are not as intense as in the summer months but they’re not as sparse as in the dead of winter, either.  If you can get away for a few weekdays, you should have plenty of time to chat with a wine educator or to sip without someone crowding you at the bar.  Weekends are another matter.  This may be the first chance for many others to taste springtime and you’ll see plenty of them all along the roads and in the wineries.

While there are leaves on the vines, the scenery isn’t as lush as it is at the height of the summer.  If taking in the view is part of the reason for your visit (as it should be), this isn’t the time to visit wineries with grand commanding panoramas, like Sbragia Family in Sonoma’s Dry Creek or William Hill in Napa.  It would be better to think in terms of snuggling up to the vines, which makes Grgich Hills in Napa Valley’s Rutherford or Limerick Lane in Russian River in Sonoma County better April destinations.  If springtime brings a smile to your lips, all the wines will taste better then.

 

Visiting Napa/Noma in January

We’re often asked “What time of year is best to visit Napa and Sonoma?”.  We always answer that it doesn’t matter, that there are pluses and minuses whatever time of year you go there.  With this issue, Power Tasting initiates an occasional series that will try to capture the essence of each of month of the year in California’s foremost wine making regions.  It’s still a good idea to go whenever your calendar allows, but some months might fit your tastes better than others.

One way in which Napa Valley and Sonoma County are alike is the weather.  It’s not going to rain on one side of the mountain and be sunny on the other.  And in both regions, all year long, you are likely to observe the same strange weather phenomenon: no matter the season, days begin cold, humid and grey.  Then at mid-morning, in  a period of 15 minutes or so, the clouds part, the sun comes out and you spend the rest of the day under glorious blue skies.

However, in January you run a fair chance of it being grey and rainy for the entire day.  2017 had a historically wet winter, complete with some significant flooding in certain areas, especially Russian River.  [“Russian River rises again, flooding Guerneville”, http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Russian-River-Guerneville-flooding-rise-level-10917521.php#photo-12167050 gives an especially good look at what it was like.]  There’s nothing like a flood to spoil an otherwise pleasant day of wine tasting.  But even in the notorious drought years, you could still get a lousy day in Wine Country in January.

Floods aside, there is some benefit to wine tasting on a rainy January day:  There aren’t as many people there.  The tasting rooms aren’t as crowded; you can get a table at the best restaurants; and the hotels lower their prices.  Your odds are good, especially on a weekday, but it can still be very crowded at times.   Mid-January brings the Martin Luther King holiday weekend and those wanting a last blast of Christmas and New Year’s come out in droves.  We were shocked on several occasions to find normally sedate wineries packed with people who were obviously more interested in imbibing than tasting.

One of the glories of visiting these regions, especially Napa Valley, is the outburst of color known as Mustard Season.  At this time, wild mustard naturally blooms in the fields and many grape growers let it stay.  We once thought it enhanced the soil but we later learned that farmers like pretty views just as much as visitors do, so it’s an esthetic decision on their part, not an agricultural one.  To our memories, Mustard Season used to occur more in the February-March time of year, but it is coming earlier now.  Maybe it’s global warming or the heavy rains, but it’s happening earlier now and lasting longer.

napa_mustard_0117

Photo taken on January 16, 2017

 As can be seen in the photo, there are plenty of bright, sunny January days in between the showers.  It may be a little colder than some would like for wine tasting (that would be Steve) but you don’t get the searing hot afternoons that others detest (that would be Lucie).  Generally, a sweater, light jacket or down vest is appropriate for the January temperatures in Napa/Noma.   And you almost never get any snow.

Because the vines are bare in January, it’s best not to plan visits to wineries where one of the main attractions is the view across the vineyards.  You may still want to taste the wines at, say, Stag’s Leap in Napa or Rochioli in Russian River but you will lose an important part of the wine tasting experience.  If your trip in January is the only time you will be in Napa/Noma for a long while, definitely visit wineries such as these, but put your imagination in overdrive to get an idea of what it’s like in high summer.