Northern California has long been considered a healthy place, but even the gym-loving, quinoa-eating locals wouldn’t necessarily lump “wine tasting in Napa” and “exercise” into the same sentence. However, more and more of Napa Valley‘s wineries are serving up an opportunity to get in a workout before you taste.
Yogis should make an appointment at Vineyard 29. The modern, technology-driven vineyard was founded in 1989 and accrued by the current owners, Chuck and Anne McMinn, in 2000. Silicon Valley veteran Chuck McMinn is an advocate for physical activity and has pioneered the establishment of a 47-mile bike trail (it’s called Vine Trail and is still being built) that will extend from the Vallejo Ferry Building through Napa, Yountville, Oakville and St. Helena. When the trail is finished, bikers will be able to hop on a boat in San Francisco and then ride through the entire valley — making a stop at Vineyard 29, of course.
Last year, McMinn introduced the Pilates Essentials program at his winery. On Sunday mornings, a group ($2,900 for 10 people) can sign up to take the hour-long yoga and Pilates class from 9 to 10 a.m., followed by lunch for up to 20 people. Robin Monette, considered one of the valley’s finest yoga instructors, teaches the class outdoors with a beautiful view of Howell Mountain. Yoga mats are provided.
After the session, you’ll pass through a beautiful underground aging cave, complete with an old-timey bottle labeler and sleek Italian glass chandelier, to the library for the Essentials Tasting. An educational hour-long experience that gives you information on the winery’s practices, the Essentials also offers a small bite of delicious seasonal food that pairs perfectly with 29’s wines. There are four pours: the first is of the Cru sauvignon blanc, the second a Cru pinot noir, and the last two are Cru cabernet sauvignons of different vintages.
Chardonnay lovers who want to stay active should head to Stony Hill Vineyard on Spring Mountain. The winery recently launched Hike Through the Vines, a three-hour journey involving a vigorous uphill trek followed by a catered vineyard-side lunch and wine tasting. An appointment is necessary and the winery recommends booking at least two weeks before your desired date. The hike, for groups of four to 12 ($100 per person including lunch), is led by third-generation proprietor Sarah McCrea. The trip is mostly uphill and comfortable shoes are advised.
Along the way, you’ll see plenty of native flora and fauna while listening to McCrea’s fascinating tales of growing up on the property intermixed with information about the vineyards and wine-making process. On my recent visit, the trees were dripping with bright orange persimmons and the vintage 1970s-era pool was twinkling in the brisk winter air. In a land that specializes in cabernet sauvignon, Stony Hill has produced Chabis-like wines — the unoaked, unbuttery chardonnay is refreshingly acidic — for the past 60 years.
If you want to do something active but less strenuous, the famed Chateau Montelena is your best bet. Every Tuesday and Sunday at 10 a.m., the winery hosts an eight-person, reservation-only Estate Tour ($40 per person) that allows wine lovers to partake in an hour-and-a-half-long walk (and tasting) along the interesting property. The stroll provides an engrossing look at the history of the castle, which was built in 1882 and is known for its chardonnay winning the 1976 Paris Tasting, an accomplishment that put California on the world wine-making map.
The leisurely, peaceful walk starts in the massive stainless-steel fermenting room and continues out onto the property and through the vineyards. The birds chirp serenely in the background as you pass by the manmade Jade Lake with swans and Asian pavilions, which were created by a previous owner who wanted the grounds to feel more like his native China. Bamboo trees aren’t what you would expect to see next to a French-inspired stone château, but somehow the result is idyllic and you feel as if you’re seeing layers of American history unpeel. The walk continues out to the vineyard, where you’ll sip cabernet sauvignon vintages and eat grapes right off the vine. Chateau Montelena winemaker Cameron Perry also notes that the winery promotes a healthy and active lifestyle among the staff. There’s a softball team, and many of the staff members spend their lunch hours outdoors walking the expansive, gorgeous grounds.
Photo Courtesy of Chateau Montelena Winery