Social Distancing, Sunshine & Wine

Napa and Sonoma wineries offer safe wine tasting experiences outdoors

In our special corner of the world, harvest arrives at the enviable intersection of three local hallmarks—gorgeous views, sunny days, great wine—and we’re so here for it. It’s not just the wonderful wines we’ve been missing … it’s also the indelible beauty of wine country landscapes, cool coastal morning fog embracing the vineyards, receding as sunshine warms the air.

Wineries in Napa and Sonoma are welcoming us back, being creative about outdoor tasting spaces and contactless ways to adapt to our shared reality. So, grab the sunglasses and the face mask; this is the ideal moment to benefit from wine country’s splendor in our own exceptional backyard.

Perhaps because the ups and downs of winemaking have always been punctuated with challenges, the obstacles of 2020 are just another to overcome. Exciting new experiences and collaborations are cropping up in 2020, including wineries and chefs capitalizing on the beauty of Northern California’s outdoors.

Wine country relates to wide-open spaces measured in acres rather than distances measured in feet and inches. So, social distancing for outdoor experiences is more than manageable. Reservations are required and groups are generally limited to a maximum of six people.”

“It’s not just the wonderful wines we’ve been missing…it’s also the indelible beauty of wine country landscapes, cool coastal morning fog embracing the vineyards, receding as sunshine warms the air.”

Raymond Vineyards | Located beside an outsized candelabra straight out of a Broadway stage set, dramatic and whimsical, the entrance draped in white canvas curtains reads “Theater of Nature.” Inside, two acres of elegant landscaped gardens and gravel paths are reminiscent of the Jardin du Luxembourg, reflecting the French roots of proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset.

Fresh air, vineyard views, an organic vegetable garden: An outdoor table beneath the sycamore trees is the setting for both Cabernet is King and Tasting in the Grove, a flight of limited production red and white varietals. Garden to Grove guests sip on Raymond Napa Valley bubbles while selecting fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables for Chef Rafael Molina to turn into delicious small bites in the on-site Gaggenau kitchen.

Let the grapes express themselves in Winemaker for a Day Pop-Up. Under the outdoor canopy of the Generations Cellar, guests will blend their own Napa Valley Bordeaux-style red blend. Cork it, foil it, dress it with a custom label and take it home. 849 Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena.

ABBOT’S PASSAGE WINERY & MERCANTILE | In advance of the 2021 grand opening, be among the first guests. This is a new project from the Bundschu family who have been producing wine in Sonoma Valley since 1858. Now open for outdoor tastings in the olive grove, the historic 60-acre property on the banks of Sonoma Creek is now home for the Abbot’s Passage brand, a vision from sixth-generation vintner Katie Bundschu. 777 Madrone Rd., Glen Ellen.

BRICOLEUR VINEYARDS | Bricoleur is a boutique, family-run, 40-acre estate with a hospitality barn, pavilion, rose garden, bocce ball courts, and two ponds (home to a swan named Quarantina) set in the pretty Russian River Valley. Try the award-winning Brut. Executive Chef Shane McAnelly, formerly of Chalkboard and Brass Rabbit, heads the in-house culinary program. And there’s more—an outdoor weekly session in partnership with Yoga One at Well Sonoma followed by wine tasting.7394 Starr Road, Windsor.

BUENA VISTA HISTORICAL WINERY | With a story like no other, California’s first premium winery is proud of its 1857 legacy. In its own canyon of the Mayacamas, the first and second stone winery buildings built in California set the mood alongside a beautiful 300-plus- year-old California live oak. Re-imagined by the vision of Jean-Charles Boisset, the California Historic Landmark is welcoming guests this season. Current Release Wine Tasting is being hosted outdoors. Add cheese or a gourmet boxed lunch from Oakville Grocery. 18000 Old Winery Rd., Sonoma.

CHENOWETH WINES | There’s no need for an indoor tasting room when a peaceful tasting grove with picnic tables is set under the redwood canopies. It’s a family affair at the ranch in the Sebastopol hills. Charlie and Amy Chenoweth grow grapes for rockstar winemakers in three Russian River vineyards and produce their own label handcrafted acclaimed Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Rosé. 5550 Harrison Grade Rd., Sebastopol.

