Visiting Napa/Noma in September

In Wine Country, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, September is a glorious month, the time when all of a year’s work comes to fruition.  It is a beautiful month; the hot summer days are gone and comfortable weather is there to enjoy long walks and outings.

In Napa Valley and Sonoma County, which we refer to as Napa/Noma, you will see pickers in the vineyards filling baskets with grapes.  Huge harvesters will be gathering grapes on an industrial scale.  And even though the wineries are open for tastings, you will see people scurrying to fulfill the hundreds of tasks that change grapes into juice into wine.

Destemming the grapes before they get crushed.

As visitors, you get to share in the excitement without the necessity of doing any hard work.  Many wineries curtail tours during the crush, primarily for reasons of safety as well as keeping tourists out of the way of the workers.  What you see in the vineyards reminds you that wine is agriculture; in the working parts of the wineries, you remember that wine is industry, too.

There are advantages to visiting Napa/Noma in September other than observing the harvest.  The weather is foremost among them.  It can still be quite warm, especially in the earlier weeks of the month.  You can plan on taking a dip in the pool after a day’s tastings.  However, the mornings can be cool and damp and it’s a good idea to have a sweater in your bag, because temperatures sometimes cool off in the evenings.

And speaking of evenings, the late summer/early autumn sunsets come in right about aperitif time.  Sitting on a terrace or by the pool with a glass of local wine just adds to the pleasures of being in Napa/Noma.

There are fewer cars on the roads, particularly Napa Valley’s Route 29, because many of the summer vacationers are back at work.  That means fewer little children in the tasting rooms, as well.  On the other hand, the harvesters and the bins carrying grapes to the crushers use the same roads as the cars, so traffic can still get backed up.

In the first weeks of September, you’ll see the vines heavy with grapes.  You can even – shh, don’t tell – sneak a grape to taste.  You’ll find that wine grapes are far sweeter than any fruit you’re likely taste at the supermarket.  Alas, by the end of the month, you may have to keep your eyes peeled to see any laden vines left.

For the most part, restaurants and tasting rooms are still pretty busy in September, especially on the weekends.  Hotel rooms are somewhat difficult to find, too, since so many people want to be in Napa/Noma for the crush.  It’s best to book a room well in advance.  You’ll be able to get a table for dinner on the same day, but if there’s a place you’re particularly eager to try it’s best to make an advance reservation.

The wines taste the same in February as they do in September and you might even find more of a selection of wines to taste early in the year.  But for real wine lovers, there is a certain thrill to tasting wine as it is being made that can’t be experienced as well at any other time of year.

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