Running and wine? Not so much. Swimming and wine? Uh, too soggy. But biking and wine…now, there’s a match made in a very happy heaven. There’s just something about pedaling toward a pinot noir that makes a lot of sense. Just ask the French. Or the Californians, who know that biking from vineyard to vineyard is one of the most sublime ways to spend a day, or three, or six. Here’s how to wheel through California’s wine country.
Day 1: Rent and Ride
Start in the town of Healdsburg, on the Russian River. At the Sonoma County Bike Touring Center, you can choose from six different steeds to steer you toward the grapes, including the high-performance Trek Madone 3.1 road bike and the Co-Motion Periscope Torpedo Tandem. Hey, tandem might not be a bad idea after a long afternoon of tasting.
Ease into the wine touring week with a short pedal to Healdsburg’s own De La Montanya Winery, which produces more than 30 different varietals, including the award-winning Flying Rooster Ranch. Park the wheels for the night at De La Montanya’s Little Yellow Cotttage: near the Russian River, it sleeps up to four adults and overlooks the vineyards.
Days 2-3: Sonoma and Santé
Fuel up for further Alexander Valley explorations on homemade fig newtons and California oak-roasted espresso at Healdsburg’s Downtown Bakery & Creamery before riding toward the iconic Jimtown Store, where you can buy boxed lunches of Molinari salami or house-baked turkey sandwiches if it feels too early for a bottle of Jimtown White or Jimtown Red. But who’s keeping time on a tour of wine country? Next up is the Field Stone Winery, whose stone walls and hushed cellars are the picture-perfect backdrop for sipping a sauvignon blanc or sangiovese.
Base camp for exploring other vineyards such as Sonoma-Cutrer, Korbel Champagne and Russian Hill Estate is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, whose Willow Stream Spa and signature Wine Country Recovery treatment should soothe any soreness from sitting in the bike saddle — or lifting a wineglass. Book a dinner reservation at the hotel’s own sophisticated Santé, the only Sonoma eatery with a Michelin star. There are, naturally, more than 500 Napa and Sonoma choices on the wine list. Work off any excess on the Santa Rosa Creek Bike Trail and Joe Rodato Trail.
Days 3-5: Napa and Napkins
It’s just 22 glorious miles from Sonoma to St. Helena and the eponymous vineyard that produces Cabernets with Bacchus clone grapes — keep in mind that visitors must arrange an appointment in advance. Better book ahead, too, for the Inn on Randolph, a prized Napa B & B in an 1860s Victorian on an acre in the city’s leafy historic district. Don’t get too comfy on the king-sized beds or on a terrace wicker rocker, though: it’s time to ride to your reserved tour at Opus One in Oakville, back along the St. Helena Highway. It’s well worth the journey, tasting the wine envisioned by Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
And if that isn’t fancy enough for you, perhaps your dinner at the French Laundry will be. Thomas Keller’s landmark restaurant has landed again at the top of all American eateries, thanks to its sublime tasting menus and wine pairings. If you simply can’t get a reservation, head to Bouchon instead. Either way, plan to retire early in the evening. Tomorrow, you’ve got not only miles and wines to go before you sleep, but a soaring experience over the vineyards with Above the West Ballooning, as well. Now, hot-air ballooning and wine, there’s an idea…