It’s harvest season in California wine country. Between the crush of people in the tasting rooms and the crush of grapes in the fields, there’s never a moment of downtime for Napa’s winemakers between August and the of October. And this is just how they like it. If you haven’t taken your California vacation to wine country yet, here are some reasons to plan one before the season ends.
- Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Napa Valley Wine Train has upgraded its program considerably in the last year, with a kitchen that focuses on local seasonal fare, and an updated wine list that features 100 labels. The Wine Train is now offering “vintner’s lunch” experiences in all three of its cars. Each starts with a brief wine seminar and tasting at the Depot, followed by a gourmet luncheon and three-hour train ride through Napa Valley.
- To try your hand at picking, de-stemming and grape sampling, visit Schweiger Vineyards in St. Helena—this winery is also one of the most family-friendly, inviting visitors to picnic on the lawn after mom and dad finish the tour and tasting part. V. Sattui is also a great, casual all-ages property. When it comes to a traditional grape-stomping contest, stylish Peju winery in St. Helena is hosting an uncharacteristically rowdy and traditional stomp on Oct. 3, as part of their annual Harvest Party. Special tours, a “Marketplace Reception” and live music are also on the program.
- Calistoga is the Napa town known for being a little off-kilter, a little quirky, very friendly and not so concerned with protocol. For proof, look at the fall festival calendar: the Wine Country Ukulele Festival October 9-11, the “Organic to Orgasmic” winemaker dinner at Graeser Winery on Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m.; and the Fifth Annual Rockabilly Roundup on Oct. 10 from 1-9 p.m. This free event is held in Pioneer Park and features live music and contests including “Best Tattoo” and “Best Pompadour.”
- Even though Napa is supposedly the most wine purist place in all of Napa, it still can appreciate other beverages. Case in point: JV Wine & Spirits’ Oktoberfest tasting, on Oct. 8 from 5-7 p.m.. From its vast stores (the selection hovers around 3,000 unique labels), JV presents a tasting of the best German beers, as well as small snacks and perhaps a Riesling or two.
- And just when you thought events were finished for 2009, Dec. 5-6 brings “Roll Out the Barrels” Passport Weekend in the legendary Rutherford Appellation. Barrel tastings, preview sales and foodie events in the heart of Napa take place right on the valley floor, with various wineries that include Rubicon Estate, Rutherford Hill and Alpha Omega.
Inspired to book a ticket? In case you don’t already have a favorite hotel in the area, check out the charming eco-boutique Bardessono and the AVIA Napa, which is only the fourth in a new, experiential design hotel concept currently opening in mid-sized destinations around the US. Other options include the Westin Verasa, which opened in the heart of Napa town late last autumn, and the Auberge’s lovely younger sister, Solage. Of the pre-existing properties, Napa River Inn, Auberge du Soleil and Harvest Inn are three standbys, while Silverado Resort just won a “Best of Napa” award from the U.S. Commerce Association.
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Lena Katz is the author of SUN: California and SIP: California, part of the Travel Temptations series published by Globe Pequot Press.