Spring has arrived – a very special season for visiting wine country! If you’re planning a trip to Northern California’s wine producing regions, particularly Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Suisun Valley, and surrounding areas, you’re in for a treat. Recent rains did cause some damage, but flooding has generally subsided and the hills are vibrant green. The coming year is expected to be a greater return to post-COVID wine tourism than 2022, though you may find a few things still different than they were before 2020. Here is a quick overview of opportunities available in Northern California Wine Country this Spring, plus a few side trips to add new experiences to your trip.
Tasting Room Hours. Some wineries close their tasting rooms or cut operating hours drastically during winter months and re-open in Spring. Make sure to check days and hours for any tasting rooms you plan to visit. The percentage of tasting rooms requiring reservations is still increasing, so reserve your most important tastings.
Tours and Special Tastings. Tours and special tastings may also be less available until Summer, so double check those and make reservations if necessary.
Traffic. Mud slides may be encountered on some roads, but areas around wineries tend to be well maintained and clear. If you’re not hiring a local driver, be careful..
Restaurants and Hotels. Unfortunately, a few very good restaurants didn’t survive COVID closures and there aren’t many new restaurants showing up on our radar. That means restaurant reservations, especially for dinner, are advised. Hotels will be adjusting their nightly rates higher for Summer soon, so hunt for Winter/Spring deals and make reservations early.
Wine Deals. Winery tasting rooms, especially those that were closed or experienced low visitor traffic in Winter, offer specials to clear their shelves in preparation for new releases. Look for Spring specials on wines you like best.
Spring Events. There are many community events in wine country each Spring, search online for the area you plan to visit. The big daddy of Napa Valley events is typically Bottle Rock, which runs May 26-28, 2023. If you want to attend, check out the link. If you plan to be in the Napa area at that time, consider that restaurants, hotels, and tasting rooms will be packed during Bottle Rock, also for a few days before and after the event.
Side Trips. If you will be visiting wine country in the Napa/Sonoma/Solano Counties area, there are many regional attractions available. Here are a few to consider.
– Baseball: Check out the San Francisco Giants schedule. The best way to get to/from Oracle Park from Wine Country is the Bay Ferry in Vallejo. You’ll arrive at the San Francisco Ferry Building, about a 10 minute walk to the ballpark. Return ferries after most games leave directly from docks at Oracle Park, departing 30 minutes after the last out of the game. If you like the fun of minor league baseball, the Sonoma Stompers play in downtown Sonoma and kick off their 2023 season on May 31st at home against the Petaluma Leghorns (tickets run $11 – $21).
– Jelly Belly Factory Tour: About 30 minutes drive east of downtown Napa in adjacent Fairfield is the Jelly Belly Candy Company, makers of the finest jelly beans in the world. Their visitor’s center includes a large cafeteria, the best jelly bean store anywhere, a museum, and factory tour. Suisun Valley wineries are five minutes away, Jelly Belly also offers wine and chocolate tastings featuring local wines.
– Budweiser Brewery: Driving to Jelly Belly, you can’t miss the huge Budweiser Brewery located in the same neighborhood. Several beer brands are produced there and products are distributed across several western states. Unfortunately, Budweiser no longer offers tours and tastings.
– Day Trips: If your schedule allows for day trips outside Sonoma County, Napa Valley, or Suisun Valley, consider other popular wine areas worth a visit:
> Winters/Yolo County (30 minutes east of Napa): Historic downtown Winters has several tasting rooms (Berryessa Gap, Turkovich) and a few restaurants worth a drive, including Putah Creek Cafe (cheeseburgers and fries are world class) and Buckhorn Steakhouse. Putah Creek doesn’t take reservations, be there when they open the doors or expect a wait. Buckhorn takes reservations. Not far down the road (15-20 minutes) from Winters is Cache Creek Casino Resort, a large Las Vegas style casino with hotel, spa, championship golf course, and very good restaurants. “Cache” Creek is not just a catchy name for a casino, the waters of Cache Creek actually flow through much of Yolo County. From Napa Valley you can drive directly through the hills on Highway 128 or drop down to Highway 80 and take the freeway east.
> Lake County (45 minutes north of Napa): Much of the Sauvignon Blanc wine produced in Northern California is made from grapes grown in warm Lake County. There are several very good tasting rooms in the Clear Lake area, including Shannon Ridge and Gregory Graham.
> Lodi (90 minutes drive east of Napa): The Lodi area produces several great varietals (old vine Zinfandel thrives) and grows a large portion of the wine grapes used by wineries throughout California. Tasting rooms worth a visit include LangeTwins, Acquiesce (superior Rhône style white wines), Klinker Brick, and many others.
> Livermore (45 minutes drive south of Napa): This area is similar to Lodi with rolling hills, many friendly tasting rooms, and good red wines.
Wherever your Wine Adventures take you this Spring, have a great time! Subscribe to our Monthly Harvest Newletter so you don’t miss our tips for visiting Wine Country this Summer.
Disclosure Of Interests: Author is a wine club member at Acquiesce Winery and purchases wine there at a discount, has no relationships with other establishments mentioned in this article.