As we step forward into 2011, it seems months and months away before we can attend the annual outdoor wine events. Weather is often a deterrent from enjoying our outdoor activities and we tend to hide out in our warm home, drinking hot coffee and waiting for our Netflix deliveries. In a few weeks we will drive up to Chateau Ste. Michelle to pick up our wine selections from our VRC membership. It has been a while since we have visited and the bottles multiply rather quickly. It is always exciting taking advantage of the wine tasting and then traveling home with our bottles clanging together in the back seat. The holidays are now winding down and as I thought of the many events we will be attending in the new year, it occurred to me how much we are missing as we wait for the season to change.
Wineries have lots to offer year-round. Living out the wine lifestyle is not dependent on favorable weather conditions.
December and January in wine country are unique in that there are simply no crowds to contend with. If you’re looking to visit particularly popular wineries, and you want to avoid groups of tourists and crowded restaurants (not to mention crowded wine tours), these two winter months are ideal for you. There is a certain beauty to the vineyards during these months, as the trellises normally supporting live vines will be all but completely bare. It isn’t that the vines are “dead” — they are simply dormant. For proof that even the dormant winter months can be beautiful, schedule your trip to wine country in December or January — as an added bonus, you may often be the only visitor to certain wineries. This provides a unique opportunity to ask questions and broaden your knowledge of wine. It is also a great time to bring friends and family and share a more intimate setting.
In February, you may begin to see a few more wine enthusiasts popping up here and there. Vines will still be dormant, although the trellises will not appear as bare because of wildflowers just starting to pop up among the vines.
In March and April, the tourist season will have truly begun. For one thing, the temperatures will have evened out, allowing for more time outdoors. Also, the wildflowers that can be found everywhere in the wine country are blooming while the vines in the vineyards are awakening and budding. Expect decent crowds when you visit the more touristy spots, though small wineries and out of the way locations will still be pretty bare.
Late Spring through Summer
From May to the end of August is the serious tourist season for the wineries. Weekends will bring heavy crowds — not necessarily a bad thing. If you want to meet likeminded people and don’t mind waiting a bit for a table at your favorite winery restaurant, this warm (even hot) season can be quite the vacation spot. During this time, the vines are budding and showing grapes, and people’s minds turn to the coming harvest, talking about the recent weather, the amount of rain, and how they feel the new crop will turn out. This is the most “exciting” time to visit the wine country, and certainly the most crowded.
September through October is harvest time — a unique time to visit wine country if you’re a fan of viticulture. Depending on what part of the wine country you’re in, you could pull into a winery at its busiest, or maybe you’ve just missed the harvest but can still see the process finishing up. Grape harvest season begins about mid-August and ends about mid-October. The actual harvest time depends on the grape variety and location of the vineyard. Most vineyards offer tours and tastings year-round, but late summer to mid-fall is the best time to visit most wineries and experience a “taste” of the wine making process.
November in wine country is similar to December and January, except that wildflowers and vines are just starting to lose their vegetation. The beautiful golden colors of falling leaves make for a romantic getaway, and another great photo opportunity for wine country tourists. Crowds will have fallen off considerably, but so will wine production, so if that is what you want to see, you must arrive in wine country earlier in the year.
No matter when you decide to visit, wine country is a unique destination for wine lovers; and for those of us who call ourselves wine enthusiasts, it is a kind of Mecca. Here’s hoping you visit wine country, no matter what month you decide to take your vacation. Just don’t forget to bring a camera (and designated driver).
Thanks for a fantastic 2010!
Jona and Joel
Big Fat Wine