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Sonoma Valley wineries offer spectacular spring hikes

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With California golden poppies and yellow mustard dotting the landscape and the promise of sunny days finally beckoning locals outdoors, springtime may be an ideal season for exploring Sonoma Valley vineyards.

Many wineries in the picturesque Valley of the Moon invite visitors to enjoy self-guided vineyard tours or join guided walks and hikes into terrain typically not open to the public.

The historic region is home to the state’s oldest premium winery (Buena Vista, founded in 1857) and arguably is one of the North Bay’s most scenic tourist destinations.

Both wine and outdoors enthusiasts can learn about Sonoma Valley’s five distinct wine grape-growing regions, called American Viticultural Areas, and discover the farming practices, vineyard life cycles and unique terroirs that produce some of the world’s finest wines.

“But the real privilege of walking a vineyard in Sonoma Valley is seeing firsthand a piece of California history,” noted Lori McGovern, communications and social media manager with the nonprofit trade group Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance, and a resident of Sonoma Valley. “Our winegrowers are stewards of these old vines and are preserving the rich history of our heritage vineyards for generations to come.”

Added McGovern, “Our roots truly run deep in Sonoma Valley,” the alliance’s mantra.

Below is a list of several ongoing and specialty hikes and walks that provide opportunities to see where premium wines get their start. Events are weather-permitting. Reservations are required for guided hikes and events.

Maps for self-guided tours typically are available in tasting rooms.

Schug Carneros Estate

602 Bonneau Road, Sonoma

Vineyard trail: Follow the vineyard trails at this 50-acre hilltop property in the Carneros district, where four viticulture regions intersect. Watch for the owl nesting boxes, wine barrels and a pond among the picturesque vineyards, where sweeping views stretch toward San Pablo Bay and across southern Sonoma Valley. The free, self-guided walks range from one-third mile to just over 1 mile, with kiosks detailing operations at Schug. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Details: 707-939-9363, schugwinery.com.

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards

100 Pythian Road at Highway 12, Santa Rosa

Self-guided estate vineyard tour: Visitors can take a free, self-guided 1-mile walk through the certified sustainable Wild Oak Estate Vineyard and the 2-mile organic vegetable garden. With mountain surroundings and expansive vineyard views, the landscape offers stunning scenery. Kiosks inform visitors about the winegrowing practices at St. Francis. Winery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Details: 707-538-9463, stfranciswinery.com.

Ravenswood

18701 Gehricke Road, Sonoma

Barrel tasting and winery and vineyard tour: Walk through the old-world vineyards to learn about the viticultural practices at Ravenswood, long known for its credo: “No wimpy wines.” Located in the foothills of the Mayacmas Mountains, the winery offers scenic tours daily, starting at 10:30 a.m. and ending with samples straight from the barrel. The fee is $30.

Details: 707-933-2332, ravenswoodwinery.com.

MacLeod Family Vineyard

740 Lawndale Road, Kenwood

Vineyard tour: This four-generation family winery is dedicated to sustainable practices. Two-hour tours are held in the vineyard, with food and wine pairings included. Tours begin at 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and are limited to eight guests. The cost is $25. Learn about the terrain that was loaded with rocks when the MacLeods began transforming the property in 1974.

Details: 707-833-4312, macleodfamilyvineyard.com.

Larson Family Winery

23355 Millerick Road, Sonoma

Behind-the-scenes walking tour & tasting: Explore this scenic country property that once was home to the largest and longest-running rodeo in Northern California (from 1929 to the early 1950s). Finish your walk by checking out the cowboy memorabilia in the tasting room, converted from the barn. Stay for a game of bocce ball, too. Tours resume in late April or early May and typically are offered at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. The fee is $35.

Details: 707-938-3031, larsonfamilywinery.com.

Jack London State Historic Park

2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen

Winery ruins: This rural 1,400-acre park celebrates the life of author, adventurer and innovative farmer Jack London and his wife, Charmian. Among more than 20 miles of scenic trails (from easy to strenuous), visitors can hike past vineyards to the former Kohler and Frohling winery building, which was heavily damaged in the 1906 earthquake. It’s now home to the popular Broadway Under the Stars stage productions, with the season opener, “A Chorus Line,” set for June 14. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $10 a vehicle.

Details: 707-938-5216, jacklondonpark.com.

Chateau St. Jean

8555 Highway 12, Kenwood

Garden stroll: For those more interested in a leisurely stroll, the lush, formal gardens at Chateau St. Jean are an ideal destination. The Mediterranean-style gardens bring the south of France (and a touch of Italy) to Sonoma Valley, with an elegant landscape showcasing water features, exotic trees and flowers, hedges, pathways, a pergola, statues and numerous points of interest. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Details: 707-257-5784, chateaustjean.com.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery

2000 Denmark St., Sonoma

Off-the-beaten-path walking tour: Participants will venture out to the 161-year-old vineyard estate, sampling five estate wines along the way — including several sourced from vines right on the tour route. Gundlach Bundschu is the oldest continuously family-owned winery in California; tours include an overview of the winery’s history and are available April 20 through August. The fee is $65, including a boxed picnic.