DELOACH VINEYARDS | Take a self-guided walk through an idyllic certified biodynamic and organic Russian River Valley estate’s culinary garden. It contains vegetables and herbs as well as medicinal plants such as yarrow, chamomile and dandelion used in biodynamic composting. Greet chickens, sheep, and goats which encourage biodiversity and entertain younger guests. The complimentary 30-minute, 1-mile tour (without wine) takes guests through some of the most picturesque locations on the estate, part of Boisset Collection. Other outdoor experiences at DeLoach, the Pinot Noir pioneer of the Russian River Valley, are four DeLoach wines with either cheese and charcuterie or an Oakville Grocery boxed lunch for a picnic on the estate grounds. 1791 Olivet Rd., Santa Rosa.

DOMAINE CHANDON | During harvest, reserve a vineyard walk and grape picking experience followed by an introduction to the sparkling winemaking process plus a light continental breakfast. Alternatively, enjoy a sparkling flight while being guided through the story of the Champions of Bubbles. Soak up the estate’s lush landscape: Picnic on the Lawn, Tartines + Tastings, Summer Cabana. Or ask her to say “yes” with the Proposal Picnic Experience. 1 California Drive, Yountville.

FAUST HAUS | Following a 3-year renovation, an 1875 farmhouse on a hill near downtown St. Helena has been given a new life as of Labor Day weekend. Limited production Cabernet Sauvignon from the Faust Estate in the Coombsville AVA is served at outdoor tables on the veranda where sweeping vistas of Howell Mountain explain why 19th century farmers chose this exact spot as the homestead.2867 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena.

FLOWERS VINEYARDS & WINERY | Enjoy a flight of coastal estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in a cabana-like arrangement set in the achingly pretty gardens facing the vineyards with the Mayacamas as a backdrop. Add hummingbirds, water features, and pine trees for the full effect. In a hurry? Chef Tyler Florence’s partnership is called “Flowers & Florence To Go” a pickup-option for Flowers wines paired with his signature fried chicken. 4035 Westside Rd., Healdsburg.

FRANK FAMILY VINEYARDS | The showpiece is a big red barn and the centerpiece is the 1884 Larkmead building, third-oldest structure in Napa Valley, listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Estate tastings, including the Winston Hill Tasting pouring the namesake flagship Cabernet, are held on the shady estate courtyard, inviting back patio, and the big, beautiful front lawn with its gorgeous valley views. 1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga.

GUNDLACH BUNDSCHU WINERY | Where soft breezes blow from San Pablo Bay from the south and Petaluma Gap from the west, this estate at the southern end of the valley has always been ideal for outdoor tastings. Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Merlot lead the way for chilling out at California’s oldest family-owned winery under an olive tree by the pond or at the arbor bar with vineyard views. Wine refrigerators placed in several locations around the expansive property maintain optimum bottle temperatures. 2000 Denmark Rd., Sonoma.

JORDAN VINEYARD & WINERY | Under the shade of oak, sycamore, and magnolia trees, Paris on the Terrace is Jordan’s delightful interpretation of an afternoon in the French countryside. They’re serving wines paired with a classic 5-course lunch prepared by Chef Todd Knoll featuring produce harvested from the winery’s own garden. There’s also a guided hiking excursion through the estate to appreciate mountain views, vibrant vineyards, wildlife, and a chef ’s lakeside picnic with wine pairings. 1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg.

KISTLER VINEYARDS | Single Thread is partnering with the Chardonnay specialist house to bring their exceptional dining experience to the sprawling estate near Forestville. Dine in the vineyard through Sept. 28 on Thursday through Monday evenings, when a 10-course meal is served with single-vineyard wines to benefit Sonoma Family Meal and Community Foundation Sonoma County COVID-19 Resilience Fund. 7095 Trenton Healdsburg Rd., Forestville.

NEWTON VINEYARD | Atop the steep slopes of Spring Mountain, the huge terraced estate spanning one square mile was closed to the public for decades. Through October, request the 2-hour Newton Vineyard Exploration that escorts a maximum of four guests in an electric ATV to an open-air platform 1,600 feet above the valley floor for a wine tasting. Panoramic views of St. Helena and Howell Mountain cannot be outdone, and below, the landscaped gardens reveal 11 internationally themed sections.2555 Madrona Ave., St. Helena.

NOTRE VUE ESTATE WINERY & VINEYARDS | A sprawling 350 acres of oak woodlands are protected as Forever Wild space where red-tailed hawks soar overhead. Discover the natural beauty of the vineyard estate while dining outdoors with a flight of exclusive Notre Vue and Balverne wines. Enjoy breezes through the Russian River Valley as you relax at a lakeside pavilion observing the daily gathering of ducks, geese, and wandering cranes.11010 Estate Lane, Windsor.