Claire Wrathall, The Daily Telegraph, April 16, 2014
Only in California, you might think, would someone come up with a package that combines pilates with wine tasting. Former telecoms entrepreneur and self-styled "start-up junkie" Chuck McMinn, and his horticultural therapist wife Ann, have launched Pilates Essentials at Vineyard 29, their winery near St Helena in the Napa Valley. As a wine-tasting experience, it’s about as removed from the trip in the movie Sideways as can be imagined.
For those who book the experience, the day begins with an “energising” outdoor pilates or barre class on the terrace of the imposing white Modernist winery, followed by a glass of their secret-recipe “green juice [to] help prepare your body for that other kind of juice; you know, the kind you really came to Napa Valley for” (so they’re not without a sense of humour). Next there’s a tour of the estate (just four and half acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc), then an hour-long tasting and a “spa lunch” with “carefully curated” wines, a case of which is included in the price. The experience starts at $2,900 (about £1,700) for a party of up to 10 people.
Vineyard29 is not alone in hoping to promote the idea that a wine-tasting trip can be beneficial to body as well as the spirit and that perhaps there is a synergy between stretching and savouring. They’d also like to think so at the méthode-champenoise specialist Domaine Carneros, which now offers a package it’s calling Vinyasa in the Vineyard (from $125/£75 per person).
Among the tutors is Christie Dufault, not merely a former sommelier at the two Michelin-starred restaurant Quince in San Francisco, but a Kripalu-trained yoga practitioner, who takes groups of eight to 10 wine enthusiasts through a sequence of asanas. After a glass of Brut Cuvée (organic, naturally), there’s a guided walk among the vines, followed by an open-air brunch of dishes conceived to complement Carneros wines back at the château, itself a convincingly French-looking pile designed to evoke the Taittinger’s Château de la Marquetterie. For Carneros is the creation of Claude Taittinger, former president of the champagne dynasty.
Further inland, just east of the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park in the hilly appellation noted for its Cabernet Sauvignon and known as Howell Mountain, justly revered Ladera Vineyards is now offering cycling tours of the area. Each route covers a not exactly level seven miles or so (ladera means hillside or slope in Spanish), but can be adapted according to the fitness and stamina of the group (of up to six). And the $125pp fee includes the loan of a bike and helmet and provision of a map and a hearty but wholesome picnic lunch.
Once back at the 19th-century stone winery, one of the oldest and smallest in Napa, the session concludes with a tasting of current release vintages. Which, if there is truth in the theory that exercise enhances one’s senses of taste and smell, you should be best primed to appreciate.
All three programmes require booking, which must be made at least two weeks in advance.