It seems a winery or a tasting room opens daily, somewhere in the world. Everyone wants to be in the wine business. 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 a wine-tasting experience.
Whether sipping wine above the ground in a tree house, or heading underground for an awe-inspiring tasting, there’s surely an off the beaten path wine experience to suit anyone. Here are eight unique wine tasting experiences to try for yourself.
Benziger Family Winery, located in Glen Elen on Sonoma Mountain, has been in the family for four generations. Benzinger produces chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, pinot noir, and several other bottlings, all of which come from vines that have been certified sustainable, organic, or Biodynamic.
There are several seated tasting options when visiting; however, to really enjoy the scope of this well-established property, book a tractor tram tour. This unique 75-minute tour, which explores the vineyards on a tram pulled by a tractor, includes a tasting of four limited production wines. During the tour, you’ll get to see the vines up close while learning firsthand about the Benziger family’s commitment to Biodynamic farming practices.Insider Tip: The Benziger family keeps sheep and Scottish Highlander Cattle, both a big part of a Biodynamic farm. They also cultivate olive trees and sell their organic olive oil on site.
Hall Wines is known far and wide for its world-class art collection, curated by owner Kathryn Hall. Installations include indoor and outdoor sculptures, as well as furniture and oil paintings. One of the most coveted tasting experiences at Hall Rutherford is in the wine caves. The centerpiece of the wine caves is the incredible chandelier designed by Donald Lipski. Made up of over 1500 Austrian crystals, the chandelier is designed to resemble the root system of an ancient vine. This masterpiece hangs above a solid cherry wood table with an inset of illuminated onyx. Nowhere else in the world will you taste wine under such a magnificent work of art.Insider Tip: If you have time for only one or two Napa winery visits and want a serious tasting experience that includes information about winemaking, varieties, and why the effects of the climate and season are essential to winemaking, definitely include Hall in your plans. Most of the tastings last 60 to 90 minutes, but with such a beautiful collection of artwork, you won’t want to rush through your wine tasting to fit in four more wineries.
Go underground at Jarvis Estate, considered to offer one of the best cave experiences in Napa Valley. The entire Jarvis winery operation, including fermentation tanks, are underground inside the 45,000-square-foot space. While this is on its own quite an engineering marvel, there’s more. Nature supplies an underground spring that has been allowed to flow freely through the caves, controlling the temperature and humidity. It also adds a relaxing aesthetic you won’t find anywhere else.
Then there’s the Crystal Room, filled with geodes imported from Brazil. Touring the wine caves at Jarvis is a one-of-a-kind experience. Be sure to plan ahead, because the tasting experience and their stellar wines are extremely popular, and book up months in advance.Insider Tip: The tasting is presented slightly differently than many other Napa wineries in that all wines are poured at the same time, and you’re encouraged to taste, not finish each pour, then revisit a wine after a few minutes.
Film director Francis Ford Coppola has created a space in Sonoma County where visitors come to enjoy the wine, and locals come to relax and enjoy the swimming pools (both of them – all 3,600 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 you can take turns with your friends or partner?
There are plenty of other unusual activities at Coppola, including an entire room devoted to the many Academy Award-winning films he has directed. Coppola has directed over 50 films, and the memorabilia is impressive. Don’t miss the Godfather Room and be sure to tell them Don Corleone sent you.Insider Tip: Reservations for the pool are separate from tasting room reservations and you must book in advance. Splurge for a Cabine Package Reservation for four (includes one Cabine, four pool passes, and four lounge chairs). Cabines come equipped with a private shower, four towels, up to four 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.
Think good wine can’t be found on a submarine? Think again. Treasure Island, a former navy base in the San Francisco Bay, is now home to several wine tasting experiences but only one claims the submarine, Sottomarino (which means “submarine” in Italian). Appropriately, Sottomarino serves wine made from Italian varieties like sangiovese and dolcetto. Visit this historic winery when it reopens later this year to experience what it’s like to sip wine inside an authentic World War II submarine training vessel, then spend the day exploring the island and taking in the stunning views of the Bay and city skyline.Insider Tip: Go on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when the Treasure Island Flea Market is open and pick up some food from the flea market food trucks to enjoy while sitting outside sipping some wine from Sottomarino.
The owners of Sandy Road Vineyards took a chance and created a fun and relaxing tasting room…in a tree! That’s right, your wine tasting experience will happen from the tasting deck of a treehouse, fifteen feet above the ground and overlooking the vineyards. Now it is Texas, so if the weather is extreme (think 90 degrees or higher), or a sudden windstorm kicks up, they will thoughtfully reschedule your tasting to another weekend. If you cannot climb the steps to the treehouse there is a covered pavilion also set up for tastings.Insider Tip: Schedule the treehouse tasting experience with owner Reagan Sivadon. He’s fun and passionate about his wines. Try the estate Pet-Nat, a delicious blend of 90% grenache and 10% prieto picudo grapes.
Explore the 1,000-acre Saddlerock Ranch, a working ranch and vineyard, on foot or by vehicle, stopping to try some of the local wines and enjoy the scenery on this unique Malibu winery tour. There are several different tour options: Wine hikes, the 4 x 4 tour, or a vintage VW Bus Tour.
If you’ve never visited Malibu take the VW Bus tour. Up to six people can ride in the vintage van on a glorious California day, sun shining, top open. In addition to tasting fantastic wines, you’ll stop for photo ops along the iconic Malibu Coast; you can even bring your own playlist to customize the experience. Beach Boys, anyone?Insider Tip: Hiking around the Malibu canyon is a great way to burn some calories while enjoying stunning views, learn about the history of the area from your Malibu Wine Hikes knowledgeable guide, and drink great wine.
Visit Provence in Texas at Becker Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country. From April through May you can enjoy a glass of wine while strolling through the lavender fields. Becker has an excellent selection of award-winning wines made from grapes sourced solely in Texas. If you can’t make it for the lavender season there are forty-six acres of vineyards to enjoy, along with seasonal tastings and dinners. Guided tours at the estate winery are subject to staff availability and winery production. However, the tasting room is open daily for your sipping pleasure.Insider Tip: They charge $25 for six tastes, which includes a Riedel wine glass for you to take home.