California's Cienega Valley is so off the beaten, Eden Rift Vineyards is offering helicopter transport for tastings overlooking its bucolic acreage. (Courtesy of Eden Rift)

The Most Exciting, Off-the-Beaten-Path Wine Tastings in California

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Sure, you've done Wine Country before. But have you done Wine Country from a helicopter? Or in a private car with Champagne and caviar?

While there are more than 1,000 wineries to visit in California, sometimes we want something a little...extra. Here are two private and super-exclusive winery experiences that are truly unmatched.


Eden Rift Vineyards: Visit a little-known valley in Wine Country by helicopter.

The Cienega Valley is a little-known slice of California Wine Country. Located 1,000 feet above sea level in Hollister (a stone's throw from Monterey) and set right over the San Andreas fault, the valley is separated from the coast by the Galiban Mountains and the Pinnacles Monument. It's not exactly a buzzing tourist destination—Calera Wine Company being the best-known winery there—and yet it's played a vital role in California's winemaking history, discovered for its limestone- and dolomite-rich soil. In order to help others discover this region, one of the area's newest projects, Eden Rift, is flying guests in for wine tastings via helicopter.

Eden Rift is home to one of the oldest continuously operating vineyards in California. Planted in 1849, it was the site of the first pinot noir planting in the state, in 1861. The property has changed hands over the years and was reborn as Eden Rift in 2016. Your roughly 30-minute helicopter ride with Specialized Helicopters takes off from Watsonville (or Hayward or Monterey for an additional fee) and whisks you away down the coast and over the ocean and mountains. Once you land on a hilltop at Eden Rift's completely secluded arena of vineyards, you'll hop right into a Polaris ATV for a tour of the 148-acre estate.

You'll make stops at the caves and the winery along the way for sips of Eden Rift's stellar pinot, chardonnay, and other varietals, and you'll soak up the panoramic views from Adirondack chairs at the overlook. If you'd like to extend your visit, you can inquire about adding a picnic lunch or sit-down meal at the winery's historic Dickinson House, built in 1906 by famous architect Walter Burley Griffin, who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Once finished, the helicopter will whisk you back to your destination before the fog rolls in. Want to make it a true getaway? Book a stay in the Santa Cruz area—we recommend the beachfront Dream Inn, which just launched a new patio for socially distanced dining.

Eden Rift's flight of fancy is available for up to three passengers and starts at $485 per person. To book, visit Specialized Helicopters or contact Eden Rift by email at tastingroom@edenrift.com or phone at 831-636-1991.

// Eden Rift Vineyards, 10034 Cienega Rd (Hollister), edenrift.com

Theorem Vineyards: Champagne and caviar on Calistoga's hidden Diamond Mountain.

Just two years young and situated on the less-traveled Diamond Mountain in Calistoga, Theorem Vineyards promises private tastings in secluded modern surrounds.

(Courtesy of Theorem Vineyards)

With Theorem Vineyards' Welcome Back to Napa package, your party will be picked up in a private car (whether you're at a hotel in Napa or at home in San Francisco) and you'll enjoy Champagne and caviar with all the fixin's—creme fraiche, chips, eggs, chives, etc.—on the drive up to the winery. Expect the car to also be well stocked with water, hand sanitizer, masks, and an insulated cooler to keep any wine purchases from overheating.

Located on Diamond Mountain in Calistoga, Theorem is truly off the beaten path, a hidden gem that few people, even Napa locals, know exists. But at just two years old, it's unlikely to stay a secret for long. Upon arrival, you're greeted with more bubbly at the stunning, 60-acre mountain estate where you'll embark on a tour of the winery and grounds. The property dates back to 1879 and the new owners, Houstonians Kisha and Jason Itkin, spent six years painstakingly restoring it and planting new vineyards before opening in 2018.

Much of the history has been preserved, from the old chicken coop that's now an events space to the adorable 1800s school house. The owners are also taking wood from an old fallen dairy barn to build a new one, but the interior of the winery, on the other hand, is ultra-modern and luxe with eclectic design touches. With floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase panoramic mountain views, it's a wonder anyone gets any work done in the immaculate cellar.

The multi-course wine and food pairing takes place at a private, shaded pagoda with more of those sweeping mountain views. Taste through a flight of premium, small lot wines made by rockstar consulting winemaker Thomas Brown. The lineup includes a sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet, and a merlot, each paired with an exquisite seasonal dish like grilled octopus with chorizo and eye of rib wagyu (the best cut from the ribeye) with duck fat potatoes.

Theorem sends guests home with a goodie bag packed with hangover remedies, estate garden pesto and hot sauce, and more. Your driver will then drive you back to your home or hotel, or you have the option of pre-arranging a second tasting at another boutique winery.

This door-to-door experience is limited to groups of six people and is available to residents and visitors to San Francisco, the East Bay, Marin, Napa, and Sonoma counties. Pricing ranges from $850 to $1,500 per couple, depending on driving distance and other customizable features. When you book, ask for the Back to Napa Package.

// Theorem Vineyards, 255 Petrified Forest Rd. (Calistoga), theoremvineyards.com

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