Top 10 California Wine Country Events

January 18, 2018

story by Pete Holland

When, exactly, is the Golden State’s festival season? Many regions host their events around harvest time, but the beauty of California is that the mild weather that makes it perfect for grape-growing also makes year-round events possible. Here are ten of the best and most interesting festivals that California’s wine regions have to offer:

Napa

BottleRock

Napa’s BottleRock music festival, inaugurated in 2013, has fast become the valley’s marquee event. Maybe it’s the talent: Tom Petty, Public Enemy, Foo Fighters, and Kacey Musgraves top the eclectic and seemingly-endless roster of artists who have graced the stage. Naturally, the wines are fantastic, too.

BottleRock

Image by BottleRock

Event: BottleRock
Date: May 25-27, 2018
Tickets on sale: Now!
Where to stay: Go full-Woodstock and camp at Camp Carneros at Skyline Wilderness Park, which benefits the Carneros Volunteer Fire Department. Or book BottleRock’s Platinum Package, which includes lodging at Meadowood and access to the Platinum Lounge, where the service is provided by same.
Pro tip: Our inside source, who books all the lodging for BottleRock’s artists, says “Commit!” Don’t wait for the lineup to be announced – just save the date and book a hotel a year in advance. Oh, and dress in layers, lest you learn a frigid lesson in the “diurnal swing.”
Bonus: In 2017, BottleRock’s Culinary Stage hosted Martha Stewart, Warren G, and walking hot dog disposal Joey “Jaws” Chestnut. We’re intrigued, too.  

Auction Napa Valley

The patrons and players of Napa Valley all come together for Auction Napa Valley, which has raised over $170 million for the Napa community since 1981. The top lots make annual headlines with their nine-figure winning bids. Bring your checkbook, and/or the deed to your house.

Event: Auction Napa Valley
Date: May 31-June 3, 2018
Tickets on sale: Mid-March.
Where to stay: If you are thinking of bidding on anything at the auction, then you can afford Meadowood.
Pro tip: Hoping to glimpse a star winemaker? Visit the bar at Press restaurant in St. Helena.
Bonus: Did you drink your ten-year vertical of Screaming Eagle too soon? Here’s your chance to score another.

Napa Valley Film Festival

The Napa Valley Film Festival has brought cinema, wine, and food together since 2009. It was founded by Brenda and Marc Lhormer, producers of Bottle Shock, the feature film that helped bring mainstream appreciation to Napa Valley’s glorious showing at the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting.

Event: Napa Valley Film Festival
Date: November 7-11, 2018
Tickets on sale: Now!
Where to stay: Downtown Napa at the Westin or the Andaz Napa, or the newly-renovated Vintage House in Yountville
Pro tip: Mix up your schedule, says Co-Founder/Director Brenda Lhormer, with feature-length films and shorts, wine tastings and culinary demos, and wine bar relaxation.
Bonus: Historic Freemark Abbey and Charles Krug wineries double as special screening venues.

Sonoma

Sonoma County Harvest Fair

An old-fashioned harvest-time festival, complete with a grape stomp, affirms Sonoma County’s place as Napa’s folksierbut just as formidablecousin.

Image by A&W Transport

Event: Sonoma County Harvest Fair
Date: TBA October, 2018
Tickets on sale: Keep an eye out.
Where to stay: Downtown Santa Rosa.
Pro tip: Yes, it’s a wine festival. But no lover of fine libations will fault you for ducking away for a few hours to beer mecca Russian River Brewing Company.
Bonus: The Harvest Fair’s curiosity-inspiring Amateur Wine Awards.

San Francisco

ZAP Zinfandel Experience

California Cabernet may command the big dollars, but Zinfandel is the state’s quintessential variety, and the ZAP Zinfandel Experience is the grape’s moment at center stage. If you don’t make it to the event’s Farm to Table dinner, all is not lost – you’ll find another place to eat.

Event: ZAP Zinfandel Experience
Date: January 18-20, 2018
Tickets on sale: Now!
Where to stay: Downtown, Embarcadero, South of Market
Pro tip: Pack a tooth-whitening kit.
Bonus: Zin pairs nicely with a late-night buffalo sandwich from Tommy’s Joynt at Van Ness and Geary.

Paso Robles

Hospice du Rhône

Close to the coast but in the agricultural heart of California, Paso Robleswith its winemakers in Wranglersputs the country in Central Coast Wine Country. The region’s Rhône-style wines are starting to garner serious critical acclaim and international attention.

Event: Hospice du Rhône
Date: April 26-28, 2018
Tickets on sale: Now!
Where to stay: Adelaide Inn, Hotel Cheval, and several others are walking distance from the event. Need we explain why that’s a selling point?
Pro tip: Don’t miss the seminars by the likes of Philippe Guigal and Morgan Twain-Peterson MW.
Bonus: This is beef country – pair some with rich Paso Syrah.

Santa Barbara

Garagiste Festival

Get ahead of the curve by hobnobbing with the up-and-coming producers of Santa Barbarafor a mere $130 for the whole weekend. This is where you’ll find tomorrow’s big names while they’re still little, pouring their own wines in a relatively intimate setting.

Event: Garagiste Festival
Date: February 9-11, 2018
Tickets on sale: Now!
Where to stay: In Danish-themed Solvang, of course.
Pro tip: Nurse your inevitable hangover with hot coffee and ebelskivers.
Bonus: So close to the famed Hitching Post II restaurant (of Sideways fame) that you can smell the ribeye-fat sizzling on the wood grill, as well as Jack’s sleaziness.

San Luis Obispo

Harvest on the Coast

How best to sum up SLO vibe? Check Harvest on the Coast’s Endless Summer-inspired logo. This town where the mountains meet the sea is one of the most gorgeous spots on the coast. For maximum relaxation, fly into San Jose or LA, and roll into SLO on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.

Event: Harvest on the Coast
Date: November 2-4, 2018
Tickets on sale: TBA
Where to stay: Those who stay in Avila Beach, where the event takes place, have access to the Avila Experience, which features additional wines and food pairings.
Pro tip: Taste library and large-format wines with an Early Entry ticket to the Grand Tasting, which will only cost you $30 more. Well worth it.
Bonus: Myriad options for hiking, surfing, biking, trail running, and other healthy things you like but won’t do during a wine festival

Lodi

ZinFest

Lodi may not be one of the classic prestige regions of California, but it produces spectacularly rich Zinfandel from some of the oldest vines in the West.

Event: ZinFest
Date: May 18-20, 2018   
Tickets on sale: March 1, 2018
Where to stay: At the aptly-named Bordeaux Inn, or Wine & Roses.
Pro tip: Resist the urge to make “stuck in Lodi” jokes. They’ve heard them before.
Bonus: Don’t miss the winery open houses on the festival’s final day.     

Monterey

The Monterey Wine Festival

Monterey is breathtaking, and the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA is fast becoming one of the West Coast’s top sites for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We can think of worse ways to spend a weekend.

Event: The Monterey Wine Festival
Date: June 9-10, 2018      
Tickets on sale: Now!
Where to stay: Soak up the beautiful scenery and beautiful people of downtown Monterey.
Pro tip: The festival is daytime-only, so book local dinner reservations early.
Bonus: Take a pre-tasting drive out to Bixby Bridge and Big Sur.  

Pete Holland

Pete Holland’s column Wine in Common has run in the Nashville Scene since 2015. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon, where he is an MFA candidate in nonfiction at Oregon State University.

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