Winter in Napa Valley: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

A Napa Vineyard in the Winter
A Napa Vineyard in the Winter. Nico Sanchez/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Winter can be the most enjoyable time of year to visit Napa Valley. After the busy fall harvest time, when the grape juice is laid away to become wine, and the grapevines drop their leaves to wait for spring,

During the winter, winery staff are happy to see visitors, and you'll feel like a VIP everywhere you go, getting lots of attention. Wineries also do library tastings in the winter, giving you a chance to savor wines not available for tasting at other times of the year. You may also be able to get into many otherwise overbooked tasting rooms without a reservation. However, some have local restrictions that force you to call ahead, even if it's from the side of the road a few miles away.

A winter getaway in Napa or Sonoma can also be a relaxing, laid-back affair. Pick a hotel or an inn with an in-room fireplace, take the time to slow down. If a rainy day leaves you feeling chilled, you can always get a mud bath at a Calistoga spa.

Winter Weather in Napa Valley

Winter (November through January) is the rainiest and coolest time of year in Napa. Be prepared for gray skies. But keep in mind that's a California version of rainy and cool and much more comfortable than the colder climates of other places. California weather varies—some years may be quite dry while others are very wet. But don't worry, it's not going to snow, and the roads are unlikely to become icy.

From December through February, Napa's climate changes only a little

  • Average High Temperature: Upper 50s to lower 60s F
  • Average Low Temperature: Around 40 F, occasionally getting cold enough to frost
  • Rainfall: Around 4 inches and 8 to 9 rainy days per month
  • Daylight: 10 to 11 hours

In any year, the weather might be very different than the average. Check the forecast a few times before you go to get a better sense of what to expect during your visit.

What to Pack

Packing depends mostly on the weather. Instead of filling your suitcase with rain gear, pack a medium weight, waterproof jacket with a hood. It will be all you need most of the time, especially if all you'll be doing is dashing in and out of winery tasting rooms.

If you are flying to Napa and want to take some wine home with you, you won't be able to get any of it through the TSA check-in. You can put bottles of wine in your checked baggage, but take an extra bag for it and pack lots of bubble wrap to prevent breakage.

Things to Do in the Winter in Napa

  • Fresh olive oil: Early winter is time for the olive harvest. New olive oil (olio nuovo) appears as early as November. Round Pond Estate holds seasonal olive mill tours, fresh olive oil days, and oil tastings in November and December.
  • Mustard Blooms: Mustard plants create a vibrant carpet of bright yellow flowers between the rows of grapevines in late winter. The bloom starts as early as February (or some say, about 90 days after the first winter rains).

Winter Events in Napa Valley

  • December: Holiday Tractor Parade: Calistoga (which is Napa Valley's northernmost town) kicks off their holiday celebrations with a lighted tractor parade, usually held at the end of November.
  • January: Napa Valley Truffle Festival: If you like those earthy fungi, tickets for the event sell out fast. Mark your calendar to get them when they go on sale in October.
  • January: Napa Lighted Art Festival: Napa's iconic architecture becomes artwork in this unique lighted art walk.
  • January: Napa Valley Restaurant Week: Lower-than-usual prices on lunches and dinners are a good way to try out the latest culinary hot-spots or revisit old favorites.

Winter Travel Tips

  • If rain is forecasted or happened shortly before your trip, avoid winery tours that take you walking through the vineyards where it will be muddy.
  • Reservations aren't as important for wine tasting as they are during the busy season, but keep in mind that local regulations force tasting rooms to require them even when they aren't busy.
  • If you avoid the year-end holidays and Valentine's Day, you can find some of the best hotel prices of the year in the winter. Also, try to visit during the week if you can—room rates can drop by as much as 40 percent from Sunday through Thursday night.
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