San Jose Mercury News: Five glorious Sonoma vineyard hikes

The San Jose Mercury News recently featured the upcoming launch of our Vineyard Adventures self guided vineyard walks in a story about the best Sonoma County vineyard hikes.  

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Five glorious Sonoma vineyard hikes

San Jose Mercury News
By Jackie Burrell and Mary Orlin, Staff writers
POSTED:   03/31/2016 10:00:00 AM PDT

The Mayacamas Mountains are purple in the morning light. Swaths of wildflowers unfurl across meadows, and spectacular views await hikers on the trails of the Jordan Winery and Vineyards’ 1,200-acre estate.

And afterward — there’s wine tasting.

Leave it to California’s wine country to blend a meritage of the Golden State’s grapes and its great outdoors. In a region famed as much for its verdant hills and sweeping landscapes as its vineyards, some Sonoma winery owners have begun hosting guided vineyard hikes that take guests not just among the vines, but across meadows, orchards and ridges. Followed by wine tasting and a savory picnic — pork rillettes and cherry compote, perhaps, slathered across housemade fruit-nut crostini crackers — and views for miles.

Vineyard hikes have become a popular Sonoma attraction, especially when the hike in question is a guided trek across Healdsburg’s Jordan Winery

Vineyard hikes have become a popular Sonoma attraction, especially when the hike in question is a guided trek across Healdsburg’s Jordan Winery estate. (Photo courtesy of James Escobar)

Think of it as a delicious moment of zen and zin. Or chardonnay.

“Every year, we try to create a new culinary event or tasting experience that will truly put the food, wine and agriculture in context for our guests,” says John Jordan, whose eponymous Healdsburg winery just launched its first vineyard hikes.

When the winery debuted its estate tours — by vehicle — three years ago, Jordan says, it was so visitors could “enjoy food and wine while surrounded by the grapevines, orchards and mountains that define this beautiful corner of Sonoma County.”
Transforming that experience into hiking “felt like the most natural progression,” he says.

Jordan’s not the only one. Jeff Kunde, the fourth-generation winegrower who oversees Kunde Family Winery, began inviting the wine-loving public to traipse the winery’s trails a few years ago — and bring their canine friends.

“For years, my wife Roberta and I have walked our dogs and hiked in the hills above our winery,” he says. “The views from the top of the Kunde Estate are magnificent. A few years back, we both realized it was a shame that more people could not experience the beauty of our property.”

Now you can take a four-hour hike across the 1,850-acre property guided by Kunde or Sonoma Valley docent Bill Myers — and taste wines in the vineyards along the way. Fair warning, though: You may end up going home with a four-footed friend, as well as some citrusy sauvignon blanc.

There are extra pups on the winery’s three dog-friendly hikes, which are a benefit for the Sonoma County Humane Society.

“Volunteers from the center bring dogs that are up for adoption out on the hikes,” Kunde says. “You should see what it is like to have 40, 50 dogs running off leash in the vineyards. I am proud to say we have had many dogs adopted.”

Of course, anything involving a guided hike, lavish picnic or trailside wine tasting requires reservations. If you prefer a more spontaneous approach — or if you, like us, woke up one sunny Saturday and heard the wine country calling your name — head for Sonoma’s Bartholomew Park Winery.

Founded by Agoston Haraszthy in the 1850s, this historic 400-acre property lies just a few miles from Sonoma’s downtown plaza, down a country lane with a pavement that has seen significantly better days. Turn in through the gates, though, and you’ll find three miles of hiking trails, rolling lawns, picnic grounds and a replica of Haraszthy’s 1861 Palladian Villa, which houses the winery tasting room and a museum. The park is supported by the park foundation, the winery belongs to the Bundschu family of Gundlach Bundschu fame, and the historic roots run deep.

Let’s just say, you won’t be doing any winery hopping. Chances are high that you’ll end up spending the entire day right here, on the estate of the Hungarian count often credited as the father of California wine. And that’s exactly the intention.

