Exceptional winemaking starts in the vineyard; discover how on guided hikes or on your own.
There’s nothing like getting out in the vineyard to help wine lovers appreciate an essential fact: those storied bottles enjoyed at home and in fancy restaurants are first and foremost agricultural products. Before winemakers work their aging and blending magic, grape growers jam with nature, making decisions—often in concert with winemakers—about when or how to prune grapevines, manage the clusters and harvest the fruit.
Vineyard walks and hikes take place throughout Sonoma County. The possibilities range from a guided stroll at an upscale winery to several self-guided tours. Most of the guided hikes listed below take place weather permitting.
Guided Walks with Tastings
Alexander Valley Vineyards
History lesson at 19th-century homestead
The Alexander Valley Vineyards winery in Healdsburg occupies part of the 19th-century homestead of Cyrus Alexander, for whom the winery and the Alexander Valley appellation were named. Vineyard hikes, daily except Sunday, pass by the winery, the original 1868 Alexander Valley school, and Alexander’s homestead. They conclude with a picnic lunch outside the tasting room.
Fun walk, army-vehicle tours at winery dating to 1858
The jovial staffers at Gundlach Bundschu winery, which dates to 1858, conduct seasonal tours, one of which includes an excursion into vineyards near the aging caves. The Off the Beaten Path Walking Tour focuses on the winery’s history, from its early beginnings through the wildfires that swept onto the estate in late 2017, concluding with wine tasting in the caves. The tours also highlight the sustainable practices used to farm Gundlach Bundschu’s 320 acres of vineyards. There’s less walking for guests who board a Pinzgauer Swiss Army transport vehicle for a ride traversing the estate.
Jordan Vineyard & Winery
Sublime photo ops at hike through winery’s 1,200-acre estate
Participants hike in style through the 1,200-acre Healdsburg estate of Jordan Vineyard & Winery. These 4-mile “moderately strenuous” guided walks begin at the winery’s ivy-covered château. Along the way you’ll stop at the executive chef’s organic garden and see the vineyards (and sometimes the workers tending them) up close. The views and photo ops are sublime at the hilltop Jordan Vista Point, where guests taste olive oil made from olives grown on-site. Vineyard hikes take place on several weekends in spring and fall. Morning walks begin with a Continental breakfast and end with tastings of the current Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon vintages over a picnic. For afternoon walks, the winery serves pre-hike snacks.
Note: In mid-May 2020 Jordan began offering educational nature hikes in lieu of the above experiences. Social distancing is maintained, and the winery, which at time of writing cannot serve food and wine, provides participants with a picnic and current wine releases to be enjoyed off-site.
Kunde Family Winery
Gorgeous, sustainably farmed estate
A Saturday or two a year, guided tours are given of Kunde Family Winery‘s gorgeous sustainably farmed estate, whose 1,850 acres encompass several discrete ecosystems. You’re supposed to pack a lunch and bring your own water for the tour, which heads up the neighboring volcanic mountains. The views of the northern Sonoma Valley and the town of Kenwood are splendid. Separate animal-rescue benefits that involve winery dogs include lunch.
Other Walks and Hikes
Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures
Free self-guided tours at several wineries
St. Francis, Balletto, Francis Ford Coppola, and other wineries offer free self-guided vineyard tours year-round. No appointments are needed—pick up a map in the tasting room and head into the vineyard. Placards along the way explain the farming techniques and such strategies as employing wind blowers to fight winter frost and nesting boxes to support owls for rodent control. You don’t have to pay for a tasting to explore the vineyards, though you’re welcome to do so.
Bartholomew Estate Vineyards and Winery
3 miles of trails at historic property
A bit more than 2 miles northeast of Sonoma Plaza, Bartholomew Estate Vineyards and Winery farms 21 acres of vineyards surrounded by the 375-acre Bartholomew Park. In the 19th century, this was the estate of Count Agoston Haraszthy, a pioneer of California wine making. When the weather’s good, it’s delightful to sample wines in the tasting room before purchasing a bottle and picnicking in the adjacent Bartholomew Park Wine Garden. Afterward you can stroll past the ferns and trees that line 3 miles of hiking trails. On some days the views from the hiking area’s upper portion extend all the way to San Francisco. Tip: to experience the park on horseback, book a trip with Sonoma Valley Trail Rides.
Theater of Nature is winery’s “outdoor living room.”
The benefits of organic and biodynamic farming are illustrated with flair in DeLoach Vineyards’ Theater of Nature garden. Plantings include colorful flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Graphic displays cover topics such as the role of the lunar calendar in biodynamic farming. Or how grapevine roots grow deep into the bedrock below a vineyard seeking water during the dry Sonoma County summer. The Russian River Valley winery welcomes guests to picnic in this “outdoor living room.”
A Tram Ride, a Walk, and Luxury Trekking
To “experience luxury on foot,” book one of the European-style luxury self-guided hiking trips organized by Wine Country Trekking. Options include Bodega Bay to Healdsburg (five days and four nights) and Napa Valley Wine Tasting.
This story first appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in early 2020.