Tasting wine is always wonderful, but modern sippers want more than just standing at a bar. Instead, we want to make an entire day of it, with food, games, and a bit of behind the scenes activities, too. Here are five of our favorite well-rounded Wine Country activities.
Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood
This is a two-‘fer, since guests can enjoy gourmet sandwiches, salads and artisan cheeses purchased in the deli, plus wines by the glass, for a picnic on the castle-perfect grounds. Then, might we suggest indulging in the elaborate Cinq Cépages Blending Experience ($75), where would-be-winemakers can taste each of the classic Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec) then with pipette (glass measuring tube) in hand, create their own perfect blend. Participants leave with a sample bottle of their own unique blend.
8555 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood, 707-833-4134, chateaustjean.com.
Chalk Hill, Healdburg
This is one of Sonoma County’s most spectacular wineries, spanning 1,477-acres and topped with a hilltop chateau tasting room offering stunning views over the natural amphitheater of mountains that is the eastern edge of the Russian River Valley. Sample Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and more, and indulge in extras as simple as an artisan cheese plate, or as elaborate as a full luncheon ($100+) hosted by the estate’s executive chef Didier Ageorges, formerly of the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco. Some tour choices include a stroll through the estate’s organic garden followed by a seated small-plates pairing, or a four-course feast overlooking the Olympic-caliber equestrian dressage pavilion.
10300 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg, 707-657-4837, chalkhill.com.
Lynmar Estate, Sebastopol
The new Lynmar Luxury Tasting ($50) goes deep into wine education, with an hour-long tasting and private, guided discussion of six limited release wines. By-appointment-only sessions are held throughout the day Wednesday through Friday, and here’s a hint: sign up for the 11 a.m. Friday tasting and you’ll get a cave tour, too.
Afterwards, explore the culinary and flower gardens, then take in views of the vineyards, which were planted more than 40 years ago using stock sourced from the renowned Joseph Swan. There’s plenty of good sipping, all along the way, in a modern-sleek setting that is an architect’s dream.
Or, sign up for the popular picnic pairings ($50) in the courtyard overlooking the gardens. Chef David Frakes prepares feasts like organic popcorn tossed in a house made seasoning of coriander and orange zest, estate lettuces salad, organic chicken breast sandwich with Sao Jorge’s cow’s milk cheese and Thai curry paste, fresh fruit and house baked cookies.
3909 Frei Road, Sebastopol, 707-829-3374, lynmarwinery.com.
Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Healdsburg
The new Estate Tour & Tasting experience crisscrosses the nearly 1,200-acre Alexander Valley property to enjoy a farm-to-table, wine-and-food-tasting excursion showcasing foods grown on the property. It’s the first time in the chateau property’s four-decade history that the entire private estate can be viewed by the public, and it’s a remarkable discovery – under the direction of second-generation vintner John Jordan, the estate has evolved into a working ranch with chickens for eggs, cattle for beef, bees for honey, olive oil, and a cutting garden for floral arrangements.
More than three-quarters of the estate is dedicated to natural habitat, too, an oasis where craggy oak trees surround the vineyards, herons and geese swim the lakes, and rabbits and deer roam the rolling hills. Rounding it out is 110 acres of grapevines, 18 acres of olives trees, gardens, lakes, pastures and endless woods, all capped by a new glass-encased food and wine tasting pavilion atop a knoll at 650-feet-elevation with 360-degree views of the North Coast Ranges’ Mayacamas and Vaca mountains. Up to 12 guests can join for three hour tour via luxury vehicle and by foot.
1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, 800-654-1213, jordanwinery.com.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, Santa Rosa
You can see the elegant Mission style tower from Sonoma Hwy., and within awaits another treasure. The wine and food tasting offers a wonderful five-course meal (yes, a full meal, $50) from new chef Bryan Jones, bringing an assortment of dishes to pair with hand-selected artisan wines. The dishes change daily to reflect seasonal markets, but some temptations might include pan seared day boat scallops with bacon-onion-maitake mushroom marmalade, sunchoke purée, brussels sprouts and Asian pear alongside 2013 Estate Cuvée Blanc, Sonoma Valley; plus roasted Liberty Duck breast cassoulet with
fresh shelling bean ragout, duck confit, Antohi peppers, fennel, haricot verts and huckleberry gastrique alongside 2012 Zinfandel, Bacchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. The presentation is fine dining, but the mood is relaxed and friendly, enjoyed at a communal table with stunning views of gardens and vineyards.
500 N. Pythian Road, Santa Rosa, 707-538-9463, stfranciswinery.com.
Tip: Explore even more in tasting and style, with Pure Luxury as your personal driver.