Travel Guide: What to Wear and Where to Taste Wine in Napa and Sonoma
California’s wine country is a magical place to visit. If you are planning a trip to Napa or Sonoma, you are in for a big treat. But you’ll want to be well researched and have a good strategy to make the most of your trip like what to wear to wine taste and where are some of the best and less touristy wineries to visit.
In the last 17 years, my husband and I have been fortunate to visit 11 times, most recently this month for a client event.
In all those years, there have never been two trips alike, which means it is a place that is impossible to get bored of.
Over the course of our visits, I've learned what to wear (and not wear) and discovered some of the best wineries to spend a few hours relaxing, sipping wine, eating amazing food and taking in the chill atmosphere of northern California's wine country.
When to Visit Napa and Sonoma
For this Clevelander, wine country is gorgeous at nearly any time of the year. But my favorite time is the Fall because the temps are cooling and the leaves on the vines and trees start to turn. It also happens to be the busiest time of the year because wineries are harvesting grapes for the upcoming vintage.
Because it high time, it takes a bit more research, planning and perhaps budget to visit at this time. Lodging prices are typically higher and restaurant reservations can be harder to come by if let to the last minute. Likewise, securing a driver or certain reservations at wineries can also get a little trickier.
If Fall doesn’t fit your schedule or budget, almost any time of the year is worth the trip. You’ll just need to plan for the weather, be it hot in the summer or rain in the winter and spring months.
What to Pack and Wear in Napa and Sonoma
California wine country is not only famous for its grapes but also for its big temperature swings – sometimes as much as 45 degrees in one day. Layers are key to being prepared for all kinds of weather and atmospheres.
In the summer and fall that means dresses with cardi’s, skirts with jackets, pants with tanks and light weight jackets. In the spring and winter you will want to add heavier layers, a trench or rain coat and perhaps an umbrella for any rain.
Another few things to keep in mind for what to wear in Napa and Sonoma:
Choose wisely on footwear
Napa and Sonoma are very much the country. On tours and at certain wineries, you will be walking on dirt paths among the vines. Flats or booties are best for traversing this type of topography. Save the heels for dinners where the path is a bit more level and consistent.
Don’t go in costume
It’s easy to get swept up in the idea of wine country with some accessories like hats and boots or to go overboard with getting super dressed up. But it is still normal life. You will feel like an urban cowboy or a Kardashian out of place if you take outfits too far.
At the same time, it is not the beach so punchy accessories really help make an outfit pop. Scarves, statement earrings and necklaces, cool shoes and sunglasses will help make you feel appropriate and well styled.
The Hanger Valet can help you organize your accessories when packing and keep you organized once you get settled in your accommodations.
Layers layers layers
You will be taking clothes off and putting them back on all day between the vineyards, tasting rooms, barrel rooms and caves. Work all outfits around a couple of layers that you can mix and match between outfits.
Watch it on the white
White pants look crisp and cool until you pour a glass of red wine on them. If you are planning white, just make sure you don’t have a few outfits rotating around a white blouse or white pants. And be sure to carry Wine Out in a travel size wherever you go.
Pack for the activity
If you are staying in downtown Yountville, St. Helena, Sonoma or Healdsburg, you will want to be walking around in the morning taking in the crisp air, city center square charm and local coffee shops. I’m not sure about you, but I would rather stroll in elevated athletic wear than be dressed for the day at that time of day. A pair of leggings, jacket, running shoes and sunglasses will have you feeling appropriate for the weather and the activity.
Wineries to Visit
There is no shortage of wineries worth a visit in the Napa and Sonoma Valley. Before Covid, you would be able to drop in and taste for a nominal fee. Now, you will need to make reservations and be willing to part with a bit more time and tasting fees.
This might put the pressure on to create a winery itinerary you will love. Here are a few from Napa and Sonoma that have impressive tastings and memorable tours:
Tasting is Napa is pretty straightforward. You will either follow Highway 29 or Silverado Trail to get to most wineries. Some great spots are perched up on Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain, and Diamond Mountain. It takes some windy and twisty roads to get to those spots, but it is well worth it.