Details: 707-938-5277, gunbun.com.

B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company

15000 Highway 12, Glen Ellen

Vineyard walk and wine tasting: Take a guided walk from 10 a.m. to noon April 13 through Olive Hill Estate, with a focus on budbreak in the vineyard and predictions for the 2019 harvest. Participants will sip B.R. Cohn wine during the walk, with light refreshments and Moon Mountain cabernet sauvignon served near the vineyards following the walk. The walk is mildly strenuous and just over 1 mile. The rolling hillside vineyards are nestled between Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacmas. The fee is $40.

Details: 707-938-4064, brcohn.com.

Benziger Family Winery

1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen

Earth Day hike: Celebrate Earth Day with a guided 90-minute hike exploring the Sonoma Mountain ranch, where green farming practices have been tradition for decades. Hikes begin at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. April 14, and end with a glass of wine.

Harvest estate hike: Discover fall colors in the vineyard as Chris Benziger leads an hourlong hike of the property at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Oct. 6. Learn about biodynamic farming practices and details about the winery’s many award-winning wines. A glass of wine will be served following the hike.

The cost for each hike is $30, with an optional $20 picnic lunch available.

Details: 800-989-8890, benziger.com.

Kunde Family Winery

9825 Highway 12, Kenwood

Vineyard dog walks: Fourth-generation winegrower Jeff Kunde and his wife, Roberta, along with their dogs Cooper, Kalie and Marley, lead dog hikes through vineyard rows, oak woodlands, native grasslands and chaparral from the valley floor into the Mayacmas. The moderately strenuous hike ends with lunch and wine tasting. The cost is $90, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Dogwood Animal Rescue Project and the Humane Society of Sonoma County. Dogs must be on a leash. Hikes are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 27, June 8 and Oct. 12.

Vineyard hike and tasting: Kunde Family Winery also offers a hike and wine tasting in the vineyards on the 1,850-acre volcanic and vertical estate. Participants will see sustainable winegrowing practices at work and taste wines along the way. This is a moderately strenuous hike. Offered 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 11 and Oct. 6. Bring a sack lunch. The fee is $40.

Details: 707-833-5501, kunde.com.

Bartholomew Park

1695 Castle Road, Sonoma

Historic vineyards: Although the hiking trails at this private park were heavily damaged during the October 2017 firestorms and currently are closed, rehabilitation is underway. Owned and operated by the nonprofit Bartholomew Foundation, the park and its historic buildings — a winery and villa (housing a museum) — have roots to Count Agoston Haraszthy, the pioneering viticulturist who founded Buena Vista Winery and established the site’s original vineyards in the early 1850s. A new winery, Bartholomew Estate Winery, is expected to open this spring. Watch for updates about the trails at bartholomewpark.org.

Signature Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance presents exclusive immersion events May 16 to 19 at Sonoma Valley wineries, vineyards and estates. They include two events that welcome guests into the vineyards at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyard and Monte Rosso Vineyard.

Mike Crumly, vice president of production at Gloria Ferrer, will lead participants on a vineyard exploration looking at the various clone trials currently in the field. Gloria Ferrer, on Arnold Drive south of Sonoma, has worked extensively on clonal research projects in conjunction with UC Davis. The Vineyard Exploration and Tasting event concludes with Winemaker Steve Urberg leading a tasting of single pinot noir clones, addressing the unique characteristics of each.

At Monte Rosso on Moon Mountain, visitors get a behind-the-scenes tour of Louis M. Martini’s historic vineyard that dates to 1880. They also get to taste single-vineyard wines from the acclaimed property nearly 1,300 feet above Sonoma Valley in the rugged Mayacamas Mountains.

Both Vineyard Exploration and Tasting events will be held from 9:30-11:30 a.m. May 17. The fee for each is $125.

For information or reservations, call 707-935-0803 or visit sonomavalleywine.com.

Vineyard Adventures

Interested in additional walks? Sonoma County Winegrowers offers Vineyard Adventures, a listing of free, self-guided walks at wineries around the county.

Details: sonomavineyardadventures.com.

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If you go

Many wineries provide tables and lawn areas for picnicking. Stop by one of the local markets, delis or cafes to put together some tasty goods to enjoy before or after a trek in the vineyard. Options include:

Angelo’s Wine Country Deli, 23400 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. angelossmokehouse.com.

Broadway Market, 20511 Broadway, Sonoma. broadwaymarketsonoma.com.

Cafe Citti, 9049 Highway 12, Kenwood. cafecitti.com.

Carneros Deli, 23001 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. https://bit.ly/2ULLs8r.

Glen Ellen Village Market, 13751 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. glenellenvillagemarket.org.

Picazo Cafe, 19100 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. picazocafe.com.

Sonoma Market, 500 W. Napa St., Sonoma. sonomamarket.net.

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