You can cruise through Wine Country in a fancy limo, or ride your bike up and down its gentle, roller-coaster hills. But in the end, what do you really know about its world-class vineyards, complete with trellis systems, cover crops and rootstocks?
Probably not a lot. But if you hike beside the vines and see how they are pruned and trained, from bud break in the spring to harvest in the fall, you may gain a deeper appreciation for the art and science that goes into a bottle of wine.
That's the idea behind two new hiking programs in Sonoma County inviting visitors to explore the terrain of its various vineyards while enjoying lungfuls of fresh air and possibly even an endorphin high.
One of the programs — Sonoma Vineyard Walks, created by Zephyr Adventures of Montana — is geared toward guests who want a high-end experience. The walks include lunch in the vineyards and a visit and tasting at two wineries with a private tour guide.
The travel company, which runs active wine tours all over the world, launched itself with in-line skating trips. Later, they added bike tours and walking tours in the vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Oregon and Sonoma County.
Four Healdsburg wineries are currently taking part in the local program: Alexander Valley Vineyards in the Alexander Valley; Michel-Schlumberger, Montemaggiore and Quivira wineries in the Dry Creek Valley.
These walking tours allow guests to have their wine and work it off, too. Each trip can be tailored to the guest's fitness level and specific interests.
"Most of the time, people want the exercise, especially if it's nice out," said Margaret Chastaine, a tour guide for Sonoma Vineyard Walks. "It almost makes you feel that you earned your lunch and a glass of wine."
If you want to get close to the vines but don't want to spend an arm and a leg, there's another new program offering self-guided tours, complete with educational brochures, marked pathways and a tasting at the end.
The tour program offered at four wineries — Matanzas Creek in Bennett Valley, Paradise Ridge and Balletto Vineyards in the Russian River Valley, and Mauritson in the Dry Creek Valley — is the brainchild of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.
"We're about making the wine experience more approachable and allowing our guests in the vineyards to see and experience how great grapes are grown," said Larry Levine, vice president of marketing and communications at the SCWC.
Here are the details about each of these tours, plus what you can expect to find at each winery:
On a warm, sunny morning in late February, four tourists from Philadelphia joined Margaret Chastaine of Sonoma Vineyards Walks at Montemaggiore Winery for a morning hike through the vineyards situated on a rustic ridgetop overlooking the Dry Creek Valley.
The two married couples — Stephen and Gina Lee, Khalil Meggett and Monica Ferguson — have made similar treks in Europe and wanted to deepen their knowledge of California wine.
It all started with a friendship between the two women, who are both physicians at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania.
"Monica and I started talking about wine, and I said, &‘We should go out,'" Gina recalled. "The more I learn, the more I appreciate what I'm drinking."