Lessons Learned While Cycling Through Napa
Grapes, bikes, fun! Photo courtesy of Napa Valley Bike Tours.
Wine country. So beautiful, with its rolling green hills, endless vineyards and all the wine you care to taste. But there’s a consistent challenge to a visit to Napa: transportation. The vineyards aren’t close for much of a wine walk, and few people are thrilled to be named designated driver on a wine crawl. Coming from our starting point in San Francisco, the idea of renting a car and driver for a party of four wasn’t ideal, and referring to someone as Jeeves all day just isn’t our style.
So what’s a wine-loving party to do? Rent bicycles.
It’s a beautiful, sunny, 70-degree day at the end of May, and we arrive at Napa Valley Bike Rentals in Yountville to greet our trusty steeds. Four new Specialized Sirrus hybrid bikes await us, and the staff at the bike rental shop hand us a map. They highlight three different routes ranging in length from about 7 miles to 30 miles.
We opt for the 14-mile route that has more than 20 wineries along the way. Mostly, we select it because it takes us to Domaine Chandon for our first stop.
After a quick safety lesson, we strap on our helmets and hop on our bikes, heading towards the open road. Actually, the first couple of miles of the trail are along the Napa Valley Vine Trail, a paved bike path that travels parallel to St. Helena Highway, safely protecting us from traffic. It’s a short ride—less than a mile—but it gives us enough time to bask in the sun, breathe in the fresh air and pat ourselves on the back for making the two-wheel vs. four-wheel decision.
It’s early afternoon and Domaine Chandon is abuzz. We wait a few minutes in line to get to the bar and request our tastings. Our friends decide (smartly) to ease into day drinking, so they opt to split the classic tasting. It’s a good call—the four pours are generous. I opt for the varietal tasting (try as I might I’m just not one for the bubbly) and my boyfriend ordered the reserve tasting. We’re all a bit taken aback by the prices—for those of us who haven’t been to Napa in a while, $18 to $22 seems steep for a tasting. But by the time we leave the elegant patio area and climb back onto our bikes, money is the last thing on our minds.
Aside from Domaine Chandon, we’re open to stopping anywhere along the route. So rather than picking a specific place, we decide to ride along and enjoy the scenery, stopping whenever we felt thirsty. As we pedal along, eye-to-vine level with the many vineyards we pass, we’re grateful for the distance between tastings, and the exercise is a nice bonus. Plus, there’s a sociability that comes with cycling that you don’t always get in a car—particularly one driven by Jeeves. We pair off, the guys riding ahead, and my friend Katie and I have a chance to chat and catch up along the way.
After about seven miles, we decide we’re ready for another tasting. We stop at James Cole Estate Winery, and walk briefly among the vineyards, posing for photos with the grapes, getting to know them before we consume their kin.
James Cole is a small-production, family-run winery, and you can sense that when you walk on the property. The staff here is particularly friendly, but the pours, following Domaine Chandon, are particularly small (probably not a bad thing at this point). We take the lead from our friends and all split a tasting of reds ($25), savoring the Cabernet and falling in love with the Malbec. The tasting room is dim and crowded, and after our sips, we’re ready to be outside again. We return to our bikes and, by now it’s about 3 p.m. The bike rental shop closes at 5, so we decide there’s time for one more winery.
Less than three miles away, we stop at Regusci Winery. Here, the sprawling green lawn beckons. It’s filled with afternoon sippers, enjoying their last tasting of the day. We walk inside and glance at the menu. At $25, the tasting price is on par with the others. But by now, we feel like we’ve tasted enough. It’s enjoyable in the beginning, sampling a few choice wines. But after two wineries, we’re all ready to relax with a glass. So we splurge on a $95 bottle of Cabernet. It’s more than we would normally spend at a restaurant or a wine shop, but still less than the cost of a tasting for four of us.
We take the bottle and collapse into the lawn, savoring the best possible way to end the adventure. We proclaim that if renting bikes was the best decision of the day, this last decision was easily the second best. And in the future, we agree that when it comes to tastings, we prefer to taste by the bottle.
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