1. Except for The French Laundry, no reservations are necessary. Though your chances of getting into Thomas Keller’s flagship are only marginally better during Cabernet Season, you can easily grab reservations at hotspots such as Redd, Meadowood (which reopens after renovation on March 4), Bottega, The Girl and The Fig and Zazu.
2. Forget the fresh grapes; it’s olive season in Sonoma and black truffle season in Napa. Menus such as La Toque’s all truffle tasting, which chef Ken Frank has been presenting for 31 years, pull out all the stops in Napa. Six courses include ravioli “sunny side up” with soft egg yolk and black truffle butter. In Sonoma, olive oil producers and restaurants are hosting special events, tastings and lectures. A visit to the county’s popular The Olive Press offers a tour where visitors can witness the process from olive to olive oil first-hand.
3. You can enjoy winter farming bounty. It’s still a great growing season on the west coast, where the farm-to-table dining never stops. Carneros restaurant in Sonoma has a year-round organic garden, stretching right outside the restaurant’s door, inspiring dishes like truffled quinoa with mushrooms, roast baby beets, organic spinach and confit shallots in sweet garlic and red wine sauce. In Napa, Lucy gives garden tours to showcase the restaurant's herbs and produce of the season, such as fennel, Napa cabbage and cheddar Cauliflower. At the 132 year-old Oakville Grocery, guests can purchase just-picked fruits and vegetables grown a stone’s throw away.
4. Hotel packages feature more perks for the buck. Alluring deals are packed with bonuses to raise the off-season occupancy rates. At The Lodge At Sonoma, for example, the girlfriend-getaway targeted "Girls & Grapes" package (from $519/night) includes a bottle of sparkling wine upon arrival; $200 credit at Raindance Spa; breakfast for two; a wine flight for two; and a complimentary shopping shuttle service to Sonoma Plaza. At the Andaz Napa, the “Life is A Cabernet” package offers an in-room bottle of Louis Martini cabernet and a $25 food and beverage credit for $30 above rack rate of all room types.
5. The winemaker has more time for you. We can’t overlook the area’s main attraction now, can we? Winery tours are less crowded, private appointments are easier to land and winemakers are freer to field questions and lead tastings. Rudd Wines guided us through an eye-opening side-by-side barrel tasting of whites aged in steel, oak and cement. And it’s the perfect time of year to take advantage of Stony Hill Vineyards’ new hiking program, with customizable hikes through the 160-acre property, a picnic and tasting. In Sonoma, there’s more elbow room in tasting rooms, such as Kamen Estate Wines, founded by the screenwriter of The Karate Kid. And there’s a backstory to all the clowning around at Two Amigos. One of the founders was the original Ronald McDonald in TV ads. Smaller appointment-only vineyards, such as Benovia, have ample availability.