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10 Interactive Ways to Experience California Wine Country

10 Interactive Ways to Experience California Wine Country

Out of the box tasting opportunities are as abundant as the Golden State harvest

Wind your way down California’s wine trails, from the coastal vineyards of Mendocino County to the Inland Empire valleys of Temecula. California produces more wine than all but three nations—France, Italy, and Spain—and its diverse terroir yields not only an abundance of flavors but also myriad ways to enjoy the sun-soaked blends.

Across the state, wineries continue to experiment and innovate with the tasting experience via hands-on, interactive ways to sniff, swirl, and sip. Whether you want to embark on a high-flying zip-and-sip excursion or a rugged adventure in the vineyard aboard an ATV, experiential activities abound that break the mold of your traditional winery visit. Start with these 10 options, listed north to south.

Play a round of bocce ball in Mendocino County

Get the ball rolling with a stop at this historic schoolhouse plaza turned Tuscan-style tasting room. Located in the tiny town of Hopland, Brutocao Family Vineyards has six Olympic-regulation bocce ball courts on its grounds, surrounded by outdoor tables, gardens, and a quaint white wedding chapel. But don’t let the charming scenery fool you: Bocce is serious business at Brutocao, which ups the competitive factor by hosting leagues in the spring and summer and lighting the courts for night play. From your courtside seat, sip on award-winning Italian varietals from the multi-generational winery with family roots in Venice—there’s even a mural of the famed Piazza San Marcos behind the bar.

Take a forest-bathing walk in Sonoma County

By tapping into each of the senses, the Japanese practice of forest bathing helps connect you to your surroundings. At Red Car in Sebastopol, you can get acquainted with the seven-acre Zephyr Farms vineyard by embarking on this meditative adventure offered every Friday. Start with a slow, mindful walk led by a certified nature therapy guide; then, after taking in the sounds, smells, and sights of the redwood forest, you’ll gather on a hilltop for a scenic sip of Chardonnay featuring grapes grown on-site.

Meet birds of prey in Napa Valley

When visiting Bouchaine in the Carneros wine-growing region of Napa Valley, don’t forget to look up. Patrolling over 87 acres of vineyards are some of the sky’s most fearsome predators that help keep on-the-ground pests away from the winery’s award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Get up close and personal with raptors including hawks, owls, and falcons during the winter Falconry in the Garden wine-tasting experience, which includes an avian exhibition and a chance to take a photo with a bird perched on your forearm.

Kid around with baby goats in Lodi

Spenker Winery in the Central Valley city of Lodi not only grows and hand-harvests its own sustainable grapes, it also operates a Grade-A goat dairy that produces small-batch, fresh cheeses. The boutique, family-owned winery offers summer farm tours and tastings, as well as private snuggle sessions in the goat playpen. Other seasonal offerings include goat yoga in the spring, as well as “goodnight goat” sessions where you can cuddle with babies before they drift off to dreamland.

Zip and sip your way across Santa Margarita Ranch

For heart-pounding thrills, hook onto a zipline and soar over the southernmost vineyard in Paso Robles wine country. Just north of San Luis Obispo along California’s Central Coast, Margarita Adventures offers a zipline tour that includes six rides through the mountains and valleys of a historic ranch and winegrowing region. After your aerial adventure, receive 20 percent off wine and a complimentary tasting with the purchase of a bottle at Ancient Peaks Winery across the street.

Go horseback riding in Santa Maria Valley

At the 400-acre Presqu’ile estate in the Santa Maria Valley, visitors are invited to explore the vineyards via horseback. This guided tour and tasting experience begins with a scenic trail ride through the mountains, hills, and valley, followed by a spread of food and wine on a private terrace overlooking the grounds. The winery’s signature Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah are each paired with dishes featuring ingredients harvested from the on-site organic garden.

Try your hand at DIY pickling in Solvang

Pucker up for a Solvang wine tasting experience that will make your tastebuds do a double take. Broken Clock Vinegar Works is a small-batch winery that ferments whole fruits in French oak barrels for 20 months, turning them into dry wines that are then acetified into vinegar and used as a base for shrubs (fruit-based syrups made with vinegar). Drop in for DIY pickling tutorials during wine-release parties hosted throughout the year or book a vinegar and shrub tasting to pair with varietals made from blends of fruits like fresh blueberries and prickly pear.

Go off-roading in Malibu

Climb aboard an ATV to traverse the 1,100-acre Saddlerock Ranch vineyard nestled in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains. Malibu Wine Hikes offers private off-road tours of the property, taking visitors on a two-hour excursion that includes stops to uncork bottles from Malibu Family Wines. Great for history buffs, the tour also offers a rare glimpse of a Chumash pictograph in the Cave of the Four Horsemen.

Cruise the Orange County coast

While it may be better known for its historic citrus harvest, Orange County was one of California’s earliest and largest wine producers in the late 1800s. Its prolific grapevines have since disappeared, but you can keep the tradition alive with an excursion that allows you to sip wine aboard a luxury catamaran. Departing from Dana Point harbor, the OC Wine Cruise serves tastings of organic wines from around the world curated by a Laguna Beach–based distributor, The Organic Cellar. The 90-minute cruise includes a guided tasting, a cheese platter, and sunset views out on the deck. 

Blend your own wine in Temecula Valley

Roll up your sleeves and prep your palate to take on the role of winemaker for the day at Temecula’s Bottaia Winery, located in the largest viticultural area in Southern California. This interactive experience begins with four young red wines poured straight from the barrel. After tasting and rating each varietal, you’ll create three different blends and select your favorite to bottle, cork, and name.

California Winery

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