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If you’re on the fence about visiting Napa and Sonoma during winter, I can assure you that this is actually a great time to visit.  Not only can you cozy up in front of the fire at many wineries, but you’ll avoid the crowds, get personalized attention and even save on hotels.  Napa and Sonoma have a Mediterranean climate so the weather is mostly sunny with clear skies, cool crisp days and very little rain.

I also love that wineries have special events on during this time, such as Michel-Schlumberger’s Crabby Claws event  (December 14) where you can feast on fresh Dungeness crab paired with wines.

For the restaurant lovers, (and who isn’t), the entire month of January is Restaurant Month in Napa Valley  so you can try many of their award-winning restaurants for lunch or dinner at a fraction of the price.

Here are my picks for cool winter days in wine country:

  • Cozy up in a toasty Italian-style chalet at Velo Vino at Clif Family Winery  in St. Helena, Napa Valley.  For the full experience, sit at the bar and go for the Rifugio Pairing. The founders of Clif Bar really know a thing or two about great bites that pair perfectly with their wines.
  • For the art lovers, you can’t visit Napa Valley without a visit to The Hess Collection.  Their extensive art collection rivals anything you’ll find at MOMA in New York.  Browsing the art installations is a perfect escape on a wintry day.  You can also sip on their extensive range of wine that is only available to taste (and buy) at the winery.
  • Have a farm-to-table dinner at the rustic Farmstead Restaurant  at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena.  Before dinner make sure you stop by St Ives House, the tasting room on the property, and sample some of their wines and olive oils.  For a farm fresh, organic meal in a cozy atmosphere this is the place you’ll want to end up.
  • Head up to Calistoga and take a tour of Castello di Amorosa, the castle of love.  Inside you’ll find relics of medieval times and learn about how this massive castle was constructed.  For an extra $15 upgrade your tasting with a cheese pairing and experience the Il Passito Room, normally reserved for club members.
  • Over in Sonoma County, you can indulge in a 5-course chef’s pairing at St. Francis Winery  in Sonoma Valley.  This is hands-down the best pairing experience I’ve had in wine country, and the best value.  At only $45 per person you will get a fabulous meal, and learn from the chef himself about the best seasonal food and wine pairings. Spend the afternoon relaxing by the fire with a glass of port.
  • For the sparking wine lovers, a visit to J Vineyards in Russian River is a must.  Go for a tasting, or indulge and make a reservation for the Bubble Room.   Get truly spoiled with their 5-course food and wine pairing lunch.
  • Michel-Schlumberger  in Healdsburg is a cozy retreat where you can relax on their leather sofas in front of a roaring fire.  There is no rush here. Spend the afternoon overlooking the vines and sampling their excellent French-style wines and Zinfandels.

Visiting Napa Valley or Sonoma County in winter can be the most laid back, best experience you’ll have.  Getting personalized attention and having the winery to yourself is an even more special experience.  Which wineries do you think are the best ones to visit during winter?  Please post your comments below.

Mindy Joyce