Touring Wine Country in a Pinzgauer

Originally built in the 1970s by an Austrian company for use by the Swiss military, the Pinzgauer is considered by many to be the most capable off-road vehicle ever made. Built for utility, not fashion, they’re sparse but amazing, with waterproof engines and relatively simple maintenance needs.

Whether or not the Austrian engineers who first came up with the Pinzgauer ever imagined them crawling through the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma is another story.

But they’ve taken Wine Country by storm, and on a lovely summer’s day, you can escape the humdrum to get up close to distant grapes by way of former military transport.

It’s pretty certain you’ll get out alive.

Gundlach Bundschu: As the Bundschu family likes to say, why tour when you can detour?

In May through October, the historic Sonoma Valley winery likes to take visitors through its 320-acre expanse of estate vineyards via Pinzgauer, driving 12 people at a time up and down and all around.

A tasting of five wines in the winery’s caves follows the drive. Offered Thursday through Monday until October 19 from 11:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Cost is $50 per person.

Alternately, opt for the Pinz Spinz on weekends, Friday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. for a Happy Hour excursion, with a tasting of five wines at a “unique Rhinefarm destination,” where the wines will be paired with cheeses and a chill vibe.

Through October 18, the cost is also $50 per person. In both cases, reservations are required.

2000 Denmark St., Sonoma, 938-5277,

Long Meadow Ranch: High atop the western hills of the Napa Valley, Long Meadow Ranch not only makes wine, it makes olive oil, grows a wide range of veggies and raises grass-fed beef and lamb. See it all via Pinzgauer in two distinct experiences. The first is the Farm-to-Table Experience, a zip through the mountain vineyards followed by a trip down to St. Helena for a three-course lunch.

Tours must be made by reservation and cost $195 per person, departing daily at 10:30 a.m. A bigger adventure awaits those who opt for the Full Circle Experience, a visit to three of the winery’s properties: Farmstead restaurant in St. Helena, the Rutherford estate farm and its Mayacamas estate winery and caves.

A four-course wine dinner concludes the day, featuring many of Long Meadow’s own meats, eggs, honey and produce.

The Full Circle Experience starts at 3:30 p.m. and costs $225 per person, reservations required.

738 Main St., St. Helena, 963-4555,

Newton Vineyard: Tucked away in the wilds of Spring Mountain, Newton is known for its winding, hillside vineyards and meticulous, English-style gardens, the vision of the late Sir Peter Newton, who also founded Sterling Vineyards.

The winery’s six-person Pinzgauer is the way to see it all. The tour summits at Pino Solo, the estate’s iconic tree at the top of its property, where a full panorama of the Napa Valley can be seen.

The day concludes with a tasting of wines meant to demonstrate the range of growing conditions from this special site, from chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Lasting about 90 minutes, the tour costs $85 per person.

2555 Madrona Ave., St. Helena, 963-9000,

Six Sigma Ranch: A gorgeous estate in the Lower Lake area of Lake County, Six Sigma uses its all-terrain, 10-person Pinzgauer to traverse many variations in elevation and steepness, taking visitors along for the ride. The tour culminates at its highest spot, Diamond Mine.

The winery specializes in tempranillo and sauvignon blanc and runs a tasting room right in the center of its ranch, within what was once a historic stage coach stop two miles in from its front gate.

Pinzgauer tours happen Saturdays only at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m., with prior appointment required, and it’s a deal at only $10 per person.

13372 Spruce Grove Road, Lower Lake, 994-4068,

Virginie Boone is a freelance wine writer based in Sonoma County. She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @vboone.

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