(Courtesy of Frogs Leap Winery)

20 Reasons to Visit California's Wine Country in 2020

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Wine is as good an excuse as any to plan a trip to Napa and Sonoma this year, but here are 20 extra reasons to revisit Wine Country in 2020.


Things to Do in Wine Country in Winter 2020

Eat truffles at the Napa Truffle Festival, Jan. 17-20.

(Courtesy of La Toque)

Off-season steals, December-March

Winter in Wine Country (December through March) is considered the off-season, which means it's a great time to snag sweet rates at many hotels and resorts. At Geyserville Inn, for example, the Winter Tucked in a Vineyard package is offered at a 36 percent discount. Other perks: No traffic or fighting for space at the tasting bar. You're also much more likely to be able to walk in at many wineries (though we still recommend you make an appointment).

Napa Truffle Festival, January 17-20

Every January, the Napa Truffle Festival dedicates four days to the exploration (and eating) of these rare, expensive, earthy, pungent delights. Events include winery truffle lunches, cooking demos, seminars, and a truffle dinner at Michelin-starred La Toque. On January 20th—it's MLK Day, so perhaps you have the day off?—there's a free Truffle Marketplace at Oxbow Public Market, where you can sample your way through truffle goat cheese enchiladas, grilled oysters with truffle butter, truffle cocktails, and more. Can't make it? La Toque chef Ken Frank is serving up his famous All Black Truffle menu daily through January 2020.

Healdsburg Tastemaker Weekend, January 24-26

The stylish town of Healdsburg is putting on its inaugural Tastemaker Weekend, January 24-26. The weekend is jam-packed with delicious and hands-on events that allow ticket holders to connect with the town's best winemakers, chefs, and artisans. Here's your chance to blend your own wine, learn how to saber a Champagne bottle, enjoy a three-course dinner in a wine cave, go mushroom foraging, take a Yucatán-inspired cooking class, and more. There's even a Healdsburg Running Company–led trail run to work off all the weekend's indulgences.

Mustard Season

Arguably the most beautiful time to visit Wine Country is during...mustard season. (Didn't see that coming, did you?) Early in the year, pockets of Napa and Sonoma vineyards suddenly become completely blanketed in a bright yellow color, due to vineyards planting mustard flower between the vines as a cover crop. At its peak, dozens of tourists line up for Insta ops. Mustard season is a little different every year, but it can start as early as January and go into March. The best spots are often located off the main roads, but one of the most popular pull-overs is right on Hwy 29 in Napa, just north of Yountville.

Pliny the Younger Release, February 7-16

Russian River Brewing Company will release its iconic, limited-edition Pliny the Younger triple IPA between February 7th and 16th. Each year, thousands of beer lovers from all over the world gather with chairs outside the brewery and wait for hours just to get their hands on a couple pints of this highly-anticipated release. The good news: Pliny the Younger will now be poured at both Russian River locations (Santa Rosa and Windsor), so perhaps the lines won't be quite as long. This is also the first year ever that Russian River is bottling Pliny the Younger, which can be purchased exclusively at their brewpubs (limit two per person).

Things to Do in Wine Country in Spring 2020

Wine up and jam out at BottleRock Napa Valley.

(Brian Feinzimer)

California Artisan Cheese Festival, March 27-29

This may sound cheesy, but will you brie at the California Artisan Cheese Festival? Taking place in our dairy heartland of Sonoma, this weekend is a full immersion into all things fromage. Tour local farms and creameries, learn how to build your own Instagramable cheese board, take a hands-on cheesemaking class, pair cheese with wine, beer, and cocktails, and leave wanting to buy your own goat.

Rosé Season, April-June

Rosé mania has created an official rosé season in Wine Country. Starting in April, Napa and Sonoma wineries begin to release their new vintages of the pink juice, kicking off a slew of rosé-themed parties that take place through June. Check the calendars of spots like Compline and Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley, and Barndiva and The Girl & The Fig in Sonoma County for their annual rosé soirees.

Judgment of Napa, May 15-16

Oenophiles will not want to miss this exclusive event coming to Napa, May 15-16. Cultured Vine is recreating the famous Judgment of Paris blind tasting from 1976 that put Napa Valley wines on the map (if you don't know what we're talking about, watch the movie BottleShock). The original tasting's creator, Steven Spurrier, will be in attendance, and the Judgment of Napa will once again pit the best wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy against Napa. This time, attendees even get to help judge.

BottleRock Napa Valley, May 22-24

Wine Country's biggest music festival, BottleRock Napa Valley, returns Memorial Day Weekend. This year's headliners include Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Nicks, Miley Cyrus, Khalid, Brandi Carlile, Anderson.Paak & the Free Nationals, Zedd, and The Avett Brothers. As always, the festival will bring the best wine and food—like chef Thomas Keller's bucket of Ad Hoc fried chicken—that Wine Country has to offer. Make sure you book your lodging far in advance.

Things to Do in Wine Country in Summer 2020

Have dinner in a vineyard.

(Courtesy of Kendall-Jackson)

Winery Concerts

Several wineries host annual music festivals and concert series throughout the summer, which tend to be much smaller and more intimate than BottleRock. In Sonoma, check out Gundlach Bundschu's folksy Huichica Music Festival in June and the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival at B.R. Cohn Winery in September. In Napa, Robert Mondavi Winery has been putting on its annual summer concert series for 50 years, featuring big-name bands for five Saturdays in June and July. Lineups for these will be announced in the coming months.

