It seems a winery or a tasting room opens daily, somewhere in the world. Everyone wants to be in the wine business. And why not? Wine has an aura of sophistication, fun, and adventure that is hard to beat. But with wine, as with most things in life these days, we want more than just a wine tasting delivered straight up in the appropriate glass. We want an experience.
Whether it’s quirky fun served with a flight of white or a serious tasting of California Cabernet hosted by a master of wine, off the beaten path or just a slight detour, there’s surely a wine experience to suit anyone.
8 Unusual Wine Tasting Experiences
2970 Monticello Rd.
Napa, CA 94558
Go underground at Jarvis Caves, considered one of the best cave experiences in Napa Valley. The entire Jarvis operations, including fermentation tanks, are underground. While this is quite an engineering marvel, there’s more. Nature supplies an underground spring that has been allowed to flow freely through the caves, a calming aesthetic you won’t find anywhere else. Then there’s the Crystal Room, filled with amethyst geodes imported from Brazil. Touring the caves at Jarvis is a one of a kind experience. Be sure to plan ahead, because the experience and their stellar wines are extremely popular and book up months in advance.
The tasting is presented slightly differently than many other wineries in that all wines are poured at the same time, and you’re encouraged to taste, not finish each pour, and revisit a wine after a few minutes.
Hall Wines Rutherford
56 Auberge Rd.
Rutherford, CA 94573
(707) 967 – 2626
Hall Wines is known far and wide for their world class art collection, curated by owner Kathryn Hall. Installations include indoor and outdoor sculptures, as well as furniture, oil paintings, and the tasting room that has become known as the Chandelier Room at Hall Rutherford. Said chandelier is made up of over 100 Austrian crystals, with the arms of the chandelier shaped like grape vines. This masterpiece hangs above a solid mahogany table inlaid with white onyx. Nowhere else in the world will you taste wine under such a magnificent work of art.
If you are out tasting at 4-5 wineries a day, skip this place. If you have only one place to go, want a serious experience on wine, wine making, grapes and how the regions, climate, and season can impart unique characteristics – schedule a visit.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
300 Via Archimedes
Geyserville, CA 95441
Film director Francis Ford Coppola has created a space where visitors come not only to enjoy the wine, but locals come to relax and enjoy the swimming pools (both of them – all 3600 square feet!). This is an experience the whole family can enjoy. One caveat, though: you cannot leave your kids unattended and go wine tasting. Maybe take turns?
There are plenty of other unusual activities at Coppola, including an entire room devoted to the many excellent and Academy Award winning films he has directed. Coppola directed over fifty films and the memorabilia is impressive. Don’t miss the Godfather Room, tell them, Don Corleone sent you.
Reservations for the pool are separate from tasting room reservations and you must book in advance. Splurge for a Cabine Package Reservation for 4 (includes 1 Cabine, 4 pool passes & 4 lounge chairs). Cabines come equipped with a private shower, 4 towels, up to 4 Sofia Mini singles*, a deck of Coppola playing cards, and a copy of Zoetrope: All-Story magazine, which received the National Magazine Award for Fiction.
Temporarily Closed (Reopens in Spring/Summer 2023)
1111 Dunaweal Lane
Calistoga, CA 94515
Enjoy a panoramic view of the north end of Napa Valley at Sterling Vineyards as you ride the only aerial tram in the Valley from the parking lot to the winery at the top. You’ll be greeted with a glass of wine to enjoy while you stroll through the self-guided tour of the winery. There’s also a beautiful terrace that provides great photo ops with the mountains in the background. The ride on the gondola is worth the stop on its own.
When you arrive at the top of the hill at the winery you’re welcomed with sparkling wine for tasting. Then it is a self guided tour and along the way they provide wine tastings. At the end of the tour you end up at the terrace with beautiful views of the valley. There are a bunch of tables and chairs where anyone can sit and enjoy.
400 California Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94130
A man-made island in the San Francisco Bay, Treasure Island was originally built in 1937 for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. During World War II, it was a navy base. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, today you spend the day on Treasure Island wine tasting and playing bocce ball.
The most historic winery on Treasure Island is Sottomarino, housed in an old submarine training room. Sip on wines made from Italian varietals and discover some US military history while you’re there. Bonus: views of the city skyline and San Francisco Bay.
Go on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when the Treasure Island Flea Market
is going on, pick up some food from the flea market food trucks, and sit outside Sottomarino for a lovely, meandering afternoon.
Malibu Wine Safari
32111 Mulholland Hwy.
Malibu, CA 90265
Only in the hills of Malibu can you see giraffe, llamas, American bison, zebra, alpacas, and a Scottish highland cow while touring vineyards in an open air jeep.Your guide will drive you through the 1,000 acre Saddlerock Ranch, stopping to allow you to try some of the local wines and enjoy the scenery on this unique Malibu winery tour.
There are several different tours: The Explorer Tour for $65 which includes wine and feeding exotic animals for 90 minutes and expect to see zebras, water buffaloes, llamas, horses and more! The Giraffe Tour for $95 includes lots of loving from Stanley the Giraffe.
464 Becker Farms Rd.
Fredericksburg, Tx. 78624
(830) 644 – 2681
Visit Provence in Texas at Becker Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country. Becker has an excellent selection of award-winning wines made from grapes sourced solely in Texas. From May to June, the fields are alive with lavender! If you can’t make it for the lavender, there are forty-six acres of vineyards to enjoy, along with seasonal tastings and dinners the rest of the year. Guided tours are hourly on the weekends and by appointment during the week, but the tasting room is open daily for your sipping pleasure.
They charge $15 for 5 tastes which includes a wine glass for you to take home. They have a very nice selection of wines. They have tours of the winery where you can view where the wine is fermented and barreled.
Imagine running through the storied vineyards of France’s Medoc region, followed by tasting some of the finest Bordeaux in the land. On top of that, this annual marathon has a theme each year and the participants do dress up. If fitness and fine wine are your juice, this event should be on your bucket list.
Curious to read a first person experience? Skip the carbo-loading and the Gatorade: at Bordeaux’s Médoc Marathon, Food and Wine’s Benjamin Cheever
fuels himself with crème brûlée and good wine.
Penny Sadler is on a mission to visit every AVA in California with an occasional detour to the old world in Europe. She loves roaming the vineyards with her camera in and and believes that great wine pairs best with engaging conversation. Follow her on her blog Adventures of a Carry-on.