Over the past few years, wineries and tasting rooms across the U.S. have made the experience less stuffy and formal by introducing casual-minded perks or add-ons. Here are just a few of our favorite winery and tasting room trends.
1. Lounge Ambiance
Not long ago, everyone bellied up to the bar and stood during the entire tasting; now, you can chill in a setting that looks like it's straight out of a home-design magazine. For instance, the leather sofas, egg chairs, and woven textiles at the Banshee Wines’ tasting room (pictured above) in downtown Healdsburg, CA give it a cool vibe that we usually see at boho-chic hotels. At Riverbench Vineyard & Winery’s tasting room in Santa Barbara, sit back on a long, plush leather banquette adorned with throw pillows.
2. Java Jolts
The Napa town of St. Helena is home to Charles Krug Winery, the region's oldest winery. When you're not sampling vino at its recently renovated Redwood Cellar Tasting Room and Hospitality Center -- a National Historical Landmark -- get a caffeine kick from the espresso bar at the property's Cucina di Rosa. Further south in Paso Robles, Broken Earth Winery’s new café -- serving Italian and Aussie cuisine -- features an espresso bar that serves drinks made with Mr. Espresso beans.
3. Hikes and Birding
Among the California wineries hosting an educational, guided hike (with wine samples, of course) is Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Sonoma County. Its two yearly vineyard hikes (pictured above) include continental breakfast, followed by a moderately strenuous trek -- passing sights like the cattle ranch, lakes, gardens, and orchards -- and an olive oil tasting; the experience wraps up with a picnic and wine tasting. At Segura Viudas, a Cava producer near Barcelona, guests are handed binoculars for a birdwatching walk on the property.
4. Burger Butlers (and Pizza)
The opportunity to bite into the burgers at wildly popular Gott's Roadside -- across the street from Merryvale Vineyards in St. Helena -- means waiting in a long line. Merryvale’s newly introduced burger butler can fetch one for you (plus fries), to enjoy back at the tasting room with a flight of its wines ($75). On-site pizza ovens are also popping up at wineries, including at Palmer Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island, which is celebrating its first summer with a brick oven.
5. Big-Name Bands
Big-name acts are now adding winery stops to their tours, like Washington's Chateau Ste. Michelle, who've played host to Paul Simon and Lyle Lovett & His Large Band, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Bonnie Raitt, Culture Club, and Earth, Wind & Fire. This summer, catch Fitz & the Tantrums and Josh Groban.
6. Chef Series
Like artisan dinners hosted at farms, many wineries now partner with local chefs to curate locavore meals paired with its wines. Sonoma County is bursting with options from simple dinners to multi-course; check wineries for specific dates.
7. Wine on Tap
Since wine in a keg is preserved longer, tasting rooms are beginning to introduce the beverage on tap. At Chehalem Wines in Newberg, OR, guests can fill up a collectible bottle (from $19) with a selection from a rotating menu; you can currently choose from the winery's 2011 Chardonnay or 2013 Pinot Noir. You can also find wine on tap at Carr Vineyards and Winery’s tasting room -- set in a 1940s Quonset hut -- in downtown Santa Barbara.