Certain places have a magical quality about them in winter, and wine country is one of them. While the vines lay dormant and do their work of regenerating beneath the soil, the beautifully stark landscape above ground can be captivating. You might see snow-covered vines. And it’s nearly impossible not to be moved when the mustard cover crop blooms in late winter, carpeting the landscape in bright yellow flowers and reminding us that spring is just around the corner.
The tasting rooms, with their fireplaces aglow, are an inviting escape from the chill. It’s the perfect time to taste full-bodied wines and newly released vintages, then bring home your favorites to stock your cellar, which—let’s be honest—needs replenishing after the holidays.
Winter in wine country also means fewer crowds and a greater ease of securing reservations at tasting rooms, restaurants and hotels. There’s a higher likelihood that you’ll get to meet the winemaker, who is often dividing his or her time between tending to wines in the cellar and helping with pruning or other winter vineyard tasks.
Below are four winter wine-tasting experiences that we highly recommend. Note: Advanced reservations are required at all wineries.
Freemark Abbey in Napa Valley
Located just north of St. Helena, right off Highway 29, Freemark Abbey stands as one of the first tasting rooms in Napa Valley. The winery’s original partners had the foresight in 1949 to open a rustic “sampling room” so the public could taste their wines.
With its 70-year sampling room history, Freemark Abbey has the tasting experience down to an art with two main options. The Appellation Tasting takes you through six wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon but also varieties such as Merlot, Malbec, Viognier, Chardonnay and Bordeaux blends. The Library Tasting is a chance to travel back in time. Freemark Abbey has one of the most extensive wine libraries that exists. You get to taste up to 25-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon from the winery’s Bosché and Sycamore vineyards and compare these with current vintages to experience firsthand how wine ages in the bottle. This tasting takes place in the cozy Library Room – a tucked away section of the historic tasting room.
The chance to experience Napa Valley’s history in a glass and to discover that there’s more to the region than Cabernet Sauvignon is a blissful way to spend a winter day.
Kendall-Jackson in Sonoma County
A stone’s throw from Highway 101, just north of Santa Rosa, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens is a perfect spot to relish wine country on a winter’s day. The Estate Tasting features wines from cool coastal vineyards, and, for an additional fee, you can add a board of local cheese and charcuterie.
For a special treat, consider the Wine & Food Pairing, which features a multi-course, farm-to-table meal, paired with a selection of small-production, limited-release wines. Or satisfy your sweet tooth with a Wine & Chocolate Pairing of dessert wines and snack-size confections.
After your tasting, make sure to stroll the estate gardens that provide the produce for the farm-to-table pairings.
Brewer-Clifton in Santa Barbara County
Brewer-Clifton in Santa Barbara County
There's a reason Wine Enthusiast named Santa Barbara County the Wine Region of the Year. Here, the unique east-west mountain orientation funnels cool ocean air into the vineyards, prolonging the growing season. The wines are intensely flavored and textural, with a kiss of salinity and spice. And Brewer-Clifton is a choice spot to sample the bounty that Santa Barbara County has to offer.
Brewer-Clifton winemaker's Greg Brewer, 2020 Wine Enthusiast Winemaker of the Year, produces award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Greg is passionate about taking the utmost care and attention during the winemaking process to allow the grapes to culminate in an honest expression of the vineyard. These sustainably farmed wines can be enjoyed now or cellared for another 10-15 years. Try a flight of their single vineyard wines for an indelible memory of this wine region.
WillaKenzie in Willamette Valley
The Willamette Valley wine region in Oregon is often compared to Burgundy, but it deserves to be appreciated for its own unique qualities – one of which is soil. Located in the northern Willamette Valley, WillaKenzie Estate is named after the region’s ancient marine sedimentary soils and is known for its terroir-driven, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. Winemaker Erik Kramer works with each individual block to craft wines that capture the distinctive qualities of the soil, slope and plant from which they come.
On a winter’s day, there’s a great chance you can sample their wines with a view of snow-covered vines. The Estate Tasting features samples of their different estate varieties, such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, and each of their single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.