Special-Interest Tours and Education
Bicycling tours of the Wine Country range from one-day excursions to weeklong vacations with lavish picnic lunches, leisurely dinners, and stays at some of the region's fanciest inns. You might pay less than $100 for a half- or full-day trip; multiday excursions can cost from $250 to $500 per day, including accommodations.
Backroads. This Berkeley-based outfit conducts several premium multiday guided tours of various levels of difficulty. A typical Sonoma County tour might start in the Russian River Valley and take in Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley wineries as well. Some Napa Valley tours cover out-of-the-way wineries and the greatest hits. Overnight stays are at top hotels, luggage transfers and other logistics are taken care of, and support vans are stocked with all the comforts and necessities riders need. 800/462–2848; www.backroads.com. From $1,998.
Getaway Adventures. Randy Johnson’s Santa Rosa–based outfit conducts guided short and multiday biking, hiking, and kayaking tours of the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Excursions include a wine-tasting and biking tour of Healdsburg, a hike to the top of Mt. St. Helena, kayaking on the Napa River, and a combined biking and kayaking tour of the Russian River with winery stops. 707/568–3040; getawayadventures.com. From $139.
Napa & Sonoma Valley Bike Tours. Afternoon and all-day guided and self-guided tours of wineries, vineyards, and other sights are this company's specialty. The pace is leisurely, and all-day tours include a picnic lunch at a winery. One combination tour starts with an early-morning balloon ride. 707/251–8687; 707/996–2453; www.napavalleybiketours.com. From $108.
Wine Country Bikes. This family-owned Healdsburg outfitter rents bikes by the day and organizes single- and multi-day trips throughout Sonoma County. 707/473–0610; 800/922–4537; www.winecountrybikes.com. From $149 for all-day trips.
Culinary Tours and Classes
Tours usually include one or more of the following: cooking classes, festive dinners at fine restaurants, excursions to local markets, and the opportunity to meet some of the area's top chefs. Tours can last from a few days to a week and start at around $500 per day, accommodations included. Epiculinary and Food and Wine Trails are two well-regarded tour companies. Staff and guest instructors at the Culinary Institute of America and Ramekins teach cooking classes and give demonstrations.
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. The chef-instructors at the institute’s Greystone campus present live one-hour cooking demonstrations on most weekends. Attendees taste the dish made, accompanied by a glass of wine. Hands-on cooking classes cover topics such as baking, grilling, making sauces, and pairing food and wine. 2555 Main St., St. Helena, California, 95474. 707/967–1100; enthusiasts.ciachef.edu/ca-cooking-demonstrations-and-tours. From $25. Call or visit website for schedules.
Food and Wine Trails. Providing its clients with insights into more than just Napa and Sonoma wines and wine making is the goal of this company that folds spa and restaurant trips and non-wine activities into its custom itineraries. 800/367–5348; www.foodandwinetrails.com. Varies depending on itinerary and time of year.
Ramekins Culinary School. Locals and visitors attend the wine-and-food events and hands-on and demonstration cooking classes at Ramekins. The topics range from soups, game, and the cuisine of Peru to the flavors of fall and how to shop at a farmers' market; current and former Wine Country restaurant chefs teach some of the courses. Winemaker dinners often introduce up-and-coming talents. 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma, California, 95476. 707/933–0450; www.ramekins.com. From $65.
Many wineries hold seminars in blending, pairing wine and food pairing, and how to taste wine, and other topics; the San Francisco Wine School holds professional classes that visitors can attend.
With several million visitors to the Wine Country every year, dozens of tour companies have sprung up to provide tours. Many of these companies are well organized and will chauffeur you to places you might not otherwise find on your own. Whether you're content to tour the Wine Country in a full-size bus with dozens of other passengers or you want to spring for your own private limo to take you to your favorite wineries, there are plenty of operators who can accommodate you. If you know the wineries, regions, or even the grape varietals that interest you, these operators can help you develop a satisfying itinerary. All visit both Napa and Sonoma wineries.
Most companies offer a range of tours, usually lasting five to seven hours and stopping at four or five wineries. Rates vary widely, from $80 per person for a day of touring to $250 or more, depending on the type of vehicle and whether the tour includes other guests. You can also book a car and driver by the hour for shorter trips. Rates for limo generally run from $50 to $85 per hour, and there's usually a two- or three-hour minimum.
Perata Luxury Tours & Car Services. Perata's customized private tours, led by well-trained, knowledgeable drivers, are tailored to its patrons' interests; you can create your own itinerary or have your guide craft one for you. Tours, in luxury SUVs, cover Napa and Sonoma. The options include exclusive, appointment-only boutique wineries. 707/227–8271; www.perataluxurycarservices.com. From $85 per hr for 2 guests (includes tax, fuel, and 15% gratuity but not tasting fees).
Platypus Wine Tours. The emphasis at Platypus is on "fun" experiences at off-the-beaten-path wineries. Expect intimate winery experiences with jolly, well-informed guides. You can join an existing tour with other guests or book a private one. 707/253–2723; www.platypustours.com. From $110 (excludes tasting fees).
Valley Wine Tours. Historic, family-owned wineries are the specialty of this Sonoma-based company that provides a gourmet picnic lunch—on china with cloth napkins, no less. 707/975–6462; www.valleywinetours.com. From $135 (includes tasting fees).
Woody's Wine Tours. The amiable, well-informed Woody Guderian favors small wineries but will customize a tour to suit your taste and budget. In addition to winery tours in both Napa and Sonoma, Woody and his guides also conduct tours of craft breweries. 707/396–8235; www.woodyswinetours.com. From $80 per hr (excludes tasting fees).