We're blitzing between rows of grapevines on an ATV, fat tires spewing the dust. The driver is saying something about all the vines we're passing, but the roar of the motor drowns her out.

Now hotfooting it up a steep trail, we halt at the upper edge of this mountain vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The green Salinas Valley with its checkerboard of crops spreads out below and in the sudden quiet of the silenced engine, we hear starlings chatter as they divebomb the vineyard.

This "vineyard safari" at the Hahn Estates winery, way above the sleepy town of Soledad, demonstrates how far tasting rooms have come in their bid to woo customers. Simply pouring that chardonnay has become old school in a world where winery film festivals, vineyard concerts and wine-and-chocolate pairings are the norm.

Visitors in an ATV tour Hahn Estates in the Santa Lucia Highlands near Soledad Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. There visitors can explore the vineyards via an ATV
Visitors in an ATV tour Hahn Estates in the Santa Lucia Highlands near Soledad Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. There visitors can explore the vineyards via an ATV safari among the vines, taste tapas and, of course, sip wine too. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

These days you can combine your wine tasting with glider rides and kayaked rapids in the Santa Ynez Valley, or traverse the Wine Country via amphibious vehicle in Napa and Sonoma. You can sip your way through an eclectic art gallery-tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea or hop aboard an all-terrain vehicle and roar through the vineyards of Hahn.

"The challenge we face attracting visitors is the appellation's geographic isolation," says Paul Clifton, Hahn's director of winemaking. "We're combating that by offering our ATV tours and a culinary program, giving visitors great reasons to come into the Santa Lucia Highlands and spend the day."

With more than 650 acres of vineyards in the region, Hahn is a major player -- and one who is happy to lead the charge in increasing visibility for the wineries along the Highlands "River Road" trail. The ATV tour lasts about an hour and a half, with stops to drink in the extraordinary views, learn about viticulture -- and then drink the wine.

It's so popular, some wine lovers go back for seconds.

"I love being up on top of the mountain and looking out over the valley," says Ileen Groves, a relatively recent Soledad resident. "I love being able to go to places I normally couldn't get to. That's why I went back and did it a second time."

Groves and her husband also have sampled several of the monthly food-and-wine events at Hahn, where small plates are matched with compatible wines. Hahn executive chef Dyon Foster does several types of these, pairing three tapas with three matched wines, or, for example, coupling three tastes with a single wine. Foster's robust wilted kale salad with warm bacon is designed to go with big reds, and his softly spiced lamb kebabs bring out the best in pinot noir and Rhone blends.

And then there's Fromage Friday, a weekly pairing of -- yes, wine and cheese.

Clifton's dream? Seeing other Highlands wineries follow suit with new visitor attractions.

"Eventually, we would love to see dozens of options," he says, so people can "construct a full day of activities to enjoy.

Groves is already a believer. Since relocating her bookkeeping business from Ohio two years ago, she has been reveling in the wine, scenery and activities along the local wine trail. Compared to life in her previous locale, she says, "I feel like I'm Alice and fell down the rabbit hole."

Hahn Estates

Open daily for wine tastings 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and until 5 p.m. weekends. ATV vineyard adventures ($45) and shorter vineyard walking tours ($25) depart at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on weekends. Reservations are required. Details: www.hahnestates.com.