Sonoma Wine Country is unquestionably breathtaking in spring and summer, but the winter months hold a charm all their own. Along with less traffic and smaller crowds, the season brings a host of only-in-Sonoma County events, plus special deals at some of the region’s most celebrated wineries, restaurants, and hotels.
Even the weather is hospitable.
“With an average of 262 days a year of sunshine, there is almost no season that isn’t a perfect time to visit Sonoma,” says Saul Gropman, owner of Café La Haye in downtown Sonoma. “November and December can register 70-degree temperatures and blue skies, and because the upcoming months represent our slowest season, now is the ideal time to secure reservations.”
Here’s where to find your winter wine country bliss.
Festivals and Events
No one does the holiday season quite like Sonoma County—especially when the historic Sonoma and Healdsburg plazas twinkle with lights and a festive buzz fills the air. The annual Geyserville Lighted Tractor Parade, held this year on November 30, celebrates the town’s rural roots with a mobile display of blinged-out farming equipment, plus wine tasting, food, and a tree-lighting ceremony. Healdsburg’s Michelin-starred Madrona Manor restaurant and hotel, housed in a majestic Victorian mansion, decks its halls each December for a series of five-course Dickens Dinners, complete with roaming carolers in period costumes.
Jordan Winery glams it up December 2–12 for its Holiday Tour & Tasting Season, a seated sampling under the glow of the winery Christmas tree that includes Champagne, caviar, and Cabernet, ending with housemade cookies and hot cocoa. Also, Celebrate the Season with Taste West County, set for December 8, combines a holiday-themed scavenger hunt with wine tasting and nibbles at 15 western Sonoma County wineries.
On January 18–19, wine adventurers embark on a self-guided tour of northern Sonoma County wineries during the annual Winter Wineland event, where they’ll sample new releases and library selections of limited-production wines. At the WineRoad Barrel Tasting on March 6–8 and March 13–15, wine wanderers explore the back roads of the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys to sample limited-edition offerings straight from the barrels, meet the winemakers, and buy wine “futures” at discounted prices.
With fewer visitors in town vying for reservations, it’s easier to score a table at local hot spots such as Valette, as well as Michelin-starred Single Thread and the Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant. Delicious opportunities abound during Sonoma County Restaurant Week February 21–March 1, when some of the region’s best eateries offer two-course prix fixe lunches for $10–$15 and three-course prix fixe dinners for $19–$39. For some of the county’s most soulful comfort food, gobble up year-round Thanksgiving dinner at Willie Bird’s Restaurant, slurp a steaming bowl of noodles at Ramen Gajin, or indulge in Underwood Bar & Bistro’s mac-and-cheese topped with pancetta sprinkles.
It wouldn’t be winter without local Dungeness crab, and Sonoma County is the place to get it. Venues such as The Tide’s Wharf & Restaurant feature crab specials throughout the season, and Dungeness devotees wait all year for all-you-can-eat community crab feeds. Among the biggest and best is the Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest on February 1, featuring heaps of sweet Sonoma Coast crab, a live auction, and award-winning local wines.
Cozy Tasting Rooms
When the weather outside is frightful, Sonoma wineries are even more delightful. (Full disclosure: “frightful” in Sonoma typically means just a few degrees cooler than fall temperatures.) Snuggle up to top-notch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Three Sticks in downtown Sonoma, set in a beautifully restored 1842 Adobe that’s full of warm, inviting spaces. At Anaba Wines’ new Vintners House Tasting Room in Carneros, leather wing chairs, velvet sofas, gorgeous Burgundy and Rhône varietals, and a crackling fireplace beckon. Adorned with plush banquettes and glittering Baccarat chandeliers, the glamorous JCB Tasting Salon on the Healdsburg Plaza is a peacock-hued oasis for sipping bubblies and bold California reds.
Need yet another reason to visit Sonoma in late fall and winter? It’s just plain cheaper. Airfare prices drop, hotels lower their high-season rates, and many wineries offer special deals on tours and tastings.
Rodney Strong Vineyards is offering a 15 percent discount on its swanky Vine-to-Table Five Course Dining Experience through the end of November (mention the “Life Opens Up” promotion when you book) and will take 10 percent off all magnum bottles during the month of December. Craving bubbles? Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards is running a two-for-one special on its Tour and Tasting experience through November, and J Vineyards & Winery is doing likewise for its J Tour and Tasting from November 6–January 31 (mention “SonomaCounty.com” to redeem either offer).
The luxurious, Mediterranean-inspired Kenwood Inn and Spa in Sonoma Valley is offering a free night with a two-night stay December 1–March 5, including a $50 spa treatment credit. The same deal applies at Glen Ellen’s Gaige House, with its serene Japanese gardens and soaking tubs.