There is much charm to be found in Napa and Sonoma during the colder months. In the off season, the crowds thin out and wineries offer more personalized attention to visitors with intimate offerings that are ideal for smaller groups. And who doesn’t love a glass of perfectly balanced pinot noir after a brisk walk through the dormant vines or a chilly barrel room?
If you’re wondering which places specialize in cozy winter tastings, allow this roster of wine-country winners to get you all warm and fuzzy.
Dating back to 1857, Buena Vista is one of Sonoma’s oldest and most storied wineries. It was founded by Agoston Haraszthy, a self-proclaimed count who came to California during the gold rush.
In 2011, Jean-Charles Boisset, a French winemaker whose flamboyance and charm mimics the count’s, purchased the winery. Today, the winery’s rich history is reflected throughout the property. A maze showcases important aspects of the count’s life, plus there is a collection of vintage winemaking tools inside the old barrel room.
During the winter, book the Bubble Lounge experience. This tasting, which is not listed on the website, involves a tour of the barrel room and champagne cellars. It’s capped off by pours of bubbly from Boisset’s selection of sparklers in the Bubble Lounge, a large room with wooden ceilings, stone walls and all-white, sumptuous decor. Relax in deco-inspired cream velvet chairs or snap a selfie next to a taxidermied bear. Chilly? The room is filled with vintage furs, and you are invited to try them on.
Be sure to sample the La Victorie Reserve Brut Champagne, a blend of pinot and chardonnay grapes specially selected for the winery.
Pine Ridge Vineyards
Last fall, Pine Ridge Vineyards debuted a gorgeous new venue, Cellar 47, for tastings deep inside its expansive caves. Twinkling lights lead the way to the magical underground room that awaits you. Behind glass doors is a Michael Guthrie–designed area that boasts plush leather couches and, further back, tables are set with high-backed leather chairs that create a splendid wine-sampling space.
Pine Ridge offers daily reserved tasting experiences in Cellar 47. You can nosh on small seasonal bites (made on property) that are paired with the winery’s five estate cabernet sauvignons.
Although there are many wineries that offer vineyard yoga, these experiences are usually reserved for the summer months. Emeritus is the only winery that we know of that takes its yoga series indoors. Twist and stretch in the tasting room, which has floor-to-ceiling views of the estate vineyard. After class, yogis can partake in a glass of pinot noir and a cheese pairing.
If yoga isn’t your thing, take a vineyard tour on the campus instead. You’ll walk the grounds and learn about the importance of pruning and see what happens while the vines are dormant.
The tour is followed by a tasting inside the homey living room. Get comfortable in the oversized chairs and plush couches — vino in hand, of course.
If you’re in search of another tasting room with a fireplace, Kendall Jackson’s Sonoma County chateau has you covered. When you arrive on the property, start by taking a walk through the extensive garden. Farmer Tucker Taylor (who happens to be an Instagram star) grows everything from baby radishes to bright green savoy cabbage. He’s a friend to many of the area’s top chefs, including Thomas Keller of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The French Laundry.
After galavanting through the gardens — the term “dinosaur kale” takes on a whole new meaning when you see it growing from three-foot stalks — head inside for a culinary tasting in the upstairs foyer that overlooks the bustling downstairs and fireplace.
A sizable five-course tasting menu follows with fresh nibbles made with the bounty from Taylor’s garden: beets with citrus vinaigrette, honey-roasted almonds and local cheese; a Dungeness crab cake with a Meyer lemon and carrot dressing; and braised short rib with pickled peppers and celery root purée. Each bite is paired with a different wine from the Jackson reserve and estate selection. The 2013 Anderson Valley pinot noir’s smooth-mouth-feel and smoky undertones should be a fan favorite.
For an old-world experience, book a tasting at Swanson Vineyards Salon. Only eight guests are allowed in each of the three hour-long tastings (at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.). With dark wood tables and chairs, bright orange walls and a roaring fireplace, it feels more like a dinner party than a traditional tasting room here. The salonniere leads you and other wine lovers through the sips, telling stories and sharing tips about serving wine. The bottles are paired with a bite of caviar, a cheese plate and chocolate.