Al Fresco Dinners in the Vineyards

Think Outstanding in the Field, but with dozens of dinner guests, not hundreds. Wineries throughout Napa and Sonoma move their farm tables outside and host dreamy, multi-course dinner parties right among the vines every summer. In Sonoma County, Kendall-Jackson Estate puts on a series of al- resco farm-to-table dinners (each with its own theme) May through October; B.R. Cohn Winery, Imagery Estate, Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Patz & Hall Winery, and Seghesio Family Vineyards also all throw this type of annual event. In St. Helena, Long Meadow Ranch & Farmstead is known for its Live Fire Guest Chef Series, which always ships in amazing talent from top restaurants across the U.S. Outstanding in the Field will also likely set up their insanely long tables at some incredibly scenic estates in 2020, so check their tour dates for that.

Festival Napa Valley, July 17-26

Music lovers flock to Napa Valley every July for the unique weeklong celebration that is Festival Napa Valley. Slated for July 17-26, 2020, there are dozens of events for every type of music fan, from opera under the stars to classical concerts, films with a live orchestra, and Taste of Napa, an epic afternoon of food, wine, and music (last year's featured popular Bay Area cover band, Wonder Bread 5).

Broadway Under the Stars, July-September

It's not Hamilton, but Sonoma's Broadway Under the Stars is a truly transformative theatre experience. July through September, the Transcendence Theatre Company puts on Broadway-inspired performances inside the winery ruins at Jack London State Historic Park. Surrounded by vineyards, the open-air venue is totally magical, plus comes with delicious, local wines. The 2020 Broadway Under the Stars season kicks off with Chicago The Musical.

Winery Picnics

Summer is a great time to spend a lazy Saturday and Sunday picnicking at a winery. Most—like Landmark Vineyards, Cline Cellars, and Rombauer Vineyards—allow you to BYOB (bring your own basket) and purchase provisions at the tasting room, but others curate deluxe wine and picnic experiences. Jordan Vineyard & Winery, for instance, will be hosting four picnic days, two in July, two in August. You'll get your own basket and blanket, head to the butler's pantry to fill it up with gourmet goodies (and wine), and bliss out on the chateau lawn. La Crema, Charles Krug, and Ram's Gate have elevated picnic offerings, too.

Float down the Russian River.

There's no better way to beat the summer heat than with a float down the beautiful Russian River, a favorite pastime of Sonoma locals and heat-seeking San Franciscans. There can be minor rapids, so we recommend a sturdy tube (like an Intex River Rat), but thanks to the rise of Instagramable floaties, you'll now see everything from swans and unicorns to avocados and pineapples floating down the river. July is the sweet spot, when the water is warm enough and also still high enough from the spring rains. Bring two cars so that you can park one at the finish line. Here's our guide to rentals, nearby snacks, what to gear, and more.

Check in at the new Four Seasons Resort.

The highly anticipated Four Seasons Resort in Calistoga is finally accepting reservations for stays starting in July. In addition to gorgeous vineyard-view rooms, the resort (which is an easy walk to downtown Calistoga) has a pool, spa, several dining options, and a winery from renowned winemaker Thomas River Brown.

Things to Do in Wine Country in Fall 2020

Stompe some grapes during harvest season in Wine Country.

(Courtesy of Trefethen)

Harvest Season, September-November

Autumn is the busiest, and also the best, time of year to visit Wine Country, offering visitors the chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at the winemaking action during harvest season. Spend a day winery hopping in October and you're practically guaranteed to see grapes being processed on the crush pad, but many Napa and Sonoma wineries also create interactive opportunities for visitors to join in. Grape stomping is available daily throughout harvest at Grgich Hills and at annual events put on by Peju Winery, Paraduxx, and Castello di Amorosa. Some wineries (like Trefethen Vineyards and Round Pond Estate) will let you actually get your hands dirty with harvest boot camps, while others will throw a big harvest party to celebrate the season. Check the calendar of your favorite winery; they are most likely doing something this time of year.

Live in the Vineyard, November

This Wine Country music fest is different from the others. It's incredibly exclusive and intimate, and you can't simply buy tickets. Taking place annually in early November, you can only snag Live in the Vineyard tickets through special radio station promotions and sweepstakes offered by the festival's sponsors and partners. Individual concerts take place at venues throughout Napa Valley and while the 2020 lineup hasn't yet been announced, past performers include Jason Mraz, Matt Nathanson, Jewel, Avril Lavigne, and Adam Lambert. Food and wine are, of course, an integral part of the celebration.

Napa Valley Film Festival, November 10-15

The 10th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival is slated for November 10-15, 2020. This event is always an immersion of film, food, and wine, and promises ample celebrity sightings. Film screenings take place at some pretty cool Wine Country venues, including Charles Krug Winery, and the nightly ragers, er, parties are not to be missed.

Quirky Holiday Parades, December

Thousands of people from all over the country descend upon Napa Valley every December for a sweet slice of small town holiday cheer. Tractors, antique trucks, and farming equipment elaborately decorated in holiday lights roll through Calistoga's main drag during the annual Calistoga Lighted Tractor Parade, and it's truly a one-of-a-kind holiday lights experience. In Sonoma County, Petaluma puts on a Lighted Boat Parade.

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