You only have so much vacation time, so picking the right time to visit wine country is an important decision.
Deciding when to visit wine country depends on the weather, your wine interests, and personal preferences. The best time to visit is summer (if you want to include non-wine activities), followed by the fall and then other times of the year. Let’s see how the best time to visit wine country plays out in three areas: California, France, and Ontario.
California Wine Country: When You Should Visit Napa
Whether you visit the Napa Valley, Sonoma County, or the Central Coast, California wine country is a fantastic destination. In 2018 alone, Napa Valley had 3.8 million visitors, including more than one million overnight visits, according to Visit Napa Valley.
1 Summer (June-July)
Not sure what to pack for your wine travel adventure? When you visit wine country, you will be outside a lot, so you need to understand the typical temperatures you can expect.
- Typical temperature in Napa Valley in June: 49.9 to 78.4 F (9.9 to 25.8 C)
- Typical temperature in Napa Valley in July: 52.5 to 78.3 F (11.4 to 25.7 C)
Visiting the California wine country in the summer is the best choice. You can see the grapes on the wine, and the weather will be warm. The main downside to visiting in June and July is the weather: you’re more likely to encounter rain during this time of year. On the other hand, the region’s peak tourism season runs from August through October, so visiting in June or July can help you avoid crowds, especially if you visit on a weekday. Despite that disadvantage, visiting in the summer months is one of the best times to visit.
When you visit wine country in the summer, it is also easier to add hiking, cycling, and other activities to the season. When you visit in summer, you can also add other activities to your wine tasting trip. For example, you might take self-guided art walks in downtown Napa or sign up for a Napa Valley walking tour. These non-wine activities are essential if your traveling companion isn’t particularly interested in wine. After all, you want the trip to be fun for everybody.
2 Harvest season (August to October)
Harvest season is another popular time to visit wine country. Again, minimize crowds by visiting on a weekday.
- Typical temperature in Napa Valley in August: 52 to 79.7 F (11.1 to 26.4 C)
- Typical temperature in Napa Valley in September: 49.2 to x 79.7 (9.6 to 26.5 C)
- Typical temperature in Napa Valley in October: 43.1 to 74.1 (6.2 to 23.4 C)
Visiting California wine country during the harvest means you see the winery at its most active. If you visit after Labor Day, the traditional summer holiday season will start to end. However, you can still expect pleasant weather. Further, you don’t have to worry as much about getting a sunburn while you walk through the vineyards all day. You can also see a different aspect of the wine-making process.
In addition to wine tastings, there are some other activities you might enjoy. The region has multiple golf courses, including Silverado Resort Golf – overseen by a World Golf Hall of Fame member. You can also combine golf with wine by visiting the Eagle Vines Vineyards & Golf Club. It’s an entire 18 hole course.
The third option is to visit in the offseason, such as the winter season. The wineries are least likely to be busy during this season. You may also be able to get a deal on your wine tasting trip accommodation in the winter. That said, there are other exciting activities available. For example, the 2022 Napa Truffles Festival is scheduled for January 14-17, 2022.
Instead, you might decide to focus your wine country visit on architecture. If you like to ask many questions during a winery tour, visiting in the off-season is brilliant because you will have the staff to yourself. If you have a favorite wine that you’ve always wanted to know more about, visiting in the off-season is an excellent idea.
France: Best Times To Visit Wine Country
It isn’t easy to provide a uniform recommendation for visiting France because it has a varied climate. For example, the northern Champagne wine region is quite different from the sunny southern region of Provence. That said, there are two general ideas to visit French wine regions: summer and early fall.
Late Spring to Summer: May to July
Visiting France in the late spring and early summer months gives you the chance to visit wineries and enjoy other activities. For example, a visit to the Loire Valley is an excellent way to explore interests in history (e.g., Château d’Amboise, which was visited by Leonardo da Vinci and the French royal family) and explore the region’s many wineries as well.
If it is your first trip to France, keep an eye out for July 14 – Bastille Day. It is the national holiday of France! There are usually plenty of celebrations and parties. Many years ago, I attended Bastille Day in Paris, and it was a memorable experience. If you have never experienced this event in France, check it out!
Harvest Season (vendange or grape harvest – August to October)
Depending on the region and wine variety, the French grape harvest may start in August and continue in October. Visiting France in September is a good choice because the weather is still warm, and the crowds will be somewhat lighter. You will also have the chance to see the harvest in some areas as late as October.
What about August? Traditionally, August is a “vacation month” in France. That’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, amenities and services for visitors will be available. On the other hand, you will be competing for limited hotel rooms and wine tour spaces with the French on holiday. However, if you plan to visit cities like Paris, visiting in July and August can be a good option.
Depending on the French wine regions you visit, there are plenty of non-wine activities you might enjoy. If you are in the champagne wine region in the north, you will be close to Paris. If you are on the Atlantic coast, I suggest visiting Bordeaux. To feed your imagination, check out one of the wine movies on Netflix (especially two that focus on France: A Year in Burgundy and A Year in Champagne).
Ontario, Canada: Visiting Niagara Wine Country.
I live in Ontario, and I’ve visited the Niagara wine country region several times. But, don’t let Canada’s reputation for cold and snow put you offer planning a visit to wine country. The Niagara wine region has more than one hundred wineries to explore. Some are large, like Chateau des Charmes and others are much smaller, like Thirty Bench Wine, a small lot winery in the Beamsville Bench area.
Visiting Ontario wine country in the summer is the perfect entry point. You can see the vineyard in full bloom, and it is easy to walk around the grounds. A summer wine travel experience also means that you can easily include non-wine activities during your travel.
For example, there are plenty of practical outdoor activities like cycling and running to enjoy in the area. I have gone for several runs in the area. There’s nothing quite like seeing vineyards all around you as you go for a run!
After working up an appetite for wine and food in the morning, I like to visit some wineries in the afternoon. In addition, summer is an excellent time to visit because you can easily see the region’s historical sites and learn more about the War of 1812 such as Fort George, Brock’s Monument, and Laura Secord Homestead. Outside of the summer, many of the region’s historic sites may be more challenging to access. If you plan to cross the US/Canada border during your visit, make sure to bring your passport when travel restrictions ease.
Some of the region’s well-established wineries like Peller Estates Winery (sit in the unique ice bar while you enjoy a sip of ice wine) are fast becoming destinations in their own right. In contrast, small wineries in the region may not have formal tours but will let you explore the grounds.
Ontario, like parts of Germany, is known for its icewine production. If you’re looking for a new wine experience, I suggest visiting Niagara during the winter. Icewine is sweeter and more expensive than most other wines made in Niagara, so it is a treat to visit.
Before the pandemic, there was an annual icewine festival in Niagara, and I hope that comes back. If you are looking for a wine travel idea in January, the Niagara Icewine festival should be on your list. It is one of the best ways to sample a wide variety of icewines, including those not widely distributed.
Your Next Visit To Wine Country
Summer and the fall are generally the best times of the year to visit wine country. If you want to enjoy outdoor activities like golf, cycling, and outdoor dining, I suggest visiting in the summer. To make your trip even more memorable, look up local festivals and events to attend, as the truffles event in Napa or the peach festival in Niagara. If your travel partner is less interested in wine, make time to include non-wine activities as well. Get started today by planning your wine tasting trip.