The Napa Valley is flooded with visitors during crush, which is typically between August and October, however “high season” is categorized as March through November. So is that the best time to visit the Napa Valley? I’m not sure it is.
Wineries, restaurants, shopping, even the hot air balloons all operate year-round (with a few exceptions). Nothing really shuts down, so what makes the summer months different and optimal for most tourists? It’s the state of the grapes and the weather.
Grapes are harvested once a year in late summer or early fall. Champagne grapes are picked first, then followed by the whites, and finally the bold reds. This means the vines have green leaves, with clusters of grapes hanging in plain view. You get classic Napa Valley views.
Almost every summer day in Napa has perfect weather. Rain is pretty much absent through much of October. Some days can get pretty hot in the afternoon, but a little heat is easily cured with a strategically planned winery cave tour and a chilled wine.
But the heat doesn’t last very long, many days will have a forty degree temperature change from evening to afternoon. This temp change is thought to be one of the factors that makes Napa Valley so exceptional at growing grapes for wine.
Sometimes vines are thinned leaving clusters of grapes beneath the vines.
Late fall can be a wonderful time to visit the Napa Valley. The vineyard leaves change colors providing beautiful traditional fall landscapes.
This can be a fairly narrow time frame for some varietals, so as you drive through Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville and Napa, you’ll seem some areas of multicolored vines, some vineyards with completely solid yellolw leaves, and other vineyards that have lost all their leaves with brown branches waiting to be trimmed over the winter.
Early winter is probably the least desirable time to visit the Napa Valley. But that means that room rates are a bit cheaper, and wineries are less crowded and better able to give you more attention. Plus this is my favorite time to drink big bold Cabernets, the type of wine areas like Oakville are most famous for producing.
Winter months of January and February are when the first signs of mustard starts popping up between the rows of vines. Late February and early March typically are at the height of the mustard season, and the views are spectacular. You may experience a rainy day, or a cloudy day, but the pros outweigh the cons. There is no bad day when you’re drinking wine in the Napa Valley.