Put Your “Wine Country” Trip on the Back Burner

Put Your “Wine Country” Trip on the Back Burner

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 right now it’s “too hot to handle” for both visitors and locals as fires have burnt across the region destroying wineries, vineyards, homes, and business with no end to the conflagrations in sight.

Here’s why I urge those who were planning a trip to the area to put their plans “on the back burner.”

Staying Out of Harm’s Way

(Pixabay Photo)

The fires are burning near or around major routes into, out of, and through Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino.

Some residents have barely escaped with their lives, and the yet-to-be fully contained fires have convinced many of those not burned out of their homes to leave while they can, even if mandatory evacuation orders have not yet been or may not ever be applied to where they live.

You’d simply be heading into harm’s way, possibly impeding the flow of “locals” out, and the movement of emergency responders within the region. And for what?

The smoke-filled skies make for unhealthy conditions, especially for those with pre-existing respiratory problems such as asthma, and pose risks even for healthy individuals.

The fact that many residents are wearing protective masks is a clear indication that the air is going to be unpleasant, if not plain unwise, to breathe.

Harvest of Unhappiness

September and October are prime months for visiting this wine-growing region. Daytime temperatures are usually in the 70s or 80s, winds light, and leaves on the vines and some trees may be beginning to change. Wineries are humming as grapes are brought into be crushed and fermented.

But rain has normally not fallen for four to six months, and probably won’t do so in earnest until November or December. The land is brown and dry, and fire danger is high every year.

This year that danger turned into catastrophe. The 10-day forecast shows no more than a chance of a few showers, not enough to be of much help to those valiantly fighting the every-expanding fire zones.

So if you go, you’ll probably be unhappy that you did.

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 It’s Over

Since the fires are still raging, the number tourist-related businesses, such as hotels, inns, wineries, and restaurants that will be actually destroyed, how many employees and owners of those business whose homes will have gone up in smoke, and how great the financial losses will be, is unknown.

Cell towers and utilities poles and lines have been damaged or incinerated. Water supplies have to some extent been contaminated, at least temporarily.

So even if the fires were all snuffed out tomorrow, it will take some time before debris has been cleared, rebuilding of structures and infrastructures has started let alone been completed, and life in “Wine Country” returns to anything resembling normal.

When to Go

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.

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.

But those who have to buy plane tickets, rent cars, book hotel rooms, and plan trips around work and school schedules, should probably not be looking to visit before early 2018.

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.

Don’t Come Now, But Do Come!

Despite the damage that these fires may inflict, this top wine producing region will bounce back, and before long.

Don’t come now, but just wait a while and you’ll find the wait was well worth it.

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 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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