SAN FRANCISCO—Winter is a great time to visit breathtakingly scenic California wine country. Insiders know that hotel rates are at their lowest of the year in most regions, winery tasting rooms are quiet and the pace is relaxed, and you have the best chance of meeting the passionate and dedicated artisans who make the wines you enjoy at home. And with 114 distinct wine regions growing more than 100 grape varieties, there’s a diverse range of wines sure to entice wine lovers on any budget.

From fun hands-on winery activities and cool festivals to hot travel packages, there are many reasons for you to escape to California wine country this winter. For complete details on the below winter getaways and other events and packages, click here. To learn more about California wine country and up-to-the minute information on events and activities visit

Insider Events, Activities and Packages, by Region

Foodies will want to check out California Restaurant Month this January, featuring special offers in nearly 30 destinations, including gourmet prix fixe menus, wine pairings and celebrity chef dinners at the finest restaurants. From Mendocino in the north down to Temecula in the South, there’s a special culinary offering that pairs great with California wines.


Insiders know that winter in California wine country has many wine-related events going on, from winter barrel tastings to wine and whale-watching festivals. In popular wine country destinations, the peak visitor periods of summer and fall harvest have passed, and now you get to experience California like a local.

Hot Ticket Events

A great way to warm up a day on the North Coast wine region is the Mendocino County Crab & Wine Days Festival(Jan. 20-29), featuring gourmet crab-themed dinners, family-style crab and cioppino feeds, crab fishing adventures, a wine competition showcasing local wines, and the popular Crab Cake Cook-off that highlights the talents of county chefs. If you’re fascinated by whales, you can take advantage of the Mendocino County Whale Festivals, which combine wine tasting with watching these amazing creatures in Mendocino and Little River in March. Depending on the city, the event can also include activities such chowder tastings, wildlife art exhibits, light house and park activities, sea cave kayak tours, photography workshops and more. If you’re ardent about art and wine, venture over to Sonoma County’s 20th annual “Winter Wineland” on Jan. 14-15, where you can learn about new wines, speak with special artists in residence, view art installations and learnabout vineyard practices at over 140 participating wineries—some of which are not open to the public (tickets start at $35).

Wine connoisseurs in the San Francisco Bay wine region won’t want to miss the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition’s Public Tasting on Feb. 18, featuring the largest competition of American wines in the world. This event, sold out every year in advance, is the ideal place to experience a refreshing new educational look at wine and food pairing for just $65. If your New Year’s resolution is to become a Zinfandel expert, then check out the annual ZAP Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco Jan. 26-28, with tickets starting at $59. Billed as the premier single-varietal tasting in the world, an estimated 200 wineries and approximately 10,000 attendees partake in the three days of festival events.

Winter barrel tastings abound throughout the state. About an hour from Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Foothills wine region the El Dorado County Winery Association invites wine lovers to hunt for their next favorite wine at their annual Bring Out the Barrel event (Jan. 28-29). There they can explore up to 27 wineries, each offering a rare chance to preview and taste wines in the barrel before they’re blended or bottled. Take part in a wine treasure hunt for prizes, food tastings or an intimate chat with a winemaker ($35).

Overnight and Activity Packages

Lodge at Sonoma’s “Girlfriends Sonoma Getaway” features great ways to indulge with your gal pals, starting at $429. Package includes:

  •  One night’s luxury accommodations (double room);
  •  Sassy, elegant and dry gal-pal movie themed wine flight;
  •  Breakfast for two at the hotel’s Wine Spectator-lauded Carneros Bistro & Bar;
  • Two Swedish massages;
  • Complimentary shuttle to historic and quaint Sonoma Plaza. Tip: While staying at the resort take advantage of two free wine immersion experiences: “Grapes to Glass” wine seminar and tasting with sommelier Christopher Sawyer (Tuesdays) or rub elbows with a local “Celebrity Wine-tender,” where local winemakers and educators from different wineries each week let you savor some of their finest offerings (Thursdays).

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa’s Sommelier Experiential Package” lets wannabe sommeliers dip their toe in the wine without a big commitment. Starting at $619 USD per night (based on a two-night stay and double occupancy only), they get:

  • Two nights’ accommodation in a luxurious suite;
  • Signature wine and cheese upon arrival and daily breakfast for two;
  • Wine-paired Chef’s Tasting Menu dinner for two in the Michelin-star Santé Restaurant;
  • Sommelier-led tour to two local Sonoma wineries, including expert insights into up-and-coming wines;
  • Behind-the-scenes VIP tour to famous Benziger Family Winery, which is one of many wineries across the state using “green” practices. In fact, more than two-thirds of California’s winegrowers and winemakers are committed to earth-friendly, sustainable winegrowing and winemaking practices.

For information on other Northern California events and packages, click here.


California’s way of life includes eating like a locavore, enjoying cuisine that’s innovative, adventurous and made with the freshest regional ingredients (California grows more than 400 seasonal crops). These Central Coast events and packages are the perfect place to dive into fresh local foods and all things grape and experience the California lifestyle.

