Grape Expectations

Grape Expectations

By Alison Bailin Batz

September is California Wine Month. In honor of all things red, white and rosé, we wanted to share special experiences one can indulge in while in wine country. These are tours and epicurean experiences of a lifetime and less than a 90-minute flight away. 

The Blue Rock Vintner’s Table Winemaker Lunch

Cloverdale, California

Not to be too obvious, but Blue Rock rocks. The vineyard’s history dates back to the 1800s, when Italian immigrants migrated to the area because the landscape looked like home (Tuscany). After closing its doors thanks to prohibition, the magical setting fell into disarray until the late 1980s, when Kenny and Cheryl Kahn acquired it and set out to painstakingly bring it back to life. Thirty years later — and back to its full splendor — the Kahns offer tastings by appointment at their slice of heaven high atop the mountainside. Beyond that, they host these amazing and private winemaker lunches. Inspired by their visits to France and Italy, during this four-course epicurean extravaganza, guests will experience local ingredients and perfect wine pairings, all with views of Alexander Valley beyond your wildest imagination.

Wilson Exclusive VIP Experience

Mendocino and Sonoma counties

More than 25 years ago, the husband and wife team of Ken and Diane Wilson invested in a shuttered 100-year-old winery in Northern California with the dream of making wine. Over the past three decades, the couple has grown this once seemingly impossible dream to Wilson Artisan Wines. They and their partners oversee 650 acres of planted vineyards and 11 wine brands. And, thanks to this exclusive experience — hosted by Ken and Diane’s son, Sawyer — guests can swirl, sip and savor their way through several their award-winning wines from across Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley. VIPs can do so in a Mercedes with lunch provided by their in-house chef. 

Trattore Farms Get Your Boots Dirty Tour

Geyserville, California

More than simply a vineyard, Trattore is perhaps the most sustainable space in all of Sonoma County. This combination vineyard, farm, olive oil and orchard tour offers is equal parts art and science — all via a chauffeur-driven Kawasaki open-air Mule and limited to six to ensure intimacy. It starts with a splash of white wine on the patio, which overlooks vineyards as far as the eye can see, followed by interactive sessions learning about their personal approach to grapes as well as pressing extra-virgin olive oil. As the name suggests, guests can get out of the Mule and get their boots dirty by exploring the working orchard and vines. The tour ends with a full wine tasting, coupled with olive oils.

Medlock Ames Ranch Tour and Tasting

Healdsburg, California

With nearly 340 acres, you’d expect this to be a behemoth vineyard. However, by design Medlock Ames only farms 55 acres, leaving the majority of the land in its natural state. As such, the vineyards and farms are also home to mature oak trees, wildflowers, vegetables and tons of wildlife. The best way to see it all is via its Ranch Tour and Tasting, which takes guests on a stroll through the organically farmed Bell Mountain vineyards, olive groves and vegetable gardens. It also offers an in-depth look at its state-of-the-art winery and barrel cellar before providing an educator-led wine tasting paired with local cheeses and bites directly from the garden that was just visited.

Robert Young Vineyard Experience

Alexander Valley, California

In 1937, Robert Young graduated from Healdsburg High School in Sonoma County. His life’s aspiration, according to his yearbook, was to be a “big farmer.” Known for always saying “take care of the land and the land will take care of you,” this tour is in honor of this “big farmer” who planted the first cabernet in Alexander Valley in 1963, as well as a celebration of the brand’s accomplishments. It begins at the newly opened Scion House, a hospitality space out of a movie, and includes ample time outside in the sun exploring the estate vineyards and sampling from barrels followed by a multicourse lunch and wine pairing.

Robert Mondavi Garden to Table Dinner

St. Helena, California

The man. The myth. The winemaking legend. Beyond even wine, however, Mondavi was a pioneer of what is now widely known as the farm-to-table dining movement in the United States. As such, this twist on the movement is unlike any dinner — winemaker or otherwise — you will ever have. It begins with a tour of the working winery gardens, where you will see some produce being harvested before heading to the kitchen to help with the bounty. This is followed by a tour of the vineyards and winemaking facilities, and a three-course al fresco paired dinner overlooking the To Kalon vineyards and Mayacamas Mountains.

Chalk Hill Culinary Estate Tours

Sonoma County, California

Chalk Hill Estate Winery is owned by American billionaire Bill Foley, and it shows. The 1,300-acre estate is home 300 acres of vineyards, as well as wilderness areas, working winery, hospitality center, culinary garden, stables, equestrian pavilion, sports fields and fishing and swimming ponds. Beyond standard wine tastings, Chalk Hill offers daily estate tours, via open-air Hummer with a personal guide and driver, followed by seated tastings paired with cheese on the expansive patio, which offers 360-degree panoramic views. If seeking something special, they also offer an immersive, four-course, “farm-to-fork” culinary experience with wine pairings.