The fall and winter is a quiet time in wine country which makes it a very good time for a visit. Cooler weather transforms the valley from exuberant summer splendor to a moodier hue. And as temperatures drop, so do crowds and prices, making a getaway less stressful on your psyche and wallet.
Associated Press travel writer Michelle Locke offers some suggestions for a cool time in the Napa Valley during the fall and winter seasons.
Bistro Don Giovanni
Bistro Don Giovanni
Feast on the hearty braises and roasts that go best with Napa’s robust red wines. Grab a table near the fireplace at BISTRO DON GIOVANNI, just north of Napa on Highway 29, and get ready to tuck into some seasonal fare – with pastas, pizzas, meat and fish entrees from $13-$37.
Starting in late January, you don’t wan to miss the MUSTARD FESTIVAL. The valley gets a shot of color when the mustard planted as a cover crop for vines erupts in a burst of yellow. From Jan. 26-March 26, 2011, the humble plant is celebrated in a festival that includes music, art, dining and, of course, wine.
Wine tasting remains a year-round pastime. If you’re staying in the city of Napa, a shortcut is to buy a $20 TASTE NAPA DOWNTOWN card from the Napa Valley Visitor Information Center. With that you can taste wine for a dime at 14 different tasting rooms in downtown Napa. The card also comes with other discounts.
For a wine-tasting with a difference, try Castello di Amorosa, a 121,000-square-foot replica of a 13th-century Tuscan castle off Highway 29 near Calistoga. The castle is a working winery with caves and tasting room, but also boasts such flourishes as a Great Hall, 72 feet long and 22 feet high, decorated with huge frescoes. Reservations recommended. Be sure to check out the dungeon and torture chamber. http://www.castellodiamorosa.com or 707-967-6272.
For a dose of history, visit Schramsberg Vineyards (by appointment only) at the top of the valley in Calistoga with its hand-hewn caves dug by Chinese workers in the 19th century. One visitor who was quite smitten was Robert Louis Stevenson, whose experiences in the Napa Valley of 1880 are included in “The Silverado Squatters.” Schramsberg Vineyards or (800) 877-3623.
Far Niente in Oakville, also by appointment only, is another historic winery, founded in 1885. But its caves are surprisingly modern, started in 1980. Today, the winery has 40,000 square feet of caves that include an octagonal wine library and a number of 45-degree tunnels. The Stag’s Leap Winery caves, meanwhile, feature a round room in the center with a Foucault pendulum suspended above the floor. http://www.farniente.com or (707) 944-2861.
And then there’s Jarvis, by appointment only, where the entire Napa winery is underground, tucked into 45,000 square feet of caves tunneled into the Vacas Mountains. http://www.jarviswines.com or (800) 255-5280.
After a long day of tasting, it’s time to curl up by the fire — or sink into the hot tub — at your hotel. Places to stay in Napa Valley tend to range from quite expensive to very expensive, but there are off-season discounts available. The Napa Valley Destination Council always features some specials.