Let’s Play in Wine Country
Don’t miss the variety of activities Wine Country has lined up for the summer.
© Trinette Reed / Stocksy United
Long sunny days look good in wine country. But warming rays aren’t just great for grapes ripening on the vine. As temperatures rise in Napa Valley and Sonoma County, so do the number of opportunities to play outside. (And when wine tasting is involved, it’s even better.) From horse-drawn carriage rides to croquet, opera, and even fly fishing lessons, summer has arrived in Wine Country. The heat is on: What will you do first?
Off-Roading in the Vines
Jericho Canyon Vineyard
You can learn a great deal walking through a vineyard, but rolling through while buckled into an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) ups the learning curve—and bragging rights—exponentially. Family-owned and operated Jericho Canyon Vineyard is in a rugged area in the Mount St. Helena foothills, at the northeast end of Napa Valley. Explore 40 acres of grapes that hug the steep hillsides plus 90 acres that have been preserved by the Bleecher family as a wildlife habitat. ATV adventures include a tasting of estate-produced wines and a peek inside the winery’s large cave.
Drink: 2013 Chimera. It has aromas of black currant and Angeleno plum, and hints of anise.
Contact winery for pricing. Visits available by appointment only. 3322 Old Lawley Toll Rd., Calistoga, (707) 942-9665, jerichocanyonvineyard.com.
In the Vaca Mountains of eastern Napa Valley, vineyards at Somerston Estate range in elevation from 800 feet to 2,400 feet. Along with tasting limited-production wines, visitors on the all-terrain vineyard tours take in views they’d never experience on foot.
Drink: 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Celestial Vineyard. Rich and full-bodied, this wine is full of fruit, with hints of oak spice.
The tour and tasting is $75. Estate tastings are available by appointment only. 3450 Sage Canyon Rd., St. Helena, (707) 967-8414, somerstonestate.com.
Starmont Winery and Vineyards
Lace up a good pair of shoes for the Historic Stanly Ranch Estate Hike and Barrel Tasting at Starmont Winery and Vineyards, where grapevines were originally planted in the late 1800s. On the tour, hikers wander through vineyards at this Napa Green winery before enjoying a seated tasting that includes a barrel sample and single vineyard wines.
Drink: 2015 Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir. Part of the tasting, this single-vineyard Pinot Noir offers aromas of cherry, baking spices, black tea, and citrus peel.
The hiking tour is $65 per person and available by appointment only. Dogs are welcome, but guests must come prepared with plenty of water and waste bags for pets. 1451 Stanly Ln., Napa, (707) 252-8001, starmontwinery.com.
Jordan Vineyard and Winery
A little bit of sweat combined with a good pair of hiking shoes yields great rewards at Jordan Vineyard and Winery. When you arrive at the 1,200-acre Jordan Estate, you’ll fuel up on a light breakfast before beginning your guided adventure. Covering three miles, the moderately strenuous hike shows off the variety of the landscape as you pass through vineyards, a wildlife habitat, cattle pastures, and a one-acre chef’s garden complete with beehives. When you take a rest stop along the olive orchards, you’ll be treated to a Jordan Estate olive oil tasting. After a morning of exploring the grounds, you’ll head back to the winery for a charcuterie picnic with a wine tasting of Jordan Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Drink: Buy a bottle of the Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble. You can’t enjoy it on-site, but the bubbles make for a nice treat once home—or if you can’t wait, with dinner.
Vineyard Hikes at Jordan Estate cost $95 and are limited to 18 people. Hikes are available in June, July, and November. Reservations are required and go fast. 1474 Alexander Valley Rd., Healdsburg, (707) 431-5250, jordanwinery.com.
It’s a Wine Country twist on takeout. While you’re touring the winery, Merryvale’s Burger Butler will order and pick up your lunch from one of Napa Valley’s most popular burger joints, Gott’s Roadside. Lunch is served at Merryvale’s outdoor shaded picnic area and paired with estate wines.
Drink: 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet. Merryvale’s signature Cabernet features blackberry, cassis, graphite, vanilla, and cedar flavors.
Merryvale’s Burger Butler is available daily at lunchtime by appointment and is $95 per person. It includes your choice of sandwich, a side of Gott’s signature french fries or onion rings, and four wine tastings. 1000 Main St., St. Helena, (707) 963-7777, merryvale.com.
Uncorked at Oxbow and Off the Hook Fly Fishing
Add another must-do to the list in downtown Napa. The fishing and sipping combination begins along the Napa River, with a casting how-to taught by Off the Hook Fly Fishing on the open green space behind the Oxbow Commons. After putting in some practice time, students head to nearby Uncorked at Oxbow for wine tasting.
Drink: 2013 Ahnfeldt Quid Pro Quo Napa Valley. This wine offers fruit, fine tannins, and hints of oak.
The three-hour introductory class includes the basics: equipment, tying knots, proper fly selection, and a short entomology (insects) lesson. It costs $125 per person. Reservations are required. 605 1st St., Napa, (707) 927-5864, uncorked-at-oxbow.com, offthehookflyfishing.com.
Make a Splash
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Swim, soak up some sun, and sip wine at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. The winery has two pools surrounded by colorful lounge chairs and umbrellas. In between swims, play bocce ball on one of the winery’s four courts, and grab lunch at the outdoor Pool Cafe. When you’re ready to sip, head inside to the tasting room. Be forewarned—Coppola’s collection of movie memorabilia from his legendary career might distract you. Cabine Package reservations include one cabine with a private shower, along with four pool passes, lounge chairs, and towels. There’s also a deck of playing cards, a copy of Zoetrope: All-Story magazine, and up to four Sofia Mini singles.
