10 Tips for Exploring Vineyards
To truly embrace Sonoma County, 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 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, Platypus 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 Sonoma County's vineyards and wineries:
This program encourages you to enjoy no-appointment, complimentary, self-guided vineyard tours at many top wineries, like Matanzas Creek Winery with its expansive lavender fields. The trails are no more than a mile long and relatively easy to walk. Please check availability with each individual winery before visiting, as programs may change.
Sip 'n' Cycle with Getaway Adventures
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 signature menu typically includes charcuterie, smoked salmon, smoked trout, artisan breads and cheeses, organic greens and veggies, and pasta, orzo or potato salad.
Take a half-day or one-day guided tour of the Sonoma Valley, with a relaxed trip of three to six miles between winery stops, and lunch. Follow your local expert to two boutique and family-owned wineries on the half-day tour, and three on the full-day trek. Or rent bicycles, and plan your own adventure with a self-guided bike tour, supported by the experienced Sonoma Valley Bike Tours team, plus a box picnic lunch and wine purchase pick-up service.
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. Visit four boutique Sonoma wineries, and enjoy a picnic lunch catered by the girl & the fig.
Explore the 1,850-acre volcanic and vertical property on foot on a hiking-and-tasting program designed for outdoor and wine enthusiasts. Offered monthly, the moderately strenuous trek takes guests from the Sonoma Valley floor to 1,400 feet in the Mayacamas mountain range. This fun and casual hike lasts about four hours. The winery also offers dog-friendly hikes led by Jeff and Roberta Kunde and their two dogs; the four-hour hike ends with a wine tasting and country lunch.
Lin Durling, founder of Sonoma-based Artisan Wine Tours, says he 'seeks to redefine luxury travel in Wine Country.' For more than a decade, Durling owned and operated a niche aviation company and now focuses on creating customized wine tours and 'dream adventures' for discerning travelers.
His specialty is relationships – with wineries, restaurants, planning coordinators, transportation providers, and guides – for bringing his customers authentic behind-the-scenes experiences.
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. Flights can stretch up to four fabulous hours, usually finished off with a champagne toast.
Glide on a self-balancing, electric-powered transportation machine (a Segway) to two beautiful boutique wineries on the Russian River Vineyards Deluxe Tour by Segway of Healdsburg. The two-hour tour includes a 20-minute intoduction, safety, and training session; then follow your guides on a ride filled with beautiful vistas and vineyards. (Segway tours of the Sonoma Valley are available from Sonoma Adventures.)
If horses are your passion, enjoy views of the local mountain ranges as you ride through vineyards, huge oak groves, and woodlands on a private working ranch just outside of Sebastopol. Owned by the Fiddler family for more than 100 years (four generations), Rollin F Ranch grows Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah wine grapes, organic Gravenstein apples, and wild blackberries, with vegetable and flower gardens scattered around the ranch. The guided scenic horseback tour lasts about an hour. For more options, check out Sonoma County on Horseback.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.