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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.
Listen to an interview with our Winemaker, Alex Holman discuss the unique opportunities that the Notre Vue Estate & Winery provides.
The estate vineyards are tenderly cared for and are the foundation for our wines that are made with low intervention techniques and from the 16 varietals grown on the property which straddles both the Russian River and Chalk Hills AVA's.
Preserving the natural beauty of the land has always been at the heart of our vision. For this reason, the estate includes 350 acres of protected open space land, preserving the beauty of Notre Vue Estate for generations to come. This synergy creates a harmony that supports the abundant wildlife as well as the natural flora and fauna.
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
December 21, 2021
The North Bay is one of the best places in the world to find wild mushrooms, and after the winter rains, it’s one of the best times to forage for chanterelles, black trumpets, lion’s mane, hedgehogs and other incredible edible fungi.
Relish Culinary Adventures will host a Wild Mushroom Foray and Lunch at Notre Vue Winery from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 2 and Feb. 5 with forager David Campbell and Chef Julie Schreiber.
Guests must register in groups of at least two people who will sit together for lunch. The four-course menu includes a Rustic Tart with Maitake Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, Bacon and Chevre; Winter Green Salad with Side-by-side-by-side Wild Mushroom Tastes; a Wild Mushroom and Duck Cassoulet with Roasted Winter Greens; and Chocolate Cake with Candy Cap Crème Anglaise and Candy Cap Rum Whipped Cream.
Cost is $194, including three glasses of wine per participant over 21 years old.
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By Rich Cook
I recently had the pleasure of getting out of the house to do a little wine judging in Sonoma County, and I have to say it was a great pleasure not only to hit the road as pandemic restrictions ease a bit and be in the same room with other wine friendly folk, but also to extend for a couple of days and visit a producer in the area. A favorite publicist put me on the scent of Notre Vue Estates, a 710-acre spread just east of Limerick Lane on the south side of Healdsburg that straddles the Chalk Hill and Russian River Valley AVA’s, and it turns out that “scent” is what it’s all about when it comes to the wines produced there.
Purchased by Bob & Renee Stein in 1992 with a vision for producing fine wine, the property currently has 250 acres planted with sixteen different grape varieties, and 350 acres were donated to the Sonoma County Open Space District as a permanent protected “forever wild” reserve. The planted acreage features multiple exposures and microclimates in the rolling hills, and the vineyards are certified sustainable. Their Balverne “Forever Wild” label features value-forward Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir Rosé, with the Notre Vue label featuring high-line Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Rhone inspired offerings.
Current winemaker Alex Holman is an industry veteran, bringing years of US Army and chemistry experience to bear at Keller Estate, Dry Creek Vineyard, Paul Hobbs, J. Rickards and sparkling wine juggernaut Rack & Riddle before joining the team at Notre Vue in 2019. I got to chat with Alex about what he’s been through since joining the estate and his philosophy of wine, and he’s had quite a ride already, having gone through a winery fire in May of 2019, losing 500 barrels and 5000 cases in the blink of an eye; the Kinkade fire post-harvest of that year, where almost 50% of vineyards were damaged; the Glass fire in 2020, which caused the loss of almost the entire vintage to smoke and ash issues; and pandemic induced labor shortages. Even in the face of such calamities, he remains optimistic about the estate and the potential it carries. He’s a true believer that great wine is made in the vineyard, saying “I know how to be a wine doctor, but I try not to have sick patients.” That focus and a keen talent for coaxing deep aromatics and using minimal intervention techniques that let them shine is the estate hallmark.
I checked in with Alex this week for his take on the 2021 harvest, and he was encouraged even in the face of a 25% reduction in tonnage over previous years thanks to ongoing drought conditions in California, plus an atmospheric river event that brought torrential rains during harvest. He reports good color, brighter acidity than the last few years, and solid aroma and flavor profiles across the varieties harvested. Keeping the patient well in 2021 required spoon feeding of water to the vines after deep watering early on – and that’s on an estate that’s usually virtually dry farmed. He also mentioned that they are keeping a weather eye on the 2020 wines that they did go ahead with – dealing with smoke taint is a relatively new science. The smoke taint molecule latches onto sugar molecules and sits dormant in a way, waiting for interplay with a wine’s acid to release a smoky character. Fortunately, insurance stands ready to take the hit if decisions are made to drop part or all the vintage to maintain brand reputation.
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