Wine and Harvest: Sonoma and Napa Valleys

Oct 1, 2012

The recently-completed Adventure Cycling Wine and Harvest tour was about cycling around the vineyards of Sonoma and Napa Valleys, and yet, it was so much more than that. Although the tour officially began at the Marin Headlands Hostel on the north side of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge on a Sunday afternoon, many participants arrived in the Bay area on Friday to take in the sites and sounds of a classic west coast urban environment. From sourdough bread bowls to trolley rides, from Alcatraz to seal watching on Pier 39, San Francisco is a great place to spend a short weekend.

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I arrived on Friday evening at the Fort Mason Fisherman's Wharf Hostel and spend the next 1.5 days preparing the logistics for the tour with my six-person staff. I did take some time out of my busy schedule to see the sites as well, as this was only my second visit to San Francisco. We used the Sports Basement Presidio store as an early Sunday meeting point for many of the forty riders and the tour staff. More than half of the bicycles for the tour were shipped through, or rented from this store. Rental rates were great, with many renters opting for the faster racing bikes; some even rented their camping equipment as well. The store provided an indoor registration space for us that included snacks, cold drinks and 10% discount coupons. The building was the old army commissary for the fort and still had many of the old store signs mounted on the wall (I wondered all day where the bakery and deli were located); it was an experience all to itself.

Our first riding day included a 500-foot climb nearly to the top of the Marin Headlands shortly after leaving our overnight from the Marin Headlands Hostel. From the overlooks you could view the Golden Gate Bridge before zooming down the 500-foot descent into Sausalito. Many riders stopped at the local cafes for a second breakfast or at least a great cup of coffee around Sausalito before cycling  past several cheese factories en route to Petaluma. Our first day was done leaving several easy cycling days to look forward to as we wound our way through the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

The grapes were ready for harvest and the tasting rooms were waiting for our cyclists as we pedaled between several of the wineries in the valley. The winery visits began with a small contingent of riders leaving the route to visit the Kendall-Jackson winery and gardens; and continued for the next four days as we visited the towns of Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Napa, and Calistoga. Among the more well known wineries were Kendall-Jackson, Berringers, Sterling (where you take a tram up the mountain to the tasting room) and Korbels. There were many, many more but too numerous to list here. Each night after dinner (with wine), many in the group would sit around the campfire and share their experiences about the route and the wineries visited that day. The modest mileage allowed for lots of time to explore what the Sonoma and Napa Valleys had to offer.

On the sixth day of our eight-day adventure, we left Calistoga and most of the wine country behind as we cycled along country roads toward Duncan Mills. The hill climbs returned that day with 3 climbs of 400 feet or more during the day. One of the highlights of my day was finding Bad Ass Coffee (outstanding lattes) just north of Santa Rosa and having an early lunch with some riders at the Korbels winery. Today was my full riding day and I absorbed everything I could (except the wines).

The group was headed toward the Pacific Coast. Along the way we had our 'official' lunch at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The redwoods were unbelievable and towered so high that nearly all light was blocked from reaching the ground below.

The ocean views the next few days were awe-inspiring. We rode along SR 1 through the little bay towns visiting Bodega and Bodega Bay; the location for the Hitchcock thriller, "The Birds", sampling BBQ oysters, and enjoying the undulating road (except for a few short, steep climbs).

I forgot to mention the weather during the week! The days were absolutely fabulous with the daytime highs reaching the high seventies or low eighties EVERY DAY except in San Francisco. However the nights were unseasonably low with temperatures dipping into the low forties some evenings. The nightly campfires warmed our spirits and bodies. Those extra luggage blankets in our luggage truck helped those with colder sleeping bags make it through the night. The picture below shows almost all of our group and staff the last evening of our tour.

The tour ended with a final ride over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Sports Basement Presidio store for the lunch our tour provided and the snacks, drinks, and comfy couches provided by the store. We arranged shuttles to local public transportation, long-term parking, and to one of the several hostels in the downtown area. We reluctantly said our goodbyes. Look for our 2013 Wine and Harvest tour as well as all of our  2013 offerings online on October 10.

- Arlen Hall

Photos: Bob Johnson, Adventure Cycling Mechanic

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ON THE ROAD is written by the tours team -- Mo, Paul, Madeline, and Arlen -- tours specialists and intrepid bicyclists, covering all things related to Adventure Cycling's tours Department. Check out our 2013 Tours!

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