Drink: Sofia Mini. In a small pink can, it’s a single serving of Coppola’s effervescent Sofia Blanc de Blancs. It features flavors of pear, melon, and honeysuckle.
Cabine Packages cost $170 Monday through Thursday, with weekends at $195. Holiday weekends are $215. Individual pool passes are available on a first-come, first-serve basis at Guest Reception when you arrive. An adult individual pool pass costs $35; a child (ages 3–14) is $15. Holiday weekends, $40 and $20. 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, (707) 857-1400, francisfordcoppolawinery.com.
When’s the last time you played croquet? No doubt, your game will be better in Sonoma County when it’s paired with a tasting at Sonoma-Cutrer. Sample two wines in the tasting room, and get the third to go in a shatter-proof Govino glass, as you head to the croquet courts.
Drink: 2015 Russian River Ranches Chardonnay. This vintage contains flavors of lemon drop, green apple, barrel spice, and lime.
The Croquet and Tasting is available daily for $15 per person. Chardonnay and Croquet events are held April through September; for $75, guests enjoy wine, lunch, and croquet. If you’d rather not show off your swing, you can book a private session with the croquet pro for $25 per hour. 4401 Slusser Rd., Windsor, (707) 237-3489, sonomacutrer.com.
Get Your Hands Dirty
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery Rutherford
You may be able to taste the difference between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Petit Verdot, but in a vineyard, face-to-face with grapevines, could you tell the grapes apart? Ampelography is the field of grapevine botany that uses leaf characteristics to identify grape varieties. As a student in St. Supéry’s Ampelography Master Class, you’ll spend time discovering how to match leaves on the vines to what you enjoy drinking from your wine glass. After testing your knowledge in the vineyard, you’ll head inside for a wine tasting paired with seasonal small bites.
Drink: 2015 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Pale yellow in color, it delivers grapefruit, lime, and lemon citrus flavors.
The Ampelography Master Class is $75 per person; reservations are required. Wear what you’re willing to get dirty as you traipse through the vineyards. 8440 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford, (707) 963-4507, stsupery.com.
Listen to Live Opera
Sunny summer weekends are made for sipping and serenading at VJB Cellars in Kenwood. Every Saturday and Sunday, Italian tenors sing their hearts out in the piazza. The tuxedo-clad trio also features one accordion player. Guests can taste wines while munching on salads, paninis, pizza, and more.
Drink: VJB Prosecco. Balanced with fruity and dry notes, it’s great in hot weather and pairs well with a Margherita pizza.
The Piazza Tasting includes six wines—typically two whites and the rest Italian reds. It is $30 per person; make reservations at least a week in advance. It’s often standing room only on the piazza during performances. The Italian tenors will perform weekends through November (weather permitting). 60 Shaw Ave., Kenwood, (707) 833-2300, vjbcellars.com.
Sip and Cycle
After an espresso and Clif Bar to jump-start the morning, you’ll have all the pedal power you need to cruise through Napa Valley. The Tour de St. Helena is a self-guided ride designed to show off some of Wine Country’s best scenery. A little more than eight miles long, the tour is a good fit for all levels of riders. Pick up your custom-fitted bikes at Velo Vino, and when you cruise back, a wine and food pairing will be waiting. Run by the folks who make Clif Bars, Velo Vino is also home to the Bruschetteria Food Truck, which features Northern Italian–inspired food.
Drink: 2016 Clif Family Rte Blanc Sauvignon Blanc. It’s released every April, just in time for prime cycling season.
Bike rental package costs $75 per person and includes a helmet and lock. Reservations are required. The Bruschetteria Food Truck is open Tuesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m., and is open late on Wednesdays until 7 p.m. 709 Main St., St. Helena, (707) 968-0625, cliffamily.com.
Have a Movie Night
St. Francis Winery and Vineyards
Back for its eighth year, St. Francis Winery and Vineyards Outdoor Film Festival Stars Under the Stars kicks off July 6. Every Thursday night during July, a different movie will be screened on the Sonoma Valley tasting room’s lawn. Bring a blanket or chair, and enjoy classic flicks like The Breakfast Club, Grease, Some Like It Hot, and Good Will Hunting. Admission and popcorn are complimentary. Wine is available for purchase by the glass.
Drink: 2016 Sonoma County Rosé. Nice for summer nights, this wine has subtle stone fruit flavors, and aromas of watermelon and wild strawberries.
100 Pythian Rd. at Hwy. 12, Santa Rosa, (707) 538-9463, stfranciswinery.com.
Learning about anything, even wine, is more fun while riding in a horse-drawn carriage. Landmark Vineyards offers complimentary tours every Saturday led by a third-generation farmer.
Drink: 2016 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris. With flavors of lemon, apple, and white peach, it pairs well with picnics.
Rides available from May through September, 12–3 p.m. Wine tastings are available for $15 or $25 per person for parties of seven or more. Landmark does not take reservations for the horse-drawn carriage rides, but groups of seven or more require tasting reservations. 101 Adobe Canyon Rd., Kenwood, (707) 833-0053, landmarkwine.com.