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").