Tours with a Twist: Wine Country road trips with something decidedly different
Is there nothing new to do in Wine Country?
Whether you are entertaining visitors for the harvest season or simply seeking a break after a long, boring summer, we have dug up a few offbeat options aimed at reinventing the staycation.
You can take a vegan wine-
tasting tour through Sonoma - who knew, right? - that stops to pet the animals at an animal sanctuary. The tours attract folks who are simply health-conscious, so you don’t actually have to be a card-carrying vegan.
Then there is a 14-person party bike in Healdsburg that wheels off on a historical and architectural journey as well as the more party-friendly wineries and bars. Unlike the Midwest party bikes, you can’t actually drink on this people-powered vehicle, but it still looks like a really good time.
Finally, for oyster, bread, cheese and seafood lovers, explore the wildlands and waters of West Marin and West Sonoma County with belly-busting bites and refreshing sips, plus insider access to some of the region’s most popular hot spots.
For lucky locals, the summer’s not ending ... it’s just begun. Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen!
La Belle Vie Vegan Wine Tour
Rachel Greif and Oscar Patino were eagerly looking forward to their trip to California. There would be stops in L.A., a drive up the coast through Big Sur on Highway 1, several days in San Francisco, a week in Yosemite and tasting in the world famous Napa/Sonoma Wine Country.
But Greif was close to despair after several days searching for vegan-friendly wine tasting.
When she finally ran across Michelle Rulmont’s La Belle Vie Vegan Wine Tour in Sonoma, she literally broke down.
“I cried,” said the 34-year-old banker, born in Uruguay and now living in Panama with Patino, a real estate agent.
“Not all wine or beer are vegan. People might not know that. I found this tour and it was perfect,” she said.
Greif was so excited she woke up a sleeping Patino with the news that she would be wine tasting in Sonoma after all.
On a recent Friday, the couple was happily being nuzzled by a friendly pig named Petunia at Charlie’s Acres, a Farm Animal Sanctuary in Sonoma, one stop on a day-long adventure through Sonoma from The Carneros up to Glen Ellen, escorted in Rulmont’s Mercedes Sprinter van.
The specialized tour was launched several months ago by Rulmont, whose La Belle Vie offers custom and private wine tasting tours. Rulmont gave up all meat products herself a year and a half ago after taking up the Veganuary challenge in January 2018.
But not all wine is vegan. Some winemakers use animal products in the filtering process. It can include blood and bone marrow; casein, a milk protein; chitin, a fiber from crustacean shells; egg albumen from egg whites; fish oil; gelatin, a protein from boiled fish parts; and isinglass, fish bladder membranes.
But some winemakers opt for more fining agents that don’t use animal projects, such as carbon, bentonite clay limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel and vegetable plaques.
Rulmont said some wineries use plates and at least one winery in Napa Valley uses crystals for filtering. Some wines aren’t filtered at all.
Not all tasting rooms are even aware of what filtering processes are used, so those who are concerned, should ask, Rulmont said.
On this day she takes her two guests to Bouchaine Vineyards on the Napa side of The Carneros, where they feast on marinated tofu and falafel pita sandwiches with potato salad and a salad of kale and zucchini. Rulmont brings by bars of vegan dark chocolate to nibble while tasting.
“It’s really delicious,” Greif declares, while sipping a special wine not on the regular tasting menu made from grapes grown on the terraces above the winery. The guests will be taken up there for ?360 degree views all the way to Mt. Diablo to the east and Mt. Tamalpais to the west.
Veganism is no longer considered an extreme diet followed only by radical animal rights advocates. Vegan cheeses and meats and other products are found at places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and vegan options are showing up on the menus of better restaurants.
Greif said she tried it after suffering a mysterious immune disorder that resulted in a painful skin condition that doctors couldn’t figure out. Within a week of giving up animal products, she said the problem began to clear up.
“I met a winemaker at a pour, and he has his wine all over the country,” said Brian Allard, manager for Bouchaine. “He said, ‘I put a V on my wine, and it doubled in sales.’ So there’s a market out there for vegan wine and whether it’s being purchased by a vegan or not, doesn’t matter.”