Like many Livermore winemakers, John Kontrabecki welcomed visitors hoping to witness chardonnay grapes ripening on the vine, or amble through his vineyards where sun-kissed clusters of petit syrah bulged with sugary juice.
But unlike other Livermore wineries that lure tourists to castle-like tasting rooms or sprawling verdant gardens, Kontrabecki’s Tri-Valley Vineyards had… well… vineyards.
“I discovered people were very interested in how wine grapes are grown,” said Kontrabecki, gazing out at the Livermore Valley from his hillside vineyard. “I was asked by friends all the time if they could come by and look at the vineyard.”
But then Kontrabecki decided to crank up the tours a bit… around 20 miles an hour to be exact. He concocted a plan to offer tours aboard electric scooters.
Kontrabecki raised a massive metal warehouse door revealing seven shiny electric scooters. After forking over $60 each, visitors were fitted with helmets and goggles, instructed on the finer points of scooter riding(the throttle can be a bit jumpy at first), and away they went.
“We wanted to offer a different kind of experience where people could go and actually see where the wine grapes are grown,” said Kontrabecki, who leads the tours himself.
The scooters street tires were replaced with off-road tires to navigate the soft dirt roads that snake through the vineyards. Kontrabecki schooled his guests on everything from the source of vineyard’s water, to the role weather plays in shaping grape flavors. The riders then got to ride through the vineyards tasting nearly-ripe chardonnay, cabernet, petit syrah and zinfandel grapes.
In the months since Kontrabecki began offering the scooter tours, visitors have sought them out as a way to steer clear of the well-beaten wine tasting path.
“Just to see different type of greenery they have over here and different grapes,” said Juan Amarillas visiting from San Diego. “How the wine over here in the North taste like.”
Some are sure to question the idea of loading amateur riders onto electrical vehicles in a valley where wine is the drink of choice.
“We do it in the opposite way, first we tour, then we drink,” cautioned Kontrabecki, who also produces Foggy Bridge wines. “We also wouldn’t allow anyone to ride if they appear to be a little bit tipsy.”
Some might wonder exactly what Kontrabecki was imbibing when he hatched his latest idea; his next dream is to install ziplines throughout the vineyards so guests can get an aerial view of the operation while flying from hilltop to hilltop.
Kontrabecki chuckled at the thought as he strapped on his helmet and goggles and zipped off on his scooter, stoking a long trail of dust between the vines.