Feb. 9, 2022Updated: Feb. 10, 2022 7:41 p.m.
It’s Saturday morning, which for many Bay Area residents calls for a hiking expedition. But instead of trekking along the sunny cliffs of Marin’s headlands or up the stairs through Dipsea’s fern-filled woods, today’s hike winds straight up between the rows of a vineyard. At the top, there’s no view of Mount Tam, but there’s a shimmering pond encased in vines — and a glass of Cabernet.
This is no regular hike: It’s the first stop along a guided vineyard hike offered at Napa’s Pine Ridge Vineyards, part of a growing number of wellness-related offerings from local wineries.
While it might seem counterintuitive for alcohol brands to lean into wellness, it’s a strategy that’s increasing. Sonoma’s Bartholomew Estate leads horseback rides through its vineyards, while Windsor’s Bricoleur Vineyards offers Sunday yoga classes with optional tastings afterward. Frank Family Vineyards and Clif Family Winery, both in Napa Valley, have each organized Peloton spin classes, in which participants can do post-ride virtual activities such as wine tasting.
Some wineries created these events and experiences during the pandemic as a way to safely connect with their customers outdoors. But the physical activities with wine serve another purpose: They’re a way for wineries not to get left behind by the wellness movement, particularly as wine loses ground to low-calorie, low-alcohol and nonalcoholic alternatives.
Wine, these businesses argue, should be presented as one part of a balanced lifestyle to reach more people. Wellness events can help build brand awareness and introduce new customers to the wines.
“Wine isn’t bad, but it can’t just be about the beverage on its own. It’s about how it fits into other aspects of life,” said Linzi Gay, president of Clif Family. “The more (the wine industry) can promote that and demonstrate that, the better off we’ll all be.”
Napa and Sonoma counties, with their hills and lush parks, have had opportunities to blend wine and outdoor activities for years. Clif Family, owned by the founders of Clif Bar, has run a cycling-theme wine club and bike-and-wine packages out of its St. Helena tasting room since 2011. Randy Johnson founded his company, Getaway Adventures, 30 years ago, leading cycling, hiking and kayak tours through the region — with winery stops sometimes included. When Johnson started, wineries were often wary of his tours; cyclists weren’t considered to be potential buyers.
But there’s been a shift over the past five years. Johnson has seen a rise in wineries incorporating hikes or other physical activity into tastings. Demand for his own tours has been high, he said, with 2021 being his best year in a decade. And wineries no longer scoff at his tour groups, mostly composed of people in their 20s and 30s. Wineries now come to him, asking to partner on tours.
“When they see us coming in, they’re happy to see us,” Johnson said. Millennials “want to buy wine, and often they’ll surprise wineries by how much they buy — sometimes like six cases.”
Many younger customers no longer want to sit for several tastings in a day only to feel drained by the end, said Julie Rothberg, president of Medlock Ames. That’s why the Healdsburg winery recently started an “immersive sound experience” at its 340-acre Bell Mountain Ranch. Visitors can walk through the property while listening to meditative sounds recorded at the vineyard. The self-guided tour ends with a tasting and cheese pairing — an outing Rothberg calls “the detox and re-tox.”
At Notre Vue Estate Winery & Vineyards in Windsor, visitors are allowed to hike and bike along 17 miles of trails. The estate has also partnered with several local companies for vineyard-view and sunset yoga classes, trail running, and mushroom foraging, all culminating with wine. Often, visitors spend the whole day at the estate instead of visiting other wineries.
Kyle Loughman, Notre Vue’s hospitality lead, said the majority of people using the estate on a regular basis are in their mid-20s to late 30s. Similarly, Carolyn Free, special events manager at Pine Ridge Vineyards, estimated that hiking participants are ages 35 to 40 on average.
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