A Silicon Valley wine-tasting trail ride


A group of horseback riders hit the trail next to the vineyards at Garrod Farms in Saratoga, Calif., on May 2, 2015.

I put my left foot in a stirrup, grab the saddle horn and swing my right leg over the back of a chocolate brown horse. As my outfitter adjusts the stirrups, making sure the Western-style saddle is secure, she tells me Ray, a beautiful horse with a glossy mane, is an Arabian.

We go over the basics, how to turn left, right and — most importantly — how to stop. Then we’re off, moving down the trail and passing rows of vineyards.

Grapevines and horses live side by side on this Saratoga property, perched 700 to 1,000 feet above Silicon Valley, at Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards.

This wasn’t always horse country — or wine country, for that matter. When Garrod Farms was established in 1893, these rolling hills were planted with fruit orchards. The horses arrived in the 1960s; the vines and wines came a decade later. Today, you can train in the art of dressage and horse acrobatics at the equestrian center, or take a Sunday wine ride, which pairs an hourlong trail ride with a tasting back at the winery.

Never been on horseback? No worries. The pace is slow and easy, and the horses well-trained. All you have to do is enjoy the ride.

On this particular Sunday, our group is 14 strong, a mix of ages from young to old. Some are families. One couple is here on a date, and there are groups of friends. We check in at the stables, grab a riding helmet and giddyup?.

A trail guide rides up front, another brings up the rear, calling out fun facts: The ranch can house up to 200 horses, but there are 70 here now, and horse manure — of which there is an abundance — is used as vineyard compost.

The guides point out good vantage spots, where we glimpse panoramic views of stables, vineyards and the adjacent Fremont Older Open Space Preserve, which was once part of Garrod Farms. The Coopers and Garrods donated 120 acres to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 1980. Most of today’s journey is through the preserve.

Along the way the guides alert us to wildlife sightings, and hawks circle overhead. The sunshine warms the trees and herbs along the trail, filling the air with the aroma of sage and eucalyptus.

Most of the ride is at a slow, easy pace, but twice, our leader rallies us to kick it up a notch for a bumpy, but exhilarating, minute or two. As we crest a point on the Coyote Ridge Trail, we can see the San Jose skyline and the tent towers at Shoreline Amphitheatre. Other spots provide peeks into the backyards of Silicon Valley moguls, including one with a pool and helipad.

We are not alone in this open preserve. Throughout our journey, we encounter hikers out enjoying a leisurely morning stroll. A few mountain bikers wait for us to pass them before they continue on their way.

Midway through the ride, we’ve settled into a rhythm, timed to the clop, clop, clop of horse hoofs on hard dirt, rocks and tree roots crisscrossing the path. Tooled leather saddles creak with every move. The horses kick up a fair amount of dust, especially when they pick up the pace heading downhill. But for the most part they’re mellow companions, leading us to breathtaking vistas, through open meadows and under shade canopies provided by tall trees.

Letting the guides and the horses take over, and not knowing exactly where the trail leads or what’s around the next bend, admittedly takes a little getting used to. But eventually the rush-rush and stress of the high-tech world below us melt away.

On the final leg, we pass a riding arena where private lessons are under way, then the stables and winery come into view.

Back on solid ground, we stroll over to the rustic wine-tasting room, which was the original fruit house, a barn where boxes of prunes and apricots were stored during the ranch’s orchard heyday. The guys behind the tasting bar already have the 2012 Estate Chardonnay ready for us. It’s full of apple and pear flavors, with a hint of lemon and vanilla spice from barrel aging. We sample pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and the signature cabernet franc, as we dig into platters of sandwiches — smoked salmon, curried chicken and roast beef — along with cheese and fruit. And then we wander outside, where a shaded picnic area helps this perfect day linger just a little longer.



What: Saratoga’s Garrod Farms offers one-hour guided trail rides weekdays at 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Weekend hourlong guided trail rides offered on walk in basis between 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday morning wine-tasting rides are offered on the last Sunday of each month and include an hourlong horseback ride, followed by wine and finger food at the winery.

Details: Trail rides are $60 and minimum age is 8 years old. Sunday wine-tasting rides are $80; reservations (408-867-9527) and payment are due by noon on the Friday before. 22645 Garrod Road, Saratoga; www.garrodfarms.com

Tips: Sunscreen, long pants and closed-toe shoes are a must. You can’t take a purse on a horseback ride; make sure you have pockets for keys, smartphones or cameras.




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