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In Wine Country, Forest Bathing Could Be a Key to Terroir

If you’ve ever wondered how terroir impacts what you taste in your glass, shinrin-yoku may offer some understanding. More commonly known in the United States as forest bathing, these meditative, guided walks date back to the 1980s, when Japanese doctors sent their overworked patients into local forests to reconnect with nature. Studies found participants experienced health benefits like lower blood pressure and improved immune response.

Forest bathing encourages you to use all five senses to become aware of the natural world around you. When practiced in a vineyard, it can connect you to the land and influence the way you taste wine produced there, according to Jenny Harrow-Keeler, who leads forest bathing experiences in Sonoma County. 

Group of people forest bathing wine country
A group at Zephyr Farms Vineyard / Photo by Red Car Wine

The certified nature therapy guide explains that you may encounter elements from forest bathing in a vineyard while sipping a wine produced there, such as the smell of redwood trees or a crisp breeze on your cheek.

“Forest bathing and wine tasting is such a complementary practice,” she says. “Forest bathing enhances the wine, and the wine enhances your experience of the land. It’s full circle.”

A typical forest bathing session in a vineyard begins with introductions and an explanation of what to expect. Then, the guide invites participants to complete an activity, such as watching objects in motion or finding a space that resonates with you. Following a set period of time, usually 10 to 15 minutes, participants regather at a designated spot to share what they experienced. Depending on how long the session is, there could be up to six activities.

Gran Brazan vineyards offer forest bathing wine country
Vineyards at Gran Bazan Winery / Photo by Andres Rodino

Veronika Knobová , a certified guide who cofounded Shinrin-Yoku United with fellow certified guide Joan Roney, says the goal is “to wake up the senses” and prepare participants for the wine tasting at the end. On her European vineyard walks, Knobová ends by passing around a glass of wine and asking each participant to share their final thoughts. Then, she pours the wine back into the ground, and the winemaker pours tastes of several of their vintages.

When participants take that first sip after forest bathing, Knobová hears a lot of surprise.

“They comment on how the sensations are more intense,” she says. “Even people who have tried the wine before say being in the vineyard changed their perception of it.”

“Forest bathing enhances the wine, and the wine enhances your experience of the land. It’s full circle.” —Jenny Harrow-Keeler

Guides say forest bathing can have a profound effect on wine. It opens the senses. Participants take the time to really see the vineyard, smell it, hear its sounds, feel its textures and maybe even taste it in the air or by popping a grape in their mouths. Those sensory experiences open the door to understanding terroir.

Portrait of Jenny Harlow-Keeler who leads forest bathing wine country trips
Jenny Harlow-Keeler / Morgan Shidler Photography

“Forest bathing is absolutely connected with terroir,” says Andrés Rodiño, who guides visitors through Albariño-producing vineyards in Spain through his slow travel company, Rooteiro. “The climate, the granite soil, the environment and how the harvesting is done are important factors when producing Albariño wine.”

Rodiño adds that as he guides people through a vineyard, they begin to really appreciate the old vines. They slow down and relax. Consequentially, when they taste the Albariño, it tastes fresher, and their palate picks up on flavors directly related to what they have just experienced in the vineyard.

Want to try it for yourself? Harrow-Keeler has a few simple tips you can try the next time you visit a winery.

“I would invite people to pick a moment and take a few breaths and feel your feet on the ground,” she says. “When you’re grounded, start noticing sounds and smells. Stick your tongue out and taste the air. Engage all of your senses. Even five minutes would have a huge impact on the way you experience the wine.”