Artesa – This winery weaves art, architecture, and the unparalleled views of Napa into the entire experience of enjoying their incredible wines. While the tasting and view alone is reason to visit, the tour is worth the time and investment. The Tempreanillo is hands down my fave here.
Stag’s Leap – Steeped in history and fueled by intense but approachable wines, Stag’s Leap is a Napa must do if you are a first time visitor.
Ma(i)sonry, RH Yountville Wine Vault – This space has changed through the years but the wine remains consistent. Now as Restoration Hardware has taken it over the backdrop to the stunning wines makes it a feast for the eyes and tastebuds. Plus, if you are staying in Yountville, it is walkable to all the hotels on Washington.
Paraduxx – A tasting at Paraduxx is always a solid tasting. Though there are several levels of tasting to pick from, we have always thought the Paraduxx tasting to be a relaxing and delicious experience.
Round Pond Estate – Named one of the most beautiful wineries in Napa, Round Pond is as stunning to take in as is the wines and olive oil to taste.
Heitz – This family owned and Napa Valley OG is a must visit for Cabernet Sauvignon lovers. The Martha's Vineyard Cab is my last meal wine.
Pride Mountain – It takes some work getting there so be sure you have a DD or that it is your first stop of the day. Every single wine is as incredible as are the views, but the Merlot is a real stunner.
Frank Family Vineyards – Talk about a fun experience! A visit to Frank Family is the definition of cool and relaxed atmosphere. The wines will consistently knock your socks off and the super friendly staff will make it hard to leave.
Robert Craig – If you are lucky enough to have Elton lead a tasting, you have won the day. The wines are incredible and the people as authentic as they come. You can choose from tasting in Downtown Napa or the Howell Mountain Experience for a more immersive visit with barrel tastings and more hands on background of the process. We were lucky enough to do the Howell Mountain Experience and were overwhelmed by the vistas, tour and wine.
Cimarossa – Take a gator ride through the property and among vines to a little house for tasting and pairing of cheeses, nuts and meats. The Nebbiolo blew us away almost as much as the views.
Schramsberg – A delightful way to check out some bubbly and learn about how sparkling wine is made. While the tasting will do the job, the tour is really what makes this stop one of the best in which to discover what it takes to make those little bubbles possible.
View from Robert Craig on Howell Mountain
Tasting in Sonoma is a little trickier because the wineries are not on a straight shoot like Napa. It takes a bit more planning and strategizing to find your way from winery to winery. Plus, Sonoma is BIG so the time it takes to get from one winery to another is longer than in Napa typically.
Sonoma feels a little more homey and cozy too. The wineries are still gorgeous but they don’t have the same ritz as the Napa ones. Personally I like the feel of Sonoma over Napa.
Dutcher Crossing – Picturesque views, delicious wines and friendly people. Dutcher is the definition of Sonoma charm. The Bacigalupi Vineyard Zin is a party in a glass and one of my faves in the Valley.
Flowers – Talk about an impressive tasting experience. From the welcome glass of wine to the cabana we perched in for the tasting, and every bite of the food that accompanied the wine blew us away. A new favorite and will always be on our circuit year after year.
Rued – Family owned and hand crafted wines means a low key and very Sonoma kind of feel. Plus the tastings are a bit less expensive but still a solid choice.
Repris – Set high above the valley floor and perched on Moon Mountain sits Repris. Their wines are stunning and bold. The views and the cave are jaw dropping. And the people that take you through your tasting journey are as approachable and humble as you can find. The Left Bank and Right Bank are fan favorites but the Zin is my favorite here.
Aperature - A stunning backdrop and building in which to spend a few hours relaxing and sipping on cool-climate Bordeaux.
View from Dutcher Crossing outdoor patio
If this is your first time to northern California's wine country, be prepared to fall in love. While there are other wine region in the US that are fabulous, there is just something about Napa and Sonoma that keeps you coming back for more.