More than just grapes at Sonoma County vineyards
From the outside, Belden Barns is just another Bennett Valley winery. Dig deeper, and it’s clear the nascent winery on the back side of Sonoma Mountain is doing things differently.
Yes, weekend visitors can make appointments to come by for private tastings of some of the nine different wines the winery offers. But there are several additional activities on-site as well, including farm tours and a wishing tree to which visitors can affix wishes, to name a few.
Most recently, the winery rolled out a new free program designed for kids who are visiting with their parents. The program revolves around borrowable “Adventure Backpacks” jam-packed with field guides, magnifying glasses, sketch pads and a quest checklist. According to co-owner Lauren Hirschfield Belden, the idea is to lend kids everything they need to stay busy and engaged while their parents taste wine.
“We’re really trying to make everyone feel comfortable when they come here-parents, kids, and everybody in between,” she says. “The whole idea is to remind people that we’re about more than just wine.”
Belden Barns (beldenbarns.com) isn’t the only local winery or outfitter embracing these expanded, more interactive tasting experiences; across Sonoma, others are following suit in new and exciting ways.
Here are several worth a closer look.
Vineyard Hike, Jordan
The four-mile hike around Jordan’s 1,200-acre estate incorporates the very best of the property: A tour of the luxurious chateau, hikes through vineyards and wilderness, a visit to the highest point of the ranch, stops at the culinary garden and the barn, and delicious food along the way. Hikes start with a light breakfast in a courtyard at the winery and meander through different vineyard blocks before an olive-oil tasting and, eventually, a picnic. The lunch incorporates local cheeses and charcuterie from Journeyman Meat Co., as well as salads that comprise produce from the gardens. Every food course is paired with estate wines. Reservations are required; each hike takes up to 18 people at a time. Jordanwinery.com
Pedal party with Bike Healdsburg
Party bikes are all about teamwork-what else would you expect from a contraption that seats up to 13 passengers at a time? The rookie outfitter offers several different tours: one that’s just a workout, another that stops at a trio of wineries around town, and a third that focuses on Healdsburg history and incorporates the local museum.
Though you can ride the bike from one drinking establishment to another, perhaps the only downside is that you can’t drink on board-a real bummer since the bike looks like a bar on wheels. Bikehealdsburg.com
Scavenger hunts from Vine & Seek
This relative newcomer to the outfitter scene specializes in scavenger hunts and other camaraderie-building games. Because of the nature of the services, owner Stacy Luther says she’s only taking corporate groups right now, split into teams of up to six. Most sessions include one or two hours of tasting wine or beer, followed by about two hours of games, trivia, and other bonding activities. Often catered lunch is included, too. Depending on the itineraries, winning teams either get gift baskets or an extra day of paid time off. Vineandseek.com?
Dog Hikes, Kunde Family Winery
Every day, Kunde owners Jeff and Roberta Kunde take long walks with their dogs on their 1,850-acre property in the Sonoma Valley. A few years ago, it hit them: Why not make these walks something people can join? The resulting, reservations-only experience is second to none, a four-hour escapade that includes the walk, a wine-tasting and a picnic lunch. The best part is that participants can bring their own dogs to join them on the walk. The second-best part: A portion of all fees goes to support Dogwood Animal Rescue Project and Sonoma County Humane Society. Kunde.com
Pool party, Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Few vintners have understood the relationship between luxury and leisure like Francis Ford Coppola. When he was building what is now the Inglenook Estate, in Rutherford, he added a made-to-look-old fountain and started a yummy food program. His current masterpiece, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, has a day-use pool, bocce courts, as well as a host of narrow dressing rooms (that cost extra to rent for the day). This means visitors can swing by for a few hours of sunbathing, taste some wines, grab a bite, and luxuriate in the sun. Francisfordcoppolawinery.com
Horseback riding, Jack London State Park
The area in Glen Ellen known as Jack London State Park has some of the most beautiful horseback riding trails in California, and the best way to experience them is on a guided tour with Triple Creek Horse Outfit. The one- and two-hour rides, which require reservations, meander past acres of vineyards, through open oak woodlands, and beneath shady groves of tall redwoods. Longer rides might include lunch. Following each ride, participants are given passes for a cottage tour in the park, as well as tickets for a free tasting at nearby Benziger family Winery. Triplecreekhorseoutfit.com