Off-Season Fun In Wine country

By Jenny Peters

If visiting California’s Napa Valley has always been a dream for you and your favorite wine-drinking squad, consider booking your trip in the winter months. While the grape vines will be bare of grapes in their time of rest and regeneration, the incredible landscapes and light (the valley’s light is unforgettable) are still spectacular—and everything is less.

Less crowded, less expensive (particularly hotel rooms), and less traffic means an experience that hearkens back to the good old days of Napa, back in the 80s and 90s when the valley was still building its stellar reputation in the global wine world. And the weather is usually perfect: sunny days with temperatures around 60F, unlike the summer/fall too-hot days of over 100F, and cool, but not cold, evenings.

Here are our favorite new and classic places to sleep, sip, and sup in Napa Valley in 2024.  

The most significant recent hotel opening in the Napa Valley is the Four Seasons Resort and Residences, found at the north end of the Silverado Trail just outside of Calistoga. This posh new hotel has only 85 rooms and overlooks the resort’s vineyards (Elusa is the brand made on-site; try it by the pool). It is a worthy replacement for the Calistoga Ranch, the legendary resort burned in the 2020 fire.

For a wellness-oriented stay, check into Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs, also in Calistoga. Opened in 1952 with mud baths and slightly sulfur-tinged mineral springs, “The Doc” has been a Napa fixture forever. Now renovated and super cool (yes to Instagram-worthy), winter rates here are incredibly reasonable, so book a cute cottage and squish into the mud after a day of wine tasting.

Other favorite places to stay in Napa are the Andaz Hotel or the Milliken Creek Inn; Yountville’s The Estate at Yountville; and Meadowood, the elegant resort tucked into the woods east of St. Helena.

Saving money on hotel prices means you can elevate your winery experiences to an extraordinary level. With Napa’s best available without insane summer and harvest crowds, plan to book at places like Brion, where (by appointment only, like most Napa wineries) a gorgeous art-filled tasting room and gardens in the Mayacamas foothills near Yountville. Taste their beautiful Sleeping Lady Cabernet Sauvignon and other Cabs that retail for well over $200, and you’ll be hooked.

Don’t miss Odette Estate Winery, one of the newest players in our favorite Napa AVA, the Stags Leap District. Joining the best-in-the-world wineries like Shafer, Chimney Rock, Clos du Val, and Hartwell, Odette is part of the Plumpjack Wine Family, owned by California’s current governor Gavin Newson, Gordon Getty, and John Conover. Despite being a young player in the district, Odette’s two Cabernets are luscious, fruit-forward big reds worthy of the appellation. Book a tasting with cheese and chocolate truffles for a beautiful pairing experience.

The Prisoner Winery is slightly overwhelming in the heart of Napa, right on Highway 29 near St. Helena. Once the Franciscan Winery, the property was completely revamped in 2018 and seriously has it all. With a kitchen helmed by Chef Brett Young, who creates fascinating food pairings with the winery’s flagship wines (think their namesake red Cabernet blend, The Prisoner, as well as a smoothly delicate Pinot Noir and a toasty Chardonnay, this is a place to settle in and enjoy. We loved their unique Dim Sum Experience that paired Asian flavors with a wide selection of their wines.

Other wineries with beautiful tasting rooms and excellent wines are Quilt & Co Tasting Room and Lounge in downtown Napa, Black Stallion Winery on Silverado Trail near Oak Knoll, and Heston Vineyards in Yountville. 

You can spend a week’s salary on a single meal in Napa Valley, and sometimes it is worth it. The top restaurants like The French Laundry require months-ahead reservations and deep pockets, but in winter, you might get a coveted reservation.

For fabulous food at classic eateries in the Napa Valley, check out Brix, Mustards, and Don Giovanni, all found on Highway 29. Newcomers like Ciccio’s may take some finagling to get in, as that’s the place where Meadowood’s 3-star Michelin chef Christopher Kostow recently began a new culinary chapter after his Meadowood mainstay burned down.

And if money truly is no object, put Thomas Keller’s Regiis Ova Caviar & Champagne Lounge on your list, as it is his newest Yountville outpost, with jazz bands on selected evenings. You’ll need a reservation there, and we’d advise you to bring your Black card.

For more information on visiting California’s Napa Valley, go to visitnapavalley.com

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