Which is the best season to visit California’s Napa Valley?
It depends on what you like… or don’t like… because each season has its own charms.
Personally, I try to avoid the summer months, even though the weather is wonderful, because that’s the high tourist season in the valley. Right in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on Earth, you’ll run into a phenomenon that most of us hope to escape when on vacation: traffic.
The tasting rooms are more crowded, which means less individual attention. Reservations at the best restaurants are harder to come by. Some of the hotels and inns charge higher rates.
Fall also is a busy season in the valley because that’s when the grapes are harvested and the wine is made. Don’t expect to meet very many winemakers during this period, which is the make-or-break time for many estates.
I much prefer Spring, when the crowds are lighter and the vintners aren’t so harried.
But I also enjoy Winter, when the valley is carpeted with mustard blossoms, creating scenes that are postcards just waiting to happen.
As the story goes, mustard seeds were spread by Spanish friars as they were establishing their missions up and down the state during the 1700s.
Each Winter, when the rains come to the valley, the mustard blooms return. From January into March, the mostly bare grapevines seem to be floating in a sea of yellow.
Modern-day Napa residents have embraced the annual dusting of color by Mother Nature, and have established a festival that celebrates all-things-mustard. You can read more about it here (http://www.mustardfestival.org/).
If you’re contemplating a trip to Napa during mustard season, be aware that a few of the restaurants close for a week or two early in the year. Hey, even celebrity chefs need a break every once in a while.
If that happens to be the case at the restaurant you were hoping to visit… or even if it isn’t… a great alternative is the Rutherford Grill, conveniently situated right along Highway 29 in the town of Rutherford.
I’ve been going there for years — Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall — and have never had a bad or even a so-so meal. It’s my go-to choice when dining with friends or helping folks plan a Napa Valley excursion.
Check out the Rutherford Grill’s menu here (http://www.hillstone.com/pdf_menus/rutherfordGrill/Rutherford_Grill.pdf).
Napa Valley may not be as warm as some wintertime destinations, but the scenery, the dining scene and, yes, the wonderful wine more than make up for it.