November Peak

Trentadue Winery, Geyserville (11/12/18) David Sharp

North Sonoma County vines are “making their fall color move,” reports Sonoma County color spotter David Sharp.

He observes that most of the grape vines between Windsor and Cloverdale peak from early to late November, continuing, “In west Sonoma County, where most of the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow, most of the vines have gone past peak and are losing their leaves.”

Whereas, vines in northern Sonoma County ripen later and their fall colors are “just coming on and should be colorful through Thanksgiving.” 

  • Northern Sonoma County – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Wine and Fall Color Pairing

Helwig Winery (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Iron Hub Winery, Shenandoah Valley (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Bella Piazza Winery, Shenandoah Valley  (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Unless you’re a club member of one of California’s largest wineries, the welcome is often less than enthusiastic.

Not so in the Sierra Foothills. The wineries there are so lightly visited that the welcome is genuine and warm, and the tasting is often free.

Their hospitality, some extraordinarily exceptional wines and lovely fall color from late-October to mid-November

Counoise, Holly’s Hill (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

Maple, Holly’s Hill (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

make them a great choice.

Today, East Bay color spotter Darrell Sano and I visited the Sierra Foothill AVA, independently. He toured Shenandoah Valley vineyards in Amador County while I stopped in El Dorado County’s Pleasant Valley.

There, Holly’s Hill was holding a wine and cheese pairing, with cheese from an artisan cheese shop in nearby Placerville, which used to be called “Hangtown” for all the hangings that occurred there (the El Dorado County seat) in the late 1800s. Today, all that hangs there are sausages in the cheese shop.

Newtown Rd., Placerville (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

Bigleaf maple (11/12/17) John Poimiroo

At this time of year, Newtown Road, between Placerville and Pleasant Valley, is over hanging with bright yellow  bigleaf maple and orange black oak.

It’s the kind of scenic route that Darrell searches for among “the lofty hills and gentle curves in this somewhat hidden area” of California.


Shenandoah Vineyards (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Turley Vineyards (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Despite a late start from Oakland, he found “the morning light was still something to behold, illuminating the hills, intensifying the color.”

That’s why John Muir preferred to call the Sierra Nevada “the range of light.”

Darrell says that one thing he finds wonderful about fall is that “The quality of light at 1 p.m. is like 7 p.m. in summer… intensifying clarity and structure.”

He adds that though the Sierra foothills are peaking, its wine tasting “is never past peak.”

What Darrell enjoys most about tasting in Amador and El Dorado Counties are their  “bucolic hills, traffic-less roads, and no limos!”

You’re not likely to encounter backups as people pose for pictures beside their cars or with their girlfriends. You’ll have the road mostly to yourself, except for an occasional rancher, local or fellow oenophile.

As you motor, craggy Sierra peaks spray-painted white with fresh snow are glimpsed to the east, while the western horizon undulates with layers of purple foothills, scored by rows of vines.

It amazes me how many of California’s most famous labels grow zinfandel, syrah, mourvedre, grenache and viognier in the Sierra. It’s not something they brag about doing – “We grow our grapes in the Sierra!” – but they do.

Fiddletown (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Farnham House hidden by fall color (11/12/17) Darrell Sano

Then, you sweep past workers picking olives, apples or pears. Harvest is still coming in, even if the grapes have long-since been picked. Darrell stopped and spent a moment talking to the olive harvesters and “relished the moment.”

In places you’ll find fall color surrounding 1855 Victorian structures, like the Farnham House in Fiddletown.

Soon after gold was found nearby, it got so busy that six stage coaches would stop there, each day.

“Today, Darrell was one of the few who stopped during his trip to pair fall color with wine tasting.

Sierra Foothills – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


Close to the Heart in Sonoma County

Downtown Petaluma (file photo) Deborah Garber

Sonoma County vineyard (10/22/17) Karin Davalos

Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties have one of the latest and longest-lasting peaks in California with peak color appearing from mid October to Thanksgiving Day.

In Sonoma County, fall color can be found in the vineyards, in wine country cities like Petaluma where native and exotic trees line downtown streets and in state parks where lovely color is found in the woods.

Anson and Karin Davalos visited Sonoma County this past week to report that despite the devastation left behind by wildfires in some of the wine country, “much of the area and the vineyards are as beautiful as ever.”

Petaluma Historical Museum (file photo) Deborah Garber

Karin should know, as she’s a local girl who grew up there. So, we know how anxious she was to return and see the places closest to her heart.

Presently, there are a lot of as-yet-unturned green vines to be seen, but also certain varieties are peaking with deep red, orange, yellow and lime to be seen. Vineyards peak by individual grape variety, so while one vineyard may be green, another nearby may be brilliant burgundy or past peak.

More than anything else, what Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties need – following this past month’s fires – is for normalcy to return. That can only happen once travelers return to visiting normally.

For fall color spotters that means including Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties in your fall travel plans, and visiting now.

Liquidambar and vines, Sonoma County (10/22/17) Karin Davalos

So, I’m putting out the challenge to all color spotters – particularly those great photographers who’ve shown the best of the wine country in the past – let’s show everyone how beautiful these areas are and what great fall color can be found there now, through Thanksgiving Day.

Email current photographs of fall color in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties to [email protected] and we’ll post them because, like Karin, the wine country is close to all of California’s hearts, right now.

Sonoma County – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!



DogTrekking in the Vineyards is the of traveling with dogs in California.

So, it was a satisfying bone to chew, reading this week’s number about autumn treks to wine country with man’s best friend.

The issue describes what to expect on visits to Mendocino County, the Suisun Valley and Vacaville, the Napa Valley and Sonoma County, setting readers up for great trips to California’s best wines and fall color in the vineyards.

CLICK HERE to read Dogtrekker’s report on spending autumn days in the vineyards with Fido.