Many of the 20 million tourists that visit California’s Wine Country each year navigate by the wineries themselves. On the 10 days that I spent in this gorgeous, surprising region this month, the wineries were merely pit stops – rewards – for long days of riding, researching, adventuring, and of course, eating.
My “adventure” into Wine County was for work; the assignment was to learn more about this region that so many of our guests want to travel to. And, more specifically, to learn more about what we can offer these guests when they come to us and want to build spectacular custom cycling trips. They want the most interesting, decorated wineries, the best food, the most spectacular cycling, a true “insider” look at the region — the one that the other 20 million tourists don’t get to see. So it was only fitting that my 10 days were about much more than vintages, noses, and the crush.
I dug into this project whole-heartedly, packing up the car for the weekend with D and Gunner to spend two days whirlwinding our way around Wine Country before going out and actually leading one of our Wine Country Biking Trips for a special group of guests. Our plotted course was a loop starting in Sonoma Valley and swooping out to the Coast, back inland through the Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys, and finally to the Alexander and Napa Valleys – five distinct regions. Each valley has its own special grape, governed by the weather and the terrain. Those grapes lend themselves to the food, the food to the culture, and the culture to the intrigue – like mini countries within the most populated state in the nation.
We took in spas, slurped oysters beneath twinkling lights on indian summer patios, gazed at grazing cows, ran on the beach (and got sand between our toes,) stopped for scones, measured up to Redwood forests, learned about biodynamic wines, learned the best spots (and ingredients) for picnics, rode the hills, valleys and best backroads, and found the best burger – plus milkshake – in the land, heading home happy, tired and intrigued with this region of California that we had at once just gotten acquainted with and still had so much to learn about. We vowed to go back together and dig into some of the 3400 wineries that we whizzed past on our adventure, and to buy a few of the more than 199 million cases of wine that are produced at them, as I waved goodbye for another several days of trip leading.
- This old drive-in. Order the sweet potato fries and the milkshake and don’t ask questions. Then eat it in the yard.
- This new, hip restaurant. Order the oysters, and the cava, and ask about the latest desserts on offer.
- Drive all the way out here. If you don’t walk, run, or be-bop onto the sand, at least get out and smell the sea and watch for seals (and great whites…)
- Have a picnic here.
- Stop and shop here and here. And if you’re hungry, grab snacks here but whatever you do, DON’T get a burrito.
- Tune up your bike at this shop, and get the DL on the best rides (unless, you want to learn a few secrets from these cycling travel experts!)
- Don’t forget to rest your head. And when you wake up to do it all over again, have breakfast at the table by the fireplace!