Unique winery experiences in Sonoma, Napa counties
Weary, somewhat bleary of the spin-sniff-sip-swallow-or-spit wine tasting experience? These Sonoma and Napa wineries offer a little something extra to pair with your cabernet.
Medieval fortresses and parterre gardens, swimming pools and outdoor art galleries, riding horses and trolleys — there’s plenty of reason to venture outside the tasting room on your next Wine Country trip.
A trip to Germany at Schug Carneros Estate Winery
French, Italian and Spanish accents abound at Sonoma and Napa wineries, so a visit to Walter Schug’s German-styled winery in Carneros is as refreshing as a trocken riesling.
Schug, who died in 2015 at age 80, grew up at Staatsweingut Assmannshausen in Germany’s Rhine Valley. Bit by the winegrowing bug, he eventually made his way to Napa Valley, as winemaker for Joseph Phelps Winery. In 1983, he founded his own winery estate yard in Sonoma Carneros, the production facility and tasting room designed with the peaked roof and timber framing typical in the Rhine. All the original winemaking equipment came from Germany and some of it remains, most strikingly the 669-gallon wood oval aging casks, some of them elaborately carved.
Riesling is no longer in the Schug repertoire, the grape not ideally suited to Sonoma’s sunny climate. Instead, Schug took the pinot noir (spatburgunder) route, adding chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and other varietals to the mix. His children continue the business, with German-American Johannes Scheid the winemaker.
The Cave Tour & Tasting Experience ($75) includes a walk around the property and through the production area and caves, followed by a seated tasting of current-release and Heritage Reserve wines, served with snacks.
602 Bonneau Road, Sonoma, 707-939-9363, schugwinery.com
Outdoor art gallery at The Donum Estate
Wineries have long been places for visitors to view art and photography on the walls of tasting rooms. Sculptures welcome guests at estate entrances and within sight of tasters.
Now, Donum has taken artistic displays well beyond the usual, dotting its 200-acre Carneros estate with 50-some large-scale, open-air sculptures from artists including Ai Weiwei, Keith Haring, Subodh Gupta and Doug Aitken. Adding to the high-end artistry: the tasting area designed by Danish architect David Thulstrup, known for his interior design of world-class Noma restaurant in Copenhagen.
The basic way to enjoy Donum is to book its Carneros Experience ($95), which includes a walking tour of the estate and tastes of its rosé, chardonnay and pinot noir. The Explore Experience ($175) is a two-hour, all-terrain-vehicle tour of the estate and tasting of wines served with seasonal bites and, of course, views of the artwork.
24500 Ramal Road, Sonoma, 707-732-2200, thedonumestate.com
Living history at Buena Vista Winery
Founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, Buena Vista is the second-oldest winery in California and is often referred to as the oldest premium winery in the state. (The oldest winery in California is D'Agostini Winery, which was founded in 1856.)
Haraszthy, a vivacious and eccentric pioneer, immigrated from Europe in 1840 in search of the good life. Following in the footsteps of the 49ers, he found the perfect terroir for “purple gold” and, as the self-proclaimed “Count of Buena Vista,” he established a reputation as an experimental vintner, a shrewd businessman and a flamboyant evangelist. (He died as he had lived — dramatically — in an alligator-infested river in the jungles of Nicaragua.)
The legend of Haraszthy and his winery is now recreated by Buena Vista owner Jean-Charles Boisset, a modern-day version of the eccentric count. The best way to get a taste of the winery’s history (and some wine) is to reserve the Barrel Tasting and Winery Tour ($50), which takes visitors on a stroll through the winery grounds and into the Champagne Cellar for a taste of current release wines. Next, the tour continues into the wine caves where guests can sample wine from the barrel.
18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, 800-926-1266, buenavistawinery.com
Horsing around among the vines at Jack London State Park
At Triple Creek Horse Outfit in Glen Ellen, the riding is sensibly taken care of before the drinking. And what a ride it is. Triple Creek offers guided horseback tours at Jack London State Historic Park in the magical Valley of the Moon. The park features fine riding trails through Jack and Charmian London’s Beauty Ranch, which wind around acres of vineyards, through open oak woodlands and under shady groves of majestic redwoods.
All Triple Creek Horse Outfit rides include a complimentary wine tasting at nearby VJB Cellars in Kenwood. The winery also has a gourmet Italian deli and sells wood-fired pizza, gelato and more. Private rides (one hour to two hours) are $145 to $225 per rider. Questions are best addressed via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bookings can be made online.