Mark your calendar for festivals, fun, and fanfare
Attending any one of a number of Napa Valley’s special annual events isn’t just a way to taste more wine and eat great food—it’s also a good way to experience Napa Valley like a bit of a VIP. Take Flavor! Napa Valley, for instance, the March festival that includes celebrity-chef cooking demonstrations, rising-star winemaker dinners, grand gala tastings, and behind-the-scenes “Terroir to Table” tours of some of the area’s most outstanding boutique producers.
Early spring, meanwhile, brings Yountville Live, when dozens of local vintners pour premium wines, paired with bites from Michelin-rated chefs at gala dinners; the event also features chef demos, live music, and the Taste of Yountville walk-around feast. In April, the Stags Leap District Vineyard to Vintner celebration wows wine fans with exclusive tours, tastings, and live music at some wineries that are normally closed to the public.
Even non-culinary gatherings have star appeal, like BottleRock Napa Valley. Each May, more than 100,000 music lovers converge on the Napa Valley Expo in downtown Napa for three days of big-name musicians, a wine village, and a food stage area, where you can watch antics like Snoop Dogg rolling sushi with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.
Another don’t-miss is the extraordinary Arts in April, an entire month dedicated to Napa Valley’s burgeoning arts scene. Explore studios, salons, galleries, and private homes hosting events like art installations, pop-up exhibitions, live performances, and glass-crafting workshops.
Fall’s harvest time brings its own kind of festivities. This is when you can witness the hustle and bustle of grape sorting, stemming, crushing, and the beginning of fermentation. Some wineries (like Staglin Family Winery in Rutherford and Paraduxx in Napa) celebrate the season by hosting pre- or post-crush parties with wine tasting, food, and live music. V. Sattui hosts annual harvest balls and crush parties, while sparkling wine purveyor Schramsberg goes all-out, hosting a weekend-long fall harvest camp. For deeper immersion, Grgich Hills Estate and Schweiger Vineyards offer old-fashioned grape stomping events: Just roll up your pants and jump in.
If you’re serious about wine tasting, consider visiting Napa Valley in the winter. Mid-fall to spring is Cabernet season, and even at the height of winter temperatures are still mild. Wineries are less crowded and the overall pace is slower, which can mean more attention from the winemakers and more flexibility with appointments; often, walk-in tastings are possible. Accommodations are also less expensive during the off season, and plenty of wineries are open over the holidays and even on Christmas Day. From early December to early February, you can purchase a Winter in the Wineries Passport good for complimentary tastings at more than a dozen Calistoga wineries.
But there’s more to Napa than wine. November brings the Napa Valley Film Festival, which features screenings of up to 100 independent films, plus conversations with more than 300 writers, directors, actors, and producers. In December, holiday events such as fairs, caroling, tree lightings and Santa appearances are in full swing in St. Helena, Yountville, Calistoga, among other towns, and January brings the four-day Napa Truffle Festival. January visitors will also be able to witness blooming mustard fields ablaze with bright yellow flowers all over the valley.