Wine lovers who want to go beyond the tasting room during the 10th annual California Wine Month will find hands-on and unique experiences throughout the Golden State. To help oenophiles drink in the state’s signature beverage in new ways this September and beyond, Visit California compiled these top 10 experiences:
1) Horseback Riding through Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards: Looking for the perfect date? Take someone special on a Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyard trail ride alongside chardonnay and cabernet vines in the romantic Santa Cruz Mountains wine region. Follow the horseback ride with a special wine tasting, then choose your favorite bottle to pair with a gourmet picnic lunch.
2) Napa Valley Wine Train: Now through October, spend a Friday afternoon or evening rubbing elbows with local celebrity winemakers during the Vintner Series. As the train winds its way through beautiful Napa Valley, guests can enjoy gourmet menus exquisitely paired with wines from the featured wine luminary. Now in its 25th year, the Napa Valley Wine Train continues to operate faithfully restored antique Pullman rail cars that evoke the spirit of luxury rail travel at the beginning of the 20th century.
3) Ghosts and Grapes in Gold Country: Haunted history and wine provide the perfect pairing this September and October in California’s Gold Country. Start with “Specter Wine-Sipping with Stan,”one of Placerville’s most active ghosts, on Saturday evenings in September (6:30 and 8 p.m. tours). Begin and end the tour at H.ART Lounge, where you can savor discounted wines. Be forewarned though: Stan is known to shatter wine glasses when provoked! Grace Patriot Wines hosts “Wine and Spirits” on Sept. 25, where Linda Bottjer, author of “Gold Rush Ghosts of Placerville, Coloma and Georgetown,” spins spooky stories accompanied by wine and snacks. In September and October, check out the popular “Grapes and Graves” tours by Gold Rush Tales in El Dorado and Calaveras counties. Intrepid explorers follow a guide into the Golf Rush era for shivering tales of specter sightings. After traipsing among the tombstones, the action moves to a nearby winery.
4) Taste Wines at a Historic Trappist-Cistercian Monastery: Make wine a more mystical experience and taste at New Clairvaux Vineyard,the only Trappist-Cistercian monastery in the Americas to grow, make and bottle its own wine. The winery is situated in Vina on what was once Leland Stanford’s Great Vina Ranch, the largest winery in the world in the 1890s. Taste renowned wines, tour the monastery grounds and winery, walk through a Gothic-style 12th-century Spanish chapter house (portion of a historic church), and join Trappist Cistercian monks as they chant during their prayer services. Visit on a Saturday and have one of the monks pour for you in the tasting room, which once housed Leland Stanford’s wine cellar. During the weekend of Sept 6-7, tastings are complimentary in celebration of the release of their 2013 Aimee Primitivo wine.
5) Vineyards to Market Jeep Tours in Santa Barbara: Take the ultimate culinary road trip every Wednesday in September and October with Cloud Climbers Jeep & Wine Tours. Explore the bounty of Santa Barbara wine country in an open-air, canopied covered Jeep, including tastings at three wineries, olive oil sampling, “grazing” at Solvang’s weekly farmers market, gourmet picnic lunch and off-road vineyard access to learn about production techniques.
6) Winemaking in Paso Robles: Wine lovers who want to play winemaker will enjoy programs poured this harvest season by First Crush Wine Experiences. The “Art of Blending Wine” class, offered Sept. 20 and 27, offers a fun way to learn how to make great wines, from evaluating aromatics and flavor to texture and aging characteristics. Guests can also create unique blends and make their own labels. Take winemaking to a whole new level with the Crush Encounter I (Oct. 3-4). This harvest experiences lets guests pick, crush, sip and stomp while learning the winemaking process. The program includes a gourmet alfresco picnic in the vineyard prepared by a local chef.
7) Zipline over the Vines in Santa Margarita: Pair wine with adrenaline with a Margarita Adventures zipline canopy tour. Soar over pinot noir vines at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch on five distinct ziplines spanning more than 4,500 total feet. Along the way, learn about the ranch’s sustainable winegrowing practices, abundant wildlife and role as part of California’s famed Mission Trail. Complete the experience by tasting Ancient Peaks wines grown on the ranch. The Ancient Peak Winery also is offering a special “Guided Vineyard and Food Pairing” experience every Saturday, featuring an intimate hands-on look at growing wine from ground to glass, followed by an educational wine and food pairing experience.
8) Winemaker for a Day in Santa Barbara County: Bacara Resort & Spa lets guests act as winemakers for the day with their “Bacara Crush” program, offering the rare opportunity to work alongside Santa Barbara County winemakers and producers. Walk the vines, sort grapes, assist with punch downs, and of course, taste! The package, which starts at $695 per couple, includes a private tour guide, crush activities, transportation to and from the winery in a luxury SUV, wine tastings and a gourmet picnic at the vineyard. Offer is good September through November based on vineyard availability. The resort is also offering other programs during California Wine Month, such as a grape seed ExFOLEYation spa treatment and a “Que Syrah” Art & Wine Class.
9) Hiking in Los Angeles Wine Country: Take a three- to seven-mile hike with Reyes Winery through the Sierra Pelona Mountains near Santa Clarita, guided by owner Robert Reyes. Immediately following the hike, which features gorgeous valley vistas from a height of 3,500 feet, savor a light, healthy lunch paired with specially selected wines.
10) Master Sommelier Classes in Los Angeles: Wine lovers who want the ultimate training can sign up for Master Sommelier Classes at Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. Study fine wines with the hotel’s expert sommelier and learn more about the innovative world of California wines, including overviews of the state’s wine regions and the art of deductive tasting.
Visit VisitCalifornia.com for great trip ideas, from wine country to agritourism and leading restaurants. For wine events, activities and tastings, check out the Wine Institute’s California Wine Month page.
Visit California (formerly known as the California Travel & Tourism Commission) is a non-profit organization with a mission to develop and maintain marketing programs – in partnership with the state’s travel industry – that keep California top-of-mind as a premier travel destination. According to Visit California, travel and tourism expenditures totaled $109.6 billion in 2013 in California, supporting jobs for 965,800 Californians and generating $7.1 billion in state and local tax revenues. California travel and tourism-related businesses assess themselves to fund a $50 million annual budget for innovative marketing campaigns that promote California to travelers around the world. For more information on Visit California, go to www.visitcalifornia.com. For story ideas, media information, downloadable images and more, go tomedia.visitcalifornia.com.