Putting Your “Wine Country” Trip Back on the Front Burner

Putting Your “Wine Country” Trip Back on the Front Burner

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(Updated November 5, 2017, 12:00 p.m. PST)

California’s “Wine Country” (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino counties) near San Francisco has long been a “hot” tourist destination, especially at this time of year.

(FlippinYank Flickr Photo)

But last month it was “too hot to handle” for both visitors and locals as fires have burned across the region destroying wineries, vineyards, homes, and business with no end to the conflagrations in sight.

That’s why I had urged those who were planning a trip to the area to put their plans “on the back burner.” But the situation has now changed, and Travel+Leisure is recommending that its readers not cancel trips to the region.

As of October 31st all fires burning in Northern California “Wine Country” were reported as being contained. Air quality is now ” considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.” Cooler, more seasonable high temperatures in the low 60s, with a mix of sun, rain, and showers are forecast during the coming week. All roads that were closed in Sonoma and Napa Counties during the fires have no re-opened.

Damage Done

Over 7,500 structures in the “Wine Country” were destroyed by the fires. It will take several years for rebuilding to take place.

But relatively few wineries were damaged by the fires and many are probably open to receive visitors, although calling ahead or checking the Website if you plan to visit a specific winery is probably advisable.

Many business are operating in Sonoma County and Napa County.

What’s Left of the Wine

The good news among all this bad news is that thus far, the number of wineries and vineyards destroyed or damaged appears to be relatively small in number.

(Julie, Dave and Family Flickr Photo)

A good deal, but not all, of the 2017 vintage has been harvested. There may be less wine produced from this year’s crop, but it won’t zero.

And what’s been made in past years and stored in barrels, tanks and bottles, waiting to be bottled and consumed, may be largely intact.

When to Go

(Update October 21, 2017: Forbes magazine is urging visitors to go now because conditions in the area have improved and there will be view visitors competing with your for a place at winery tasting room bars, restaurants and lodging. But my advice, given below, remains the same as when first published a week ago.)

If you live within an hour or two driving time from Napa/Sonoma/Mendocino, you can plan on visiting the area as soon as you learn that its safe and prudent to do so, which now seems to be the case.

If you live a bit farther away, but have flexibility in planning your travel and can drive to the North Bay wine region in a day, you might be able to make it there before year’s end.

November and December can be quiet times, in terms of the number of tourists you’ll encounter in the area, although holidays are often busy.


The weather in February can be glorious with temperatures in the 70s or higher. Mustard is beginning to bloom along the roads and in vineyards. If you live in a place where winter is harsh, “Wine Country” can be a great place to visit.

(RC Designer Flickr Photo)

Spring is one of my favorite times to be in Napa or Sonoma. Summer visitation hasn’t begun, and especially on weekdays, winery staff will have a bit more time to chat with you when you stop by to taste, and getting a lunch or dinner reservation at one of the area’s many fine restaurants, or just popping in for an unplanned-in-advance meal is going to be easier than from June through September.

Tales Told From The Road editor, Dick Jordan, lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 45 years and spent many days over those years wining and dining in “Wine Country.”He monitored the fire situation in Napa and Sonoma via news media and contact with friends and colleagues who live in the region.

He now lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, home to over 500 wineries. A wine shop five minutes from his home sells 500 different bottles of wine made from Oregon Pinot Noir grapes alone.

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