From the medieval monks who used draft horses to clear vineyards in Burgundy, to the horse culture of Spain’s Jerez de la Frontera, celebrated annually during Feria del Caballo, horses and wine have long held a deep connection.
Today, serious wine programs and riding opportunities abound at resorts across North America. Guests can spend the day on a saddle and come back to a bottle of wine made possible by the industry’s horse-loving pioneers.
Here are seven horseback riding and wine resorts to check out.
The Equestrian Hotel
Tucked amid the oaks and streams of central Florida sits the Equestrian Hotel, a 380-acre resort dedicated to horse pursuits.
Many Kentucky Derby-winning horses are bred in Ocala, giving the hotel a natural connection to the sport.
Saturday night competitions see up to 7,500 spectators gathered at the Grand Arena to watch show jumpers compete for prizes of $100,000.
Pageantry from the ring moves to the restaurants where in-house Master Sommelier Roland Micu oversees a 6,000-bottle wine program of rare vintage releases and multiyear verticals from producers Penfolds, Harlan Estate, Château Latour and Château D’Yquem.
Aside from the list, the property regularly offers experiences from winemaker dinners to region-focused tastings as part of the Stirrup Wine Series held at the resort’s signature restaurant helmed by Chef Ryker Brown.
The Resort at Paws Up
The Resort at Paws Up has long made wine and food a priority, securing heralded names to spend weekends on site. Recent winemaker dinners have hosted Rich Aurilia of Red Stitch Wine, Dan Kosta of AldenAlli Winery and Lindsay Woodard of Retour Wines.
When not wining and dining, guests spend both winter and summer days on horseback, exploring the 37,000-acre bison and cattle ranch set in the Blackfoot River Valley.
Activities include a dude ranch cattle drive during which guests can find, collect and push Corriente cows into pastures. The property has plenty for kids to do, too, and riding lessons at the Saddle Club are a highlight for many families. There’s also Cow Croquet, a wrangling game on horseback set inside the Saddle Club’s indoor arena.
Canyons, hills and streams comprise the various landscapes riders can traverse at Alisal Ranch, founded in 1946 in the Santa Ynez Valley. The stable of 100 horses accommodates neophytes and experienced riders alike. One of the most popular activities is the two-hour scenic trail ride beneath the oak trees, open to all experience levels.
Guests feeling ambitious can try a wrangler skills workshop that can cover everything from roping, barrel racing, or team sorting class. The latter teaches students the basics of sorting cattle, an essential skill on a ranch.
The property’s 10,500 acres hold 73 guest cottages and suites, more than 50 miles of horseback riding trails and is a 30-minute drive from Santa Barbara wine country.
Guests needn’t leave the property to indulge in local wines, though. Alisal Ranch’s cellar is dominated by Central Coast producers with an emphasis in the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria Valley.
“We highlight organic, biodynamic and sustainably farmed wines; work primarily with small family-owned producers; and care for a collection of library wines that go back into the 1980s,” says Patton Penhallegon, winemaker and beverage consultant at Alisal Ranch.
Salamander Resort & Spa
Where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet horse country sits the Salamander Resort, a 340-acre property in Middleburg, Virginia. Popular with wine tourists, the Salamander Resort combines both pastimes under the roof of one estate with 168 rooms and suites.
Guests can book trail rides, lessons, “horse whispering” sessions and essential horsemanship classes in the Equestrian Center, a 14,000-square-foot stable with 22 stalls, nine paddocks and an outdoor riding arena. Follow a day in the saddle with a flight of Virginia wines in the Gold Cup Wine Bar. During dinner at Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill, peruse the extensive wine list curated by Salamander’s sommelier, Catherine Watkins.
Carmel Valley Ranch
Carmel Valley Ranch, a resort in the heart of Monterey County wine country, has 181 suites on 500 acres of land. In spring 2021, the property introduced a new Equine Experiences program.
Therapeutic sessions foster bonding with horses, a concept developed and led by licensed therapist Robert G. Magnelli, PhD, also known as “The Horseman.” The popular “Equine & Wine” session combines wine tasting in the hills with the ranch’s herd. When not nuzzling muzzles or touring nearby wineries, guests can swim, hike, hit the links, play tennis or relax in the spa.
At sunset, a daily happy hour features local wines. The bar, Valley Kitchen, offers an international list alongside creations of in-house winemaker Ian Brand, the 2018 Central Coast Winemaker of the Year.
C Lazy U Ranch
Near Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, C Lazy U Ranch has operated for over a century. Founded in 1919, the lodge has retained its rustic cowboy roots while offering guests a dude ranch vacation replete with modern indulgences.