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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Visiting Napa / Sonoma this summer? Hints for your trip

If you're visiting any of coastal California wine regions you're going to have a great time! This is a bit more focused on Sonoma and Napa counties, but will apply to a wine country visit up and down the coast.

To make your trip even better here is some basic info to help you plan.

It gets chilly
There is a significant difference in temperatures between day and night. If will be chilly at 10am, warm at 3pm and cool again at 8pm. That's why we say to dress in layers. There are micro-climates meaning it'll be hot in one place and cooler a few miles away. Don't expect to hang out on an ocean beach in your swim suit as it rarely tops 70 degrees from Monterey northward (there are a few warmer beaches like Santa Cruz).

It gets hot
Occasionally, in some parts of Napa and Sonoma, it can break 100 degrees. For me, over 90 is really too hot to be drinking wine. Generally you'll find afternoon temps much cooler than this. Check the forecast before you come and plan accordingly. As you get closer to the ocean or the bay the temps will drop. This means if you were planning on the Calistoga area of Napa Valley, for instance, where it will be 90 degrees you might find the western side of Russian River Valley to be a more pleasant 80.

Drinking wine in little pours will add up
Four wineries over a six hour period with lunch in between is fine. Power tasting down Highway 29 in Napa Valley by going to four wineries in an hour-and-a-half will get you buzzing. If you're driving share tastings with someone else--it's cheaper and safer.

Tasting can be expensive, especially in Napa
Yeah, tasting used to be free and a few places still don't charge. Some wineries may offer 2-for-1 or even free tasting coupons so look around before you go. If you are staying in a hotel check with the concierge. In Napa you can easily spend a couple hundred bucks a day just to taste. That's real money!

You're going to eat and drink on this trip so you may put on a couple pounds
Along with the great wines there is great food (and beer, too). You'll want to sample as many restaurants as possible. You're coming here for the food and wine, right?

Kids will be bored to death
After two wineries they will be done. This isn't good for them, for you, or for the other people at the at the winery who were smart enough to leave theirs with grandma. Also, if you bring your dog you won't be able to get in some wineries.

It will often be crowded
The better-known wineries are often crowded in the summer and many others wineries will be busy on Saturdays. Napa's main artery, Highway 29, will be packed. If you love Disneyland then a summer Saturday afternoon in Napa Valley along Highway 29 is for you! The farther you are willing to drive from the San Francisco Bay Area the less crowded it will be. For instance, northern Sonoma County will be less congested than the southern end near the Bay Area.

Heat will ruin your wine purchases
If you wouldn't leave a dog in your vehicle then it's also too hot for wine. If you find your bottles warm to the touch you could be ruining the flavors. You need an insulated carrier like a styrofoam wine bottle shipper or an ice chest. If you don't bring anything with you then buy a styrofoam shipper at your first stop--it will be the best investment of your trip.

As was said, you'll probably want to dress in layers. Starting the day in shorts and a sweatshirt isn't uncommon. Restaurants are casual. If you feel the need to wear a sport coat then at least wear jeans and western boots with it. :) Ladies, high-heels are okay at night, but not for a day of wine tasting. You can find uneven floors in cellars (and drains, too). You might even find yourself out in a vineyard!

Enjoying your visit
Eat, drink and take in the scenery. Have fun!