Swirl. Sniff. Sip. The familiar routine of most wineries isn’t boring, but once you’ve visited a dozen or so tasting rooms, you might be looking for a wine-tasting experience that offers something a little beyond the ordinary. Luckily, many wineries have begun to offer just that – a new spin on the typical wine tasting. If you want to learn about wine in a new way or beyond the walls of the tasting room, check out some of these unique wine-tasting experiences in Napa and Sonoma.
Wine Blending at Raymond Vineyards
Several wineries offer blending sessions, but none do it with quite the flair that St. Helena’s Raymond Vineyards does. Here you’ll be ushered through the winery’s bordello-style Crystal Room, past the velvet ropes, and into a room that can best be described as laboratory-meets-disco. Glass beakers and eyelet droppers sit on metal shelves in this room, complete with a glittering disco ball above, lit in cool blue light. Don your sparkly robe and begin experimenting with different blends; once you have your perfect mix, you’ll fill a bottle that comes complete with a custom label of your own design. What better way to take home a lasting memory of this unique experience?
Horseback Riding Through the Vines at Chalk Hill
You can’t discount the impact the winemaking process has on a wine’s final taste or quality, but before you can mix the right blend and age a wine to perfection, you have to start with the soil. The art of winemaking begins with agriculture, and there’s no better way to learn about this stage of production than to get out in the vineyard. At Chalk Hill, located a few miles off Highway 128 between Napa and Sonoma, you can do it from the back of a horse. Since 1998, Wine Country Trail Rides’ experienced guides have been leading visitors around the sprawling property, teaching them about the growing process and what conditions are best for wine to thrive, while the ride shows off some of the most beautiful views of the surrounding valley. Afterward, you can sample the finished product at Chalk Hill’s tasting room.
Following Food and Wine from Farm to Table at Long Meadow Ranch
At Long Meadow Ranch, food and wine go hand in hand, and both can be better explored with a half-day visit that puts you in the vineyard and in the field to see how it all comes together at your table. The day starts at the winery’s Logan-Ives House on Main Street in St. Helena for a light breakfast before you head to the 650-acre property in the Mayacamas Mountain range, where the Ranch produces award-winning wines, olive oils, eggs, and grass-fed beef. As you look down on Napa Valley, you’ll explore the ranch’s organically farmed vineyards and orchards, and learn more about their methods. You’ll return to the winery to visit the wine caves and traditional olive mill, and then head next door to the ranch’s restaurant, Farmstead, where you can experience the results of your exploration with a lunch made of seasonal ingredients paired with their wines and extra-virgin olive oils.
Sunset Sips at Round Pound or Silverado
Most winery tasting rooms close by 5 p.m., but a select few winery collectives (like Ma(i)sonry and Back Room Winesin Yountville and St. Helena, respectively) stay open until evening. Slowly, a few wineries have begun to do the same, upping the ante with food pairings and unbeatable sunset views. At Round Poundin Rutherford, which produces wines and olive oils, you can reserve a spot on the second-floor terrace from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. (April to October; in colder months a giant fireplace keeps guests warm). Wines are available by the glass or bottle, along with a choice of small bites such as mini grilled cheeses or foccacia with seasonal toppings. Silverado Vineyards, located on the Silverado Trail just north of Yountville, also welcomes guests for its Friday Evenings on the Terrace from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. from May through October. Boasting one of the best views in the valley, this laid-back winery offers wine flights paired with seasonal small bites for $35 per person.
—By Katie Hammel
Katie Hammel is a freelance writer and the commissioning editor at Viator.com. Her writing has appeared on Gadling, BBC Travel, National Geographic's Intelligent Travel blog, and BootsnAll. She tweets at @KatieHammel.