Color Outside the Vines

Eight Sonoma County wineries offer free self-guided walking tours through the vineyards.

Malisa Bruno turns a cartwheel while frolicking in a field of mustard at the Brown Farm, in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

A winter walk through the vineyards offers endless, wide-open vantages like no other time of year. Instead of being corralled in maze-like, leafy, summer rows, in the dead of January you can see for miles through barren skeletal plots of gnarled wet vines framed by naked wires.

Of course, you’ll need to gear up for the occasion. Waterproof boots and rain jackets come in handy, but it’s all worth the effort.

For the hearty, wintry soul, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission has lined up eight wineries that offer free self-guided walking tours through the vineyards.

Stryker Sonoma (Alexander Valley) and Landmark Vineyards (Sonoma Valley) are two of the easiest jaunts, with flat and lazy quarter-mile loops. The most jaw-dropping is Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, thanks to a world-class sculpture garden and countless vistas.

The vineyards of Michel Schlumberger and Francis Ford Coppola Winery, in the Dry Creek and Alexander valleys, respectively, boast the most “challenging” hikes, with elevated romps through surrounding hills. And even though it’s winter, you can channel the boys of summer with a run around the diamond at the “Field of Dreams” baseball field in the middle of Balletto Vineyards in Russian River Valley.

Get all the details and a map at

Depending on the year (and the unpredictable indignities of a drought season), at some point in February electric-yellow mustard arrives in a flash, like an overnight painter splashed through vineyard rows, leaving behind flurries of waist-high saffron color to wade through.

Just keep in mind: Selfies can be a challenge when your kids are swallowed whole by 4-foot mustard blooms. Don’t wear yellow.

When the rainfall is right, February brings astonishing blooms of mustard to Wine Country that are sure to inspire a hiker’s childlike sense of joy.