Wine can be an ideal accompaniment for meetings, so it's no surprise that groups love Napa Valley, Sonoma, and other popular wine regions across the country. If wine tasting is the only thing your group does while it's in wine country, however, it's missing out, as the same fertile soil that produces great grapes also produces amazing group activities that have absolutely nothing to do with wine or winemaking. Here are five great options.
1. Foraging Excursions at Allegretto Vineyard Resort (Paso Robles, CA)
There are more than 200 wineries in Central California's Paso Robles wine region. Nestled among them is the brand-new Allegretto Vineyard Resort, which opened in September 2015 promising a thoroughly Mediterranean experience on America's West Coast. Of course, nothing is more Mediterranean than wine, and this 171-room resort has plenty of it, including a wine bar featuring its own private wine label.
But one of the resort's most unique offerings -- foraging excursions -- celebrates food, not wine. Led by Chef Eric Olson, the resort's director of food and beverage and executive chef of its signature restaurant, Cello Ristorante and Bar, the excursions take place on 20 acres of vineyards and orchards on which Allegretto sits, as well as on other open spaces within the county. Together, attendees forage for native ingredients such as mushrooms, Toyon berries, dulse seaweed, and fennel pollen, which Olson subsequently uses in dishes served to the group.
2. Treasure Hunting in Solvang (Solvang, CA)
South of Paso Robles, in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley wine country in Santa Barbara County, is the little town of Solvang, which was founded in 1911 by Danish-Americans whose legacy has earned the hamlet the nickname "California's Little Denmark."
Groups staying at Santa Ynez Valley properties, such as the 122-room Hotel Corque or the 73-unit Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, can of course tour Santa Barbara wineries -- or they can participate in a "skattejagt," Danish for "treasure hunt." Organized by the Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau, skattejagts send attendees armed with treasure maps on a scavenger hunt through the village, where they stop at authentic Danish bakeries, chocolatiers, art galleries, boutiques, and more. Along the way, attendees broadcast their findings via social media and, at the end, are rewarded with prizes, like a special dinner at a local restaurant.
3. African Adventures at Safari West (Santa Rosa, CA)
Sonoma County is known for its grapes. Groups that need a break from imbibing, however, can replace the wine in their agenda with wild animals, courtesy of Safari West Wildlife Preserve & African Tent Camp in Santa Rosa. Featuring 400 acres of open-air safari, it offers private safaris during which groups can get up close and personal with hundreds of free-roaming exotic animals, including cheetahs, antelope, zebras, and giraffes. Educational presentations from animal caretakers also are available, while groups that want an even more adventurous experience can stay overnight in luxury "tents" furnished with pillow-top mattresses, handmade furniture, space heaters, warming blankets, ceiling fans, en suite bathrooms, and porches with seating areas for wildlife viewing.
4. Olive Oil Tasting at McEvoy Ranch (Petaluma, CA)
Grapes aren't the only things that grow plentifully in Mediterranean climates. Olives also abound -- and that means olive oil.
Just east of Napa Valley, in Petaluma, is McEvoy Ranch, the largest organic producer of Tuscan-style, estate-grown olive oil in the United States. A former dairy farm, the 550-acre ranch now boasts 80 acres of organic olive trees, not to mention extensive flower and vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, and 7 acres of grapevines. Private groups can tour the estate and taste its olive oils with seasonal bites from the ranch's organic garden in a space that overlooks its "frantoio," or olive mill. In addition, groups interested in wellness can tour the ranch's flower gardens with an aromatherapy expert, after which attendees will be invited to create their own essential oil hydrosol customized to their individual skincare needs. Yet another option utilizing the same flower gardens is a floral arrangements workshop led by a botanical design expert.
5. Glassworking at the Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, NY)
Although California's wine country is America's best known, its vineyards aren't the only grapes in town. The East Coast, for instance, has notable vineyards in unexpected places like Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York.
The latter's Finger Lakes region, in upstate New York, is especially prolific, boasting more than 120 wineries. Groups in Finger Lakes Wine Country won't just learn to appreciate wine, however; if they visit the Corning Museum of Glass, they'll also learn to appreciate wine bottles and glasses. Home to the world's largest collection of glass, the museum features 45,000 pieces of classic and contemporary glass art. In addition to exhibitions, visitors can witness hot glass shows, flameworking, optical fiber, and glassbreaking demos. For groups of 10 or more, the museum offers a "Fun with Glass" glassworking workshop during which attendees can create their own glass objects using a variety of glassworking techniques. Groups can make a blown-glass ornament at the furnace, for instance; fuse suncatchers in the kiln; or sandblast their drinking glass in the coldworking shop.