Hot Ticket Events

Over in the Central Coast wine region, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association is hosting their annual Wine & Crab Taste-Off January 22, featuring wine and crab tastings at various restaurants, with chefs battling it out to earn the coveted “Crab Cook” title (starting at $49 per person). Passionate about Pinot? Pinot Paradise offers the only opportunity for guests to sample virtually all of the Pinot Noirs from the Santa Cruz Mountains in one location. This event also features over a dozen of the Bay Area’s acclaimed restaurants and a VIP tasting with one-on-one winemaker meetings and technical seminars by industry experts on Pinot Noir April 1. If you’re zany about Zin, rush over to Paso Robles’ 20th Annual Zinfandel Festival March 16-18, which includes a Saturday Zin Tasting & Wine Country Auction that intertwines Zinfandel, Zin-friendly foods and wine country auction lots. In addition to the Saturday tasting, travel the roads of Paso Robles wine country throughout the weekend for a plethora of special tastings, dinner parties, meet-the-winemaker experiences, complimentary barbecues and more. Tickets start at $60. Tip: Purchase your tickets before January 31, 2012 to receive a $10 discount.

Cool Overnight and Activity Packages

Carmel Inn & Suite’s Carmel Valley Wine Tasting Package, starting as low as $160 for one person ($227 for two) includes:

  • Overnight stay with complimentary breakfast;
  • Technical tour of the “Salad Bowl of the World,” including in-depth tours of three Monterey County vineyards and farms, where you can observe harvesting, planting and intriguing aspects of organic farming;
  • Browse the micro-greens and learn the lowdown on new technology from agricultural expert Evan Oakes, whose personal relationships with the farmers and winemakers make this a true insider’s tour;
  •  Observe winemaking and learn about Carmel Valley during a vineyard walk.

Bernardus Lodge & Winery’s Grape Impressions Package,” starts at $1,825 (Jan. 1-May 10) and offers:

  • Three night’s luxury accommodations in Carmel Valley;
  •  Signature amenities of chocolates and their Bordeaux blend wine;
  •  Daily breakfast for two in the privacy of your room or in Wickets Bistro;
  •  Dinner for two at the hotel’s Wine Spectator-lauded Marinus restaurant;
  •  Candle-lit bath topped with fresh rose petals in your guest room’s two-person deep-soaking tub;
  • “Vino-therapy” with your choice of two 50-minute signature spa experiences;
  • Three complimentary wine tasting passes for two at local wine tasting rooms;
  • A “bottomless glass” of select Bernardus wines during your entire stay;
  • Tip: If your stay includes Feb. 11, for only $100 more per person, you can participate in the hotel’s “Valentine Sweets & Scents” where you’re welcomed with classic champagne cocktails before meeting and creating truffles with Pastry Chef Ben Spungin;
  • Tip: On March 10 for $95 you can enjoy “Edibles from the Wild,” where you can learn about hunting and gathering wild local foods from local experts and experience a local “wild food” buffet lunch paired with their new release Bernardus wines.

Paso Robles Hotel Month launches February 2012, giving visitors who stay two nights a third night free at a variety of resorts, flagship hotels and inns. In addition, guests will enjoy a complimentary bottle of Paso Robles wine from the Paso Robles Wine County Alliance, plus special amenities unique to each property.

For information on other Central California Coast events and packages, click here.


With celebrity-studded and culture-filled city streets, surfer communities, theme parks, miles of sandy beaches, and desert golf courses, Southern California is a great playground to warm up in this winter. Down in Temecula Valley in the Southern California wine region, smack in the middle of Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs, a growing number of wineries are popping up, making this an increasingly popular region for wine lovers looking for something new.

Hot Ticket Events

Temecula Valley’s World of Wine 2012 gives wine enthusiasts a map which outlines more than 30 wineries to explore (March 3-4), each offering varietal wines from barrel, tank or bottle and paired with scrumptious food samplings which exemplify the perfect marriage of food and wine. Ticket holders ($99) get a passport which allows a visit to each participating winery and a souvenir glass. Tip: Buy before Feb. 3 and receive $10 off your ticket. On March 2 and 3, check out the Chocolate Decadence and Pechanga Wine Festival at the Pechanga Resort & Casino, where you can sample an array of chocolates and pastries while sampling a variety of local sparkling and dessert wines.

Cool Overnight and Activity Packages

South Coast Winery Resort & Spa’s “Wine Country Picnic Tour Package,” starting at $439 per couple and available all winter, includes:

  • Walking Behind-the-Scenes tour through the vines to the winery with a special private wine and cheese pairing;
  • One luxurious night for two in a villa with a bottle of award-winning wine;
  • Guided driving tour of Temecula wine country with gourmet picnic lunch for two, several winery tastings and value Passport for Two.

Holiday Inn Express Temecula is offering two packages for wine lovers this winter:
Temecula Valley Wine Tour Package” starts at $468 per person and includes:

  • Hummer tour and tasting for two with Rockin Wine Tours to three of the finest wineries in Temecula Valley, including a gourmet cheese platter;
  • One-night accommodations with complimentary hot breakfast buffet, WiFi, access to outdoor pool and spa;
  • For $378 you get the same package but visit one instead of three wineries.

For information on other Southern California events and packages, click here.

About Wine Institute

Wine Institute is the association of more than 1,000 California wineries and wine-related businesses dedicated to public policy advocacy and to enhancing the environment for the responsible production, consumption and enjoyment of wine.California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world, making 90 percent of all U.S. wine and two out of every three bottles enjoyed in the U.S. Each year, nearly 20 million tourists visit wine regions throughout the state to explore and enjoy the wines, the cuisine and cultural offerings associated with California’s signature industry. Visit for more information.