UPDATE: Stay tuned for Vineyard Walks calendar for 2010

A typical visit to the wine country involves merely looking at grapevines from a winery terrace or through the windshield. But in the Santa Maria Valley, you can now get up close and personal with local vineyards as the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country hosts monthly complimentary vineyard walks from May through October.

Click here for the schedule, which features esteemed sites such as Bien Nacido, Riverbench, Costa de Oro and Cottonwood Canyon.

The vineyard walks are led by local viticulturists and vintners, who offer a firsthand look at viticultural techniques, stages of grapevine growth, soil profiles and more. In the end, guests gain an insider’s glimpse into how what goes on in the vineyard shapes what goes into the bottle.

Of the Santa Maria Valley wine country, renowned wine writer Steve Heimoff recently wrote, “It may well have the highest overall quality of grapes and wines of any AVA in California…Santa Maria Valley is an insider’s secret, a special place that knowledgeable people go to while the crowds throng the tasting rooms of Santa Ynez Valley.”

So take a vineyard walk and discover what all the fuss is about. Of course, even if you can’t make it for a vineyard walk, you can still sample local wines at a dozen winery tasting rooms in the Santa Maria Valley.