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10 Tips for Exploring Vineyards

To truly embrace Sonoma County harvest season, you need to get up close and personal with the vines. Fortunately, most Wine Country tasting rooms invite you to not only stroll among the green tendrils, but often, you can taste a grape plucked straight from the plant. Command your own adventure with these fun tours on bikes, a Vespa, a horse drawn carriage, a hot air balloon, or your own two feet. You can also enjoy a car or luxury shuttle tour, which offers you a professional guide to help select the wineries to visit, offer insider access like visits with the winemakers, and extras like picnics in the vineyards.

Some top tour companies include Pure Luxury Transportation, Artisan Wine Tours, Behind The Gates Tours, Platypus Wine Tours, Valley Wine Tours, Wine Country Chauffeur, Wine Country Journeys, Woody's Wine Tours, and Beau Wine Tours. Many wineries offer self-guided or guided tours of their vineyards; find all Sonoma County wineries here.

Here are 10 tips for exploring vineyards and wineries this season:

1. Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures
This program encourages you to enjoy no-appointment, complimentary, self-guided vineyard tours, at many top wineries like Matanzas Creek Winery with expansive lavender fields, and the 156-acre Paradise Ridge Winery celebrated for its stunning sculpture garden. Details: Sonoma Country Vineyard Adventures

2. Sip ‘n’ Cycle Biking
Cycle along quiet back roads where every turn brings a picture postcard view of sun kissed vines, olive trees, and golden hills. Follow your professional guide to family owned wineries and savor the vintages of the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. Peddle a total of 10 to 12 miles, stopping at three to four wineries. Enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch. The sample menu includes charcuterie, smoked salmon, smoked trout, artisan breads and cheeses, organic greens and vegies, and pasta, orzo or potato salad. Details: Getaway Adventures

3. Sonoma Valley Bike Tours
Partial day or one-day tours are available, with a relaxed trip of three to six miles between winery stops, and lunch. For an extra dose of adventure, go off-road and literally through the vineyards. The Cycling in the Vineyards tour offers an easy-going and fun chance to explore the wide dirt roads between the vineyard tracks as you visit boutique and family-owned wineries along the way, with an average of two to four mile rides between each winery visit. Details: Sonoma Valley Bike Tours

3. Wine Country Bikes
Many itineraries are available, but the classic ride through the town of Healdsburg and along Dry Creek Valley is unparalleled. Your guide leads you on a picturesque 15-20 mile ride over gentle terrain, sharing the history of the area, providing an insider's view of Wine Country, and stopping for a picnic lunch at the winery of your choice. Your Trek hybrid style bike is built for comfort, and you go as fast or slow as you choose. Details: Wine Country Bikes

4. Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley
The views can be even more magical through open-air windows, and the journey becomes almost as much fun as the destination. While this trolley car is an authentic, old-fashioned replica of a vintage 1890s San Francisco cable car, it has modern appointments like an iPod dock and rockin’ sound system, which means six hour, four-winery tours can become rolling parties. The tour guides tend to be playful, cracking jokes and keeping everyone laughing, all the while pointing out landmarks and sharing Sonoma County stories. Tastings are at boutique retreats like Tin Barn, plus bigger favorites like Imagery Estate Winery, and a French picnic lunch is catered by girl & the fig. Details: Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley

5. Wine Country Vespa Tours
No one can resist saying “ciao” as they cruise on their state-of-the-art Vespa, and why try? It’s simply too much fun. You can pick your stops for an all-day trip, in all areas ranging from Carneros to Dry Creek Valley, perhaps, or Alexander Valley to Bodega Bay. Another option is for your guide to plan your schedule, customized around your chosen theme. Putter from winery to winery, then enjoy a picnic wherever you choose to linger. Details: Wine Country Vespa Tours

6. Repris Wines
Enjoy a by-appointment experience including indulging in a cave barrel tasting, followed by an ATV ride up to the top of Moon Mountain – the views are breathtaking. Details: Repris Winery

7. Sonoma Valley Balloons
Many of us have dreamed about soaring in a hot air balloon over Sonoma Wine Country, and really, what better way is there to take in a birds-eye view of gardens, rolling hills, forested mountains and vineyards thriving in emerald green grape leaves? Seen from above, it’s remarkable how huge Sonoma County looks from the sky. Vineyards that already seem large from the ground are lattice works of intricate trellising, rolling across hills and Valley. Sheep, cows, goats, horses, llamas and even the occasional bison or llama look like toys. The sun dapples across lakes, creeks winds like ribbons through the landscape, and old barns dot the fields. The flight can stretch up to four fabulous hours, finished off with a champagne toast. Details: Sonoma Valley Balloons

8. Up & Away
There’s no reason everyone can’t enjoy an adventure. Up & Away of Windsor was the first hot air balloon company in the United States to offer a wheelchair accessible basket flown free-flight (not tethered to the ground). Special fold down ramps and harnessing make it easy and safe. Then, after the journey, all guests nibble on treats like handcrafted quiche, strawberries hand-dipped in chocolate, fresh fruit, local cheeses, coffee cake, and sparkling wine. Details: Up & Away

9. Wine Country Trail Rides
If horses are your passion, the 1,477-acre Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery in Alexander Valley has partnered with Wine Country Trail Rides for jaunts through the vineyard, past ponds, and into the wilderness. Owner Rafael Hernandez is local professional polo player who, in competitions, leads trail rides out of the adjacent stable that used to house Olympic-caliber dressage horses. Much of the path is right along the 350 acres of vineyards planted in 60 varieties from Viognier to Malbec to Petit Verdot. Rides conclude with complimentary wine from those very grapes, enjoyed in the elegant tasting room. Details: Wine Country Trail Rides

10. Wine Tasting Tour by The Wine Carriage
Travel through the vines and on private lanes in a carriage drawn by two magnificient horses to tastings at three of the region’s finest wineries, in the stunningly scenic and laid-back Alexander Valley. The ride is slow and smooth. The horses can stroll through the actual vineyards, letting you out for barrel tasting, cave tours, and a fabulous gourmet picnic. Along the way, the coachman will share an entertaining insider’s view of the area, its history, the vines, and the wine-making process. Enjoy a relaxed pace and exquisite, world-class wines, while leaving the traffic far behind. Details: The Wine Carriage

Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.