Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day Russian River Bike Ride, with Wine


Labor Day 2005 dawned chilly where I live, and the prospect of a promised tandem bike ride was dampened by dense fog. Not willing to let go of the ride, I proposed a slight change of venue. We would truck the bike until we exited the fogbank, then peddle to visit various winery tasting rooms. The limit of three bottles posed by the bike bag would also help us keep our wine purchases within budget.

We parked the truck at the totally empty Park-and-Ride lot north of Windsor, CA, and off-loaded the tandem into the parking lot. A few minutes to patch a flat tire (a more-complicated job for the tandem than for either of our solo bikes), and we were on our way! As usual, my commuter-cyclist spouse was focused on the process of peddling, while I waved at cars and other cyclists as we passed.

The first winery on our northward route on the Old Redwood Highway was Acorn Winery. What wine-master Bill Nachbar pours in this tasting room are wines made by blending different varietals grown together in the same vineyard. Acorn's delicious 2002 Zinfandel, which we had tasted on a previous wine tour, is now sold out. Since the day was young, and our bike trip barely started, we declined the offer to taste other wines, and peddled off down the road.

Next up was Christopher Creek Winery, which required a quarter-mile diversion to the right down the Limerick Lane side road, and a serious, though short, hill-climb. We asked to taste the Best of Class winner 2002 Catie’s Corner Viognier, a fruity and slightly floral white. This wine has a complex nose—we were still debating it a mile later—and a crisply acid flavor on the tongue. Viogniers can be overwhelmingly apricot or pear, but this one is perfectly balanced, and finishes with a decidedly floral note.

We zipped downhill to return to the Old Redwood Highway, continuing our northward trip without visiting Limerick Lane Winery. I knew if I got a chance to drink some of their incredibly-delicious 2001 Late-Harvest Firment, the ride might be over before it started!

My spouse pointed out the Windmill Farms on the west side of the road as we passed, and we decided to visit on our way back. We did divert over the road to stop at Foppiano Winery, however. (Have we got our priorities straight, or what?!) Their 2002 Petite Sirah has a wonderfully spicy nose, black pepper and vanilla, with a rich berry fruit flavor under the tannin bite on the tongue.

We waited several minutes for traffic before sneaking back over to the north-bound side of the road. As the day warmed up, it seemed others had had the same idea for a Labor Day trip to the vineyards. At the crossroads, we stayed on the Old Redwood Highway to continue on into Healdsburg. Just across the steel-truss bridge, we turned right onto Front Street, heading for our favorite trio of tasting rooms.

Bruce at Camellia Cellars was waiting to greet us as we peddled up into the parking lot. We had tasted their Rosato di Sangiovese before, but welcomed the chance to sample the 2004 bottle. The bountiful citrus-floral nose, berry and vanilla notes on the palate, and great spicy Sangiovese finish are all there in this "immoral blush" wine—but in a lighter version that leaves out the tannic bite. I tasted the full red 2003 Sangiovese immediately after, for an unexpected reward; floral notes that were unidentifiable in previous tastings became obvious with reference to the Rosato. We also tasted Camellia's 2003 and 2004 Zinfandel. The 2004, especially, had such a perfectly berry Zin nose, that I started salivating before I even tilted the glass!

We were almost ready to leave when Bruce remembered the 2004 Cuvee de Rosé, a marvellous Zinfandel-Carignane blend with a lightly sweet nature. We were immediately taken with this wine, and bought a bottle.

One-bottle neoprene byobag with bottle of wine.

Biking with wine? Byobag, from BuiltNY.

Next door to Camellia is the tasting room for Sapphire Hill Winery. I've written before about our love of Sapphire Hill's Winberrie Vineyard Zinfandel, but our goal today was to taste the award-winning 2004 Late Harvest Zinfandel, which is only available from the tasting room. Alas, Tim informed us stocks of this wine had been decimated by previous buyers, and they no longer open it for tasting. If you want to taste it, we were told, you can get it at Disneyland, in the Napa Rose restaurant at the Grand Californian Hotel, where it is on the menu of dessert wines. Yes, Mickey bought 30 cases of this wine, leaving only two or three cases for the rest of us. We decided to purchase two bottles, which was our limit for toting bottles on the bike.

Speaking of carrying wine by bike, Bruce Snyder at Camellia Cellars told us about a great product, the byobag from BuiltNY, which fits into the larger water-bottle cages on mountain bikes. Made of neoprene, the byobag protects the bottle from chatter-damage, and serves to insulate chilled wine. We had packed an extra shirt for wrapping bottles into the bike bag, but will definite consider a byobag for future bike (or kayak!) picnics.

Our final winery visit was to Huntington Wine Cellars, a collecteur for wines from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. We were drawn by reports that they were pouring two different late-harvest wines. The lovely straw-colored Muscat Canelli from Mendelson—Eric informed us that the Canelli Muscat grape is the one used in Asti Spumante wines—was available for tasting. This sweet wine has a clearly floral nose, lots of orange blossom with a hint of vanilla underneath. On the tongue, it is smooth and sugary, almost honeyed, with distinct pear and peach notes. The finish continues sweet, with a spicy note (coriander?). Unfortunately, the other dessert wine, a rosy Pinot Gris, was not open for tasting.

Full of wine and tasting notes, we got back on our bike and peddled south, stopping only to pick up some fresh corn-on-the-cob from Windmill Farm. There was no room left in the bike bag, so we simply bungeed them to the handlebars in front. All considered, it was a delicious way to motivate ourselves to ride 15 miles on a perfect end-of-summer day.

Acorn Winery
12040 Old Redwood Highway
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707-433-6440

Camellia Cellars
57 Front Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707-433-1290

Christopher Creek Winery
641 Limerick Lane
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707-433-2001

Foppiano Winery
12707 Old Redwood Highway
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707-433-7272

Huntington Wine Cellars
53 Front St
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707-433-5215

Limerick Lane Winery
1023 Limerick Lane
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707-433-9211

Sapphire Hill Winery
51 Front Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707-431-1888

BuiltNY™ Inc
75 Spring St, 7th Fl
New York, NY 10012
Phone: 212-227-2044


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