Exceptional winemaking starts in the vineyard; discover how on guided hikes or 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 pass by the winery, the original 1868 Alexander Valley school, and Alexander’s homestead, concluding 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 vineyard-and-cave tours highlighting the sustainable practices used to farm Gundlach Bundschu’s 320 planted acres. 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. The 4-mile “moderately strenuous” guided morning walks begin with a snack 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. After walking back down to the chateau, you’ll taste the current Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon vintages over lunch. Vineyard hikes take place a few times each in spring and fall.
Other Walks and Tours
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 22 acres of certified organic vineyards surrounded by the 375-acre Bartholomew Park. In the 19th century, this was the estate of Count Agoston Haraszthy, a pioneer of California winemaking. Before or after a tasting of wines that might include Sauvignon Blanc, a Marsanne/Roussanne white, Zinfandel, or the Press Release red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and sometimes Zinfandel, 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 to San Francisco. The rise in elevation is 170–640 feet, and parts of the hike are difficult; stick to the paths around the grounds and vineyards for a less challenging stroll. Tip: To experience the park on horseback, book a trip with Sonoma Valley Trail Rides.
Theater of Nature is winery’s “outdoor living room.”
DeLoach Vineyards’ Theater of Nature garden illustrates the benefits of organic and biodynamic farming with flair. Plantings include colorful flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables, and 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.”
Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures
Free self-guided tours at several wineries
St. Francis, Balletto, and other wineries offer free self-guided vineyard tours year-round. No appointments are needed—find the first stop or ask 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. Tip: You don’t have to pay for a tasting to explore the vineyards, though you’re welcome to do so.
Tram Ride, Luxury Trekking
Other learning opportunities out among the grapevines include the delightful Biodynamic Tractor Tram Tour at Benziger Family Winery. To “experience luxury on foot,” book one of the European-style luxury self-guided hiking trips organized by Wine Country Trekking. Sonoma County options include Bodega Bay to Healdsburg (five days and four nights).
This story first appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in early 2021.