How to Tour Wine Country on Horseback

What better way to see what the vineyard has to offer?
What better way to see what the vineyard has to offer?

You may have considered taking an afternoon drive to a local winery for lunch, a wine tasting and coming home with a few of your favorites bottles. There's more to wine than just a hasty swirl around the glass and an appreciative gulp, though.

These days, wineries are great venues for gatherings of all sorts: Their side businesses, which can include restaurants, gift shops and even impressive facilities for weddings, are worth more than a quick glance on your way in or out. Many wineries are attached to some of the most pampered and impressive landscapes around. Vineyards are rich in history, and they're often marvels of ingenuity, too. A wonderful blend of sightseeing and education, a tour of the wine country is worth at least a day of your time.


When you think of vineyard tours, Napa Valley, Calif., probably comes to mind. Although it's one of the most valuable pieces of wine growing real estate in the world, it's not the only place in the U.S. where wine grapes are grown in abundance. There are vineyards and wineries in all 50 U.S. states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Many have tour programs where interested visitors can discover what type of climate favors a robust red wine over a fruity white wine -- among many other things.

But why not go all out? Instead of taking in the surrounding landscape in your sedate sedan or in a bus like a tourist, get intimate with your surroundings. Explore the vineyards like the vintners of old -- on the back of a horse. Getting back to basics is one way to participate in an authentic vineyard and winery tour experience you'll never forget.

On the next page, we'll take a look at some options and tips for local and regional wine country tours au equus (or as we city slickers like to say, "Sitting on the back of Old Paint").


Horseback Riding Wine Tours

It may have started as a novelty, but the idea of taking a leisurely ramble through the wine country on horseback has romantic appeal that's catching on. Add a picnic lunch -- with wine, of course -- and you have the fixings for a perfect day. Equine tours of California's wine country are relatively common, and East Coast states like New York and Virginia host them, too. Your best bet is to check with the wineries themselves via their Web sites or contact the chambers of commerce for those locations. There's a good chance that a winery close to you offers at least a short season series of horseback tours.

Before you dust off your spurs, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:


  • Stable Tours - Some tours are hosted by local stables and are actually meandering rides through the local landscape that may or may not include views of vineyard property. If this is the case, the tour will usually end in a trip to a winery for a casual wine tasting. This might be fine with you, but know in advance what you're signing up for.
  • Winery tours - Although the horses and helpers may be hired from local stables, more formalized horseback winery tours typically start at the winery and loop back to the same location at the end of the ride for a meal, premises tour or other organized event.
  • Make a weekend of it - If you're celebrating a special occasion, enjoying a weekend wine country tour may be just the ticket. California's Napa Valley and New York's Finger Lakes are examples of two regions that have weekend tours involving visits to multiple wineries. If you love getting away and adore wine, mount up for one of these extended tours. The whole program won't be on horseback, but you may be able to include a horseback tour as part of a more extensive program. The Equine and Wine Weekend sponsored by Ricochet Ridge Ranch in Mendocino, Calif., offers wine tasting, a horseback ride along the coastline and a car excursion through a redwood forest. Now that's entertainment!
  • Make reservations - Like more conventional winery tours, horseback tours occur on a set schedule. Since tours can last anywhere from one to six hours depending on the location, missing saddle-up time is a bad idea. Call ahead for reservations and to get an idea of how rigorous the ride will be. If all you have to do is hang on while the horse does all the work, fine, but some tours may be up and downhill and involve more physical exertion than you may feel comfortable with. You might also discover that tours have a minimum age requirement and a maximum weight requirement.
  • Pick your times - Wineries that have been doing this for a while will probably have multiple tours in a day, so you can choose an early ride that'll get you back indoors before the hottest part of the afternoon if that's your preference. If heat isn't a problem for you, a longer tour that includes a sunset ride may be a great idea.
  • Be prepared - You may think it goes without saying, but there's someone in every crowd who wears wildly inappropriate shoes, forgets to dress in weather-friendly clothes or decides that it's way too cloudy for sunscreen. Dress for a casual day that may involve physical exertion. Wear loose, comfortable clothing, closed-toe shoes and take a hat and water if you'll be out in the sun for long.

An afternoon spent on a noble steed that ends standing next to a wooden cask filled with last year's golden vintage could become addictive. Add some aged cheese, good conversation and a comfy chair, and you have a delicious memory in the making.


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