“More and more people are less interested in bellying up to the tasting bar and more interested in having a memorable, story-worthy experience,” says Liddy Parlato, the winery’s general manager, “where you walk away feeling like there was an incredible discovery or an emotional connection.”

Here, you get both. Stroll through the winery’s vineyards, golden with wildflowers. Wind your way past the duck pond and windmill. Then head uphill on a winding 3-mile loop that takes you up Grape Stomp Trail and back down via the You-Walk Miwok Trail. You’ll hop across a narrow babbling brook, climb a steep stretch of stairs formed by logs and take a breather on a bench with a view of — is that the San Francisco Bay?

“The Bartholomew Park hike feels like a happenstance discovery,” Parlato says. Rather than a high-traffic Bay Area trail, this one is tucked away within a park at the end of a small pothole-ridden residential road, accessible at the end of a vineyard block and mostly frequented by locals, many of them winemakers, growers and other staples of the Sonoma community. Plus, every turn offers a surprise — oak groves, manzanita, madrone, redwoods, lakes, fields of spring wildflowers and a view of Mt. Tam.”

Those oaks provide shade for the picnic-perfect tables tucked here and there near the winery. Pick up provisions in the tasting room or at the Sonoma Market deli, so you can enjoy a post-hike Jack London or a Renaissance Bob sandwich with the sauvignon blanc or rosé.

And the museum provides ample conversation fodder for the entire ride back home. The small, well-curated exhibit traces the estate’s 150-year history and the rise and fall of the mercurial Haraszthy, the Hungarian nobleman, Versailles bodyguard, Wisconsin steamship business owner, San Diego sheriff, California assemblyman, Buena Vista Winery founder and Nicaraguan sugar plantain owner, who was killed by an alligator in 1869. Reportedly. (How is this not a Leonardo DiCaprio movie yet?)

A story-worthy vineyard hike, indeed.

Guided Vineyard Hikes

Alexander Valley Vineyards: Vineyard hiking tours ($50, includes wine tasting and a box lunch) are offered daily; make reservations at least 48 hours in advance. The winery is open for wine tasting and cave tours daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at 8644 Highway 128, Healdsburg;www.avvwine.com.
Jordan Winery and Vineyards: The winery will host two guided vineyard hikes this year. The spring hike is sold out, but tickets for the Nov. 5 vineyard hike ($75, includes wine tasting and a charcuterie picnic, go on sale July 13. Winery tours and tastings are by appointment. 1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg; www.jordanwinery.com
Kunde Family Estate: Guided vineyard hikes ($30, includes wine tasting; bring your own lunch) will be held on April 24, July 24 and Oct. 16. Bringing Fido along? Dog hikes ($60, including wine tasting and lunch) will be April 30, June 25 and Oct. 1; a portion of the proceeds benefits Canine Companions and the Sonoma County Humane Society. The winery is open for tastings and wine cave tours daily from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 9825 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood; make hike reservations at www.kunde.com.
Seghesio Family Vineyards: Reserve space on the guided hikes ($75, including wine and a picnic lunch) planned for May 21, Sept. 10 and Oct. 15, at www.seghesio.com. The winery is open for wine tasting daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 700 Grove St., Healdsburg.
Self-guided vineyard hikes

Bartholomew Park Winery: The park’s self-guided hiking trails, picnic area, winery tasting room and museum are open daily from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 1000 Vineyard Lane, Sonoma;www.bartpark.com

Sonoma Vineyard Adventures: The Sonoma County Winegrowers will be celebrating Earth Day with a vineyard adventure website that includes self-guided hikes at several Sonoma wineries, such as Santa Rosa’s St. Francis Winery. Find the list, maps and details — including “selfie stops” with great vineyard views — at www.sonomavineyard
adventures.com on April 22.

Sonoma Market: If you’re heading for Bartholomew Park’s self-guided trails or Kunde’s non-Fido hikes, the Sonoma Market’s deli counter is a great place to pick up sandwiches ($7.99-$8.49) and salads. Order on the spot or place a picnic order online atsonomamarket.net/shop. Open daily from 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at 500 W. Napa St., Sonoma.

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