Of the more than 400 wineries that call Sonoma County home, the grand estates have a knack for getting all the attention. But when you make the turn onto the retired tractor-lined driveway at Chenoweth Wines, it’s the unpretentious setting that makes you happy you’ve arrived.
With 800 acres of land, from redwoods to vineyards (even a coyote on the day of my visit), there’s plenty to see here. But it’s the how you get to see it – buckled into an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) – that adds even more bragging rights to a busy day of wine tasting.
“That’s a big pour but that’s how I roll,” says winemaker Amy Chenoweth as we sip Chardonnay in the shade of a redwood grove.
Our glasses empty, we hop into the off-road vehicle, holding our glasses tight as we bump our way toward the vineyards.
The name may not be as recognizable as other notable Sonoma County wine families, but the Chenoweth roots run deep: the family has grown fruit in Sebastopol for more than 150 years. The Chenoweths homesteaded the ranch in the mid-1800s, farming Gravenstein apples, cherries and other crops. Redwoods from the property were used to rebuild Santa Rosa after the 1906 earthquake. Grapes found their place on the ranch between towering redwoods and rolling hills, and then Prohibition happened.
Fast forward to 2000, when Charlie Chenoweth decided to plant pinot noir grapes and sell these to local wineries. A second vineyard came in 2006 and a third in 2009. Chenoweth’s vineyard management business was the talk of the town when Amy, his wife, decided it was time to keep some of the fruit.
The new ATV tour introduces visitors to the history of the family and the property and offers an opportunity to learn how different soil influences grapes, how wildlife like owls and deer can impact a vineyard. And then there’s the pinot noir, of course, and the stellar views.
As you travel along the rugged dirt roads from Treehouse vineyard to the Home Ranch vineyard (sometimes also called Chenoweth Ranch), colossal redwoods provide shade while reminding you of the beauty of heading off the beaten or, in this case, paved path.
Siblings, sons, and assorted family members live in homes on the Chenoweth Ranch. Even those technically not in the wine business seem to have a hand in the business of making Chenoweth wines. Charlie’s brother contributed the sketches that grace many of the wine labels.
Chenoweth makes pinot noir, rosé and chardonnay, but annual production is limited to 600 cases. The wines are only available direct from the winery and at a handful of select restaurants. Grapes that don’t wind up in Chenoweth bottles find a home in vintages made by the likes of Kosta Browne and Patz and Hall.
Tours last about 2 hours, and are limited to 8 guests. The cost is $50 per person; tours are available by appointment only. Guests are welcome to bring along a picnic to enjoy after the tour. 5550 Harrison Grade Road, Sebastopol, (707) 829-3367, chenowethwines.com
More Wineries Where You Can Roam Off Road
Whenever possible, tastings at Calistoga’s Jericho Canyon Vineyard include a spin in an ATV. In addition to 40 acres of grapes, 90 acres have been set aside by the Bleecher family as wildlife habitat. Plan on about 90 minutes for the tour and tasting. Cost is $75 per person, by reservation only. 3322 Old Lawley Toll Rd., Calistoga, (707) 942-9665
The Back Country Tour of Pope Valley’s Heibel Ranch Vineyards cruises the vineyards in a baby-blue, 1963 Willys Jeep. Run by owner Trent Ghiringhelli and his dog Chachi, the ranch has been in the family since 1945. Annual production is limited to 300 cases made from predominantly estate farmed fruit. Tastings, complete with a charcuterie plate, take place at a picnic table on the 185-acre property. Cost is $125 per person, by reservation only. Aetna Springs Road, Pope Valley, (707) 968-9289
The Mountain Excursion at Healdsburg’s Stonestreet Winery comes with views and insight into how they sustainably farm cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc at higher elevations. Tours of the estate mountain vineyards, ranging in elevation from 400 to 2400 feet, take place in a Land Rover. The tour is offered Monday through Friday at 10am and 1:30pm. Cost with wine tasting is $200 per person in the morning (box lunch included), and $150 in the afternoon. 7111 Highway 128, Healdsburg, 800.355.8008
La Crema uses an electric cart to move about the 200-plus acre estate on its Saralee’s Vineyard Tour. Guests learn about the history of the property and label, along with La Crema’s sustainable wine making practices. The tour is offered daily, spring through fall, at 10:30am and 12pm. Cost is $80 per person including wine tastings, reservations required. 3575 Slusser Road, Windsor, (707) 525-6200