Scenic views on a vineyard hike through Jordan Estate in Healdsburg
Our hike around Jordan Estate has just begun and already the view is soul-stirring. In the distance are Mount Saint Helena and the dome of Geyser Peak. “And that finger of fog is Dry Creek Valley,” says Lisa Mattson, our leader for the vineyard tour.
It's mid-April in the Alexander Valley, and the wildflowers - purple lupine carpeting gentle slopes and yellow-white chamomile lining the vineyard rows - are in full bloom. The hills are emerald green as far as the eye can see.
A sign atop Jordan's Vista Point has arrows inscribed with the distances to such destinations as Bordeaux (5,653 miles), Hawaii (2,373 miles) and closer to home, Napa (29 miles).
“We put Napa on the sign,” Mattson says, “because some people think they're in Napa.”
Introduced last year and expanded to six hikes this year, Jordan's outdoor excursions are an invigorating way to see the 1,200-acre vineyard.
The winery is committed to sustainable practices, such as plowing the chamomile into the soil to boost its nitrogen content, and has planted only about 10 percent of the property with vines.
After being driven up to Vista Point in a luxuriously appointed Mercedes van, we enjoy energy bars and fresh fruit before embarking on the trek.
The winery calls the hike, which covers about 3 miles in two-plus hours, “moderately strenuous.” But for anyone in good physical condition, especially someone used to hiking, it's not too taxing.
“We wanted to err on the side of caution,” says Mattson, the winery's director of marketing and communications.
Our hike takes place on a misty, drizzly day, but that seems to add to the property's mystical allure.
The hike is a feast for the senses. When we come upon a patch of fava beans, Mattson invites us to taste the plant, which has the flavor of an uncooked green bean.
The chamomile flowers, which can be dried and brewed to make a calming herbal tea, have a slight citrus tang.
We feel like we have the entire property to ourselves - we see no one other than a few winery workers and a couple of honking geese.
Red-winged blackbirds sing as we approach Jordan Lake, which is stocked with largemouth bass, trout and bluegill and has a strict catch-and-release policy.
In the distance lie a series of solar panels - Mattson says the winery gets more than 90 percent of its electricity from the solar energy generated on the property.
Jordan, known for its cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, has long sought to be as self-sufficient as possible, to work in harmony with nature as it produces its renowned wines, Mattson said.
We learn about some of the winery's unusual practices, such as harvesting chardonnay at night when it's cooler, which Mattson says gives the wine a “brighter, more pure flavor.”
Cattle graze on the property, and though we don't see them, we learn they're processed by the Sonoma County Meat Co., known for its artisanal beef jerky.
We come to a shaded area called Seven Oaks with a large stone table where we taste olive oils and fuel up on the estate-raised jerky and non-alcoholic refreshments before the homestretch.
There won't be wine until the end of the hike, so we pick up the pace and walk down to Jordan's garden.
Buzzing with honeybees, the garden is an homage to the Jordans' whole-earth philosophy.
The site uses flow hives, which can be tapped for honey without disturbing the bees.
The winery added a few traditional hives after a couple of swarms visited the garden looking for homes.
Not far from the apiary are about two dozen clucking hens, used only for their eggs, Mattson says. The polite chickens run to the fence to greet us as we pass by the coop.
In the early years, the garden featured more traditional crops such as tomatoes and corn, Mattson said, but now it's planted year-round, with beets and carrots in winter and strawberries, asparagus and herbs in summer.
Some of the produce is used at the winery's catered events. I taste a pungent chive flower, which has more of an onion flavor than I expect, as the group ascends from the garden to the ivy-latticed chateau.
On the patio are charcuterie platters piled with thinly sliced cured pork, dried fruit and a selection of cheeses (cow, sheep and goat).
Sliced baguettes and olive oil round out the lunch, and Jordan's chardonnays and cabernets flow like water.
“We've earned this,” says a woman who'd just completed the hike. Indeed we have, which makes the lunch and wine that much more rewarding.
Michael Shapiro writes for national travel magazines and is author of “A Sense of Place,” a collection of interviews with the world's leading travel writers. Contact: michaelshapiro.net.