Touring wine country by bicycle an ideal fall escape
As fall approaches my bike wanderlust turns toward fertile valleys and sun-drenched hills where grapes are ripening for harvest. My style of bike touring involves a road bike, a couple of water bottles and a credit card. A self-guided tour of Sonoma wine country in late September or early October is economical, easy to plan and fulfills my need for an active vacation.
Tour companies such as Wine Country Bikes provide rental bikes (if you don’t want to travel with your own), route itineraries, maps and cue sheets, reservations at inns to fit your budget, support should you encounter mechanical difficulties, and by far the best service: They pick up the wine that you purchase at tasting rooms and deliver it to your door at the end of the day.
Pedal at your leisure through the premier grape-growing regions of the Alexander Valley, famous for Cabernet Sauvignon, the Dry Creek Valley with its luscious Zinfandel, and the Russian River Valley, known for the cool climate Pinot Noir. The 35,000 acres of vineyards grow up to 30 different grape varietals in this compact area.
It is possible to traverse the three valleys in a three- to five-day tour. With more time and good endurance, touch base at Chalk Hill, Green Valley and Rockpile. On our first trip through Sonoma we focused our riding in areas known for full-bodied red wine. The beauty of hiring a tour company is that they can often customize a route that suits your palate.
You also will find exquisite dining throughout Sonoma. For an economy dependent on taste, good food is a necessity. There is no such thing as blasé dining in Sonoma. This is one cycling vacation where I am at risk of coming home heavier than when I left.
The cycling mileage through wine country may be modest when taken day by day, but the rolling and sometimes high-angle hills that give the grapes their best exposure to the sun can present a challenge to even fit cyclists. My favorite ride is Kings Ridge Road with its high vistas overlooking the California coast and the return route via Highway 1.
Beginning cyclists can pedal shorter distances and feel accomplished on narrow, winding, low-traffic roads. Every corner and hilltop brings a new view and another winery for a leisurely rest and a flight of delicious wine.
I find the best way to plan our day is to research the wineries along the route and be strategic about selecting three or four for a visit. If you’re a newbie in the tasting room, don’t be shy to ask questions about the offerings. It’ll help to hone in your preferences or to step out of your habits to try new things.
You don’t have to drink all of the wine poured in a flight. If you do, you might find yourself calling a cab or the tour company for a lift home. I shouldn’t have to mention that drinking and riding isn’t a great combination and is in fact illegal since bicyclists are subject to motor vehicle laws.
The first rule is to taste responsibly. You may sip, spit in the spittoon provided and drink plenty of water to clear your palate and make sure you are hydrated should you choose to swallow. Usually, tasting rooms offer light snacks for purchase to help temper the alcohol. Save your wine drinking for the inn after your ride and be sure to pick up a sampling of olives grown in the area, olive oil, fine cheeses, salami, and flatbread to go with it.
At the end of your day, call Wine Country Bikes to let them know where you purchased wine and souvenirs so that they can pick them up for delivery to your room. I kept track of the number of bottles that I purchased to round out a case by the end of the tour. I delivered my treasures to a local UPS store for safe packing and shipment home.
Of all the wineries visited I most appreciated the Meeker Vineyard tasting room located in an old wild-west style bank in Geyserville. Meeker wines are big and bold and scrumptious, which suits my taste just fine. I ordered a case of Kelly’s Cab and had it shipped home for special occasions. As I share a bottle with good friends I can recall a sublime cycling vacation combining scenic rides, fine wine and culinary treasures in one easily planned tour.
More information on Wine Country Bikes can be found at winecountrybikes.com. ◆