Fall in Napa Valley is when all good things converge–gloriously sunny afternoons, evenings crisp and cool under starry skies, and the grapevines having finished their labor for the season, offer up foliage in vivid fall colors. On autumn mornings, the heavy smell of crush fills the entire valley with a heady aroma that reminds all of the region’s greatest asset: wine.
And as the region’s grapes express the distinctive qualities innate to each AVA, so go the valley’s cherished fall traditions. It is worth setting aside time to enjoy a taste of what each region has to offer as one partakes in this valley-wide celebration of harvest.
St. Helena / Spring Mountain / Diamond Mountain / Calistoga
What is distinctive about harvest in the upper Napa Valley is the preponderance of red varietals. If the desire is for a glass of the perfect red wine, head up to St. Helena. Those staying in the town of Napa should head north on Highway 29 or Silverado Trail, as both routes offer spectacular views of mountains and colorful vineyards with pull-outs for taking pictures.
As you arrive in St. Helena via Hwy. 29, V. Sattui Winery beckons, with its vast picnic grounds and Tuscan architecture embraced by fall vines and colorful roses. Nothing is better than enjoying a glass of wine and Italian picnic fare al fresco. Keep an eye on their website for fun harvest and fall events. // www.vsattui.com
After a fortifying lunch, consider an invigorating hike at Bothe State Park, where more scenery and fresh fall air co-mingle with the scent of coastal redwoods. Bothe is just north of St. Helena and has trails of varying intensity for the casual walker or serious hiker, all with breathtaking views of pristine wilderness. // www.parks.ca.gov
An excellent late afternoon wine tasting can be had at Charles Krug, Napa Valley’s oldest winery. Krug offers a lovely array of experiences, but the Outdoor Private Cabana tasting is customized and allows guests views of Krug’s beautiful fall vineyards and fantastic views of the Vaca Mountain range. // www.charleskrug.com
Post-Krug, consider dinner at the Gatehouse Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. Gatehouse’s ever-changing menu features fresh regional ingredients prepared by CIA students, a fall favorite being their sous-vide Wagyu striploin with Oaxacan mole, roasted beets, and stone fruit. // www.ciagatehouserestaurant.com
Another memorable up-valley dining adventure is Farmstead at Longmeadow Ranch, where everything prepared in their kitchen is grown on their ranch. The Sunday brunch on the patio is a can’t-miss with classic farmhouse cuisine like steak and eggs with crispy potatoes and chimichurri sauce or a seasonal veggie hash with hollandaise. // www.longmeadowranch.com/eat-drink/restaurant/
Oakville / Rutherford / Stag’s Leap / Yountville
Yountville is situated near the middle of the valley floor at one of its widest junctures and is surrounded by unadulterated vineyards. While it has the feel of a country village, its main thoroughfare is lined with some of the world’s top-rated restaurants. Fall is a perfect time to visit Yountville as the town is full of deciduous trees, colorful foliage, and much open-air dining.
Classic French cuisine is ideal for a fall day, and Bistro Jeanty is the perfect place to warm up after a day of exploring. Its cozy vibe sets the pace for its seasonal comfort food menu and daily specials. Late-season heirloom tomatoes have incredible flavor, as reflected in the Bistro’s popular starter, Crême de Tomate en Croute. For dinner, the traditional Coq au Vin is slow-cooked to heavenly tenderness in an earthy stew. // www.bistrojeanty.com
Also of note is Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mustard’s Grill. The Grill just celebrated 40 years as one of Napa’s favorite restaurants for both visitors and locals. Its staying power is worth investigating. For hearty fall fare, try the Mighty Meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes and horseradish BBQ sauce or the famous Mongolian Pork Chop with sweet & sour red cabbage with house-made mustard. These entrées are the perfect backdrop for their impressive list of outstanding local by-the-glass (or bottle) wines. // www.mustardsgrill.com
Wine-tasting experiences on par with the mid-valley’s dining culture: Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford and Groth Vineyards in Oakville. Grgich produces a broad spectrum of top-quality red and white varietals with seating that affords views of rolling vineyards and harvest activity. Groth Vineyards is located on a quiet stretch of country road in sleepy Oakville, surrounded by vineyards in their fall glory. Groth is all about Oakville’s renowned Cabernet Sauvignon. // www.grgich.com // www.grothwines.com
For those staying in Yountville, biking is a great way to get up close and personal with the vineyards changing seasons. Consider a simple fall ride along Silverado Trail between Yountville Cross Rd. and Trancas Street in Napa. This route traverses the region’s most beautiful vineyard scenery. For the ultimate views of the valley, consider signing up for one of the hot air balloon rides that take off from Yountville. // www.yountville.com/balloon-rides
Los Carneros / Oak Knoll / Coombsville + Downtown Napa
Los Carneros is at the tail end of the mountain range, where it’s sunny and relatively flat. Nearby, San Pablo Bay delivers cool, moist air in the evenings and a soothing marine layer each morning. These conditions are perfect for chardonnay and pinot noir. Nearby, the Oak Knoll AVA’s alluvial soil nourishes a long list of varietals, while Coombsville’s combination terrain is best known for its cabernet and Bordeaux.
The rolling hills in Los Carneros are golden in autumn, offsetting the bright red and burgundy of the grape leaves in their final throws. Bike riding in this region is especially popular because much of the region is flat, and roads are less congested with traffic. Locals who bike love to visit Bouchaine Winery with its wide-open outdoor tasting area. Bouchaine is well known for its chardonnay and pinot noir. // www.bouchaine.com
And if you’re craving bubbles, Artesa has an exceptional roster of Codorníu-style sparkling wines that reflect the winery’s roots and connection to Spain. Both of these wineries offer amazing views of fall color in the Carneros. // www.artesawinery.com
For those seeking to taste the choice reds that emanate from the Coombsville AVA, look no further than Shadybrook Estate Winery, which produces a stunning Malbec, a red blend, and an exceptionally flavorful Cabernet Sauvignon. This winery is off the beaten track, with bucolic country scenery, which can be experienced from their expansive patio or from an original rancher’s perspective – riding through the vineyards on horseback. A trail ride is a fantastic way to take in the breathtaking vistas of the Rapp Ranch Estate and the surrounding hills of Coombsville. // www.shadybrookestate.com
And for those who want a taste of life in the Oak Knoll District, hidden gem, O’Brien Estate Winery is the perfect spot to sip distinctive estate-grown Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay in a laid-back setting among the Oak Knoll vineyard vistas. // www.obrienestate.com
Napa’s downtown is now the region’s other culinary capital, offering every type of cuisine. TORC is undeniably one of the best restaurants in the neighborhood and is frequented by the region’s chefs. TORC’s Strozzapreti Pomodoro is a revered second course with heirloom tomato conserva, basil, and black truffle. TORC is known for its top-drawer seafood, chops, duck, steak, fresh-made pasta, and inventive vegetable-based dishes. // www.torcnapa.com
The best spot for al fresco dining with fall views is The Grove at the CIA at Copia, with seating in the culinary garden’s olive grove. The Grove’s seasonal menu is quintessential California, with fresh, bright ingredients prepared perfectly. // www.ciaatcopia.com/grove-restaurant/
Other noteworthy Napa Valley fall adventures include perusing the Napa Farmers Market, rated one of the top in California, to explore regional bounties or hiking along the River to Ridge Trail at Skyline Park. // www.napafarmersmarket.org // www.skylinepark.org
And don’t miss the Stanly Lane Pumpkin Patch, which is open all of October and worth a stop if but for a few selfies. // www.yelp.com/biz/stanly-lane-pumpkin-patch-napa-2
Autumn is a highly desirable time of year to be in Napa Valley for visitors and locals alike. The cornucopia of things to sip, taste, see, and do during wine country’s harvest season is a sumptuous feast for the senses.