This last Sunday we took a bicycle ride to some Russian River wineries with Gears and Grapes Getaways Inc. We had a great trip with a group of interesting people from around the world. We visited four wineries, bicycled through the scenic Russian River Valley and had some great food and fun.
Gears and Grapes Getaways was founded by Arianne Goodman who has led bicycle tours around the world in addition to being a certified sommelier. All of Gears and Grapes Getaways guides are experienced bicyclists, world travelers and passionate about wine.
Gears and Grapes Getaways has day trips to the Napa Valley, Russian River Valley and the Dry Creak Valley and weekend trips to The Napa and Sonoma Valleys and also to the Santa Ynez Valley. For a day trip they provide pick up and drop off in San Francisco, comfortable well maintained bicycles with helmets and water bottles, gourmet picnic lunch at a winery, and a support vehicle to carry your purchases or you, if you get tired. There will also be two guides, one of whom will be a certified sommelier. You will visit four wineries with a bike ride between each one. The weekend trips are three day, two night affairs. Each days ride will cover three wineries, in addition to luxury accommodations and gourmet breakfasts, lunches and dinners and the support vehicle.
We decided on a Russian River day trip as we have never taken a wine tasting trip in that area before but do appreciate wines from there. We also thought the Russian River Valley would be very scenic and perhaps less crowded than Napa or Sonoma. Indeed the scenery was beautiful with many small farms in addition to vineyards and wineries.
We took BART into San Francisco to the Powell Street station so we could be picked up at Union Square. We didn’t realize, however, it was the same day as the Gay Pride Parade. This made BART a little crowded with people in unusual costumes. It also made it difficult to get around town so Ari called us and asked if we could be picked up a few blocks away where they could actually drive to. It was no problem for us so we walked the three or four blocks and just as we arrived Ari and our guide Arielle (from Burgundy, France) pulled up in the van with the bikes on top and on the rear carrier. There was already one other couple in the van so we introduced ourselves and hopped in.
Ari told us we had two more groups to pick up, two people at their Van Ness pickup location and then a special pickup in Petaluma for a couple who were spending the weekend in Sonoma for a wedding. Normally they only have the three pickup spots in S.F. but it is nice they are flexible if you have a special need. At the Van Ness location we picked up a woman from Dublin, Ireland and her daughter who now lives in San Francisco. Normally everyone would be aboard by now so Ari had us all do a little more formal introduction including where we would like to travel to. This helped us all make a connection because several people had been to where the others wanted to travel so we had a lot to talk about on the trip. We headed across the Golden Gate Bridge on a beautiful San Francisco morning. Absolutely no fog and hardly a cloud in the sky. You could not ask for a better day to go for a bike ride. In Petaluma we pulled off the freeway to pick up the couple staying up there for a wedding. A quick circle through the Park and Ride lot and we were back on 101 north.
We were all having such a fun time talking to each other and to Ari and Arielle that the time flew by and soon we were pulling off the freeway in Healdsburg. We went straight to Copain Wine Cellars where we got out and stretched and admired the view. Copain Wines has a fantastic view of the Russian River Valley. It was an excellent choice for the first stop. As we entered the tasting room they had a glass of wine waiting for us. It was a blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. It sounds like a strange combination but it worked and was quite good. In fact we thought all of their wines were quite good. Their winemaker tries to make the wines in a French style so they are more restrained and elegant. As we leisurely tried different wines and sat outside admiring the view, Ari and Arielle were unloading the bikes and equipping them with water and helmets. All the bikes were late model and well maintained. When we had finished trying all of the wines and making our purchases, which were put in the air conditioned van, it was time to mount up and start the first leg of our wine journey.
First, however, Ari gave us a tutorial on the bikes and bike safety and how to shift in case we weren’t familiar with the trigger shifters. We also were given a chance to ride around the parking lot for practice. She told us how long each ride from winery to winery would go and how to warn each other about cars coming up behind us. Our first leg was the longest going to Arista Winery where we would have lunch waiting for us. After that, each ride would be shorter as we may be getting tired by then. She said to ride at the speed you were comfortable with and Arielle would ride with us to help anyone and to show us the way. Arielle lead the way out to the main road and started us in the right direction while Ari followed with the van. Arielle said if anyone wanted to go ahead, to do so but just stop and wait at each intersection for the rest to catch up then she rode back to check on everyone.
After five or six miles of rolling hills we arrived at Arista Winery. Another beautiful place surrounded by trees, gardens and even a stream with a small waterfall. Arista was founded in 2002 by Al and Janis McWilliams from Texas. You can see some of that influence in the fence around the winery and there are some unusual sculptures scattered around the gardens. Ari met us at the entrance and let us know they were waiting for us inside and that she had lunch set up at a picnic table ready when we were ready. We all spent some time with a glass of wine wandering around the large Japanese garden. After we had tasted all of their wines we got another glass and sat down for lunch. Gears and Grapes Getaways has a caterer in San Francisco make up the food the and Ari sets it up for the riders at the winery. Lunch was great! There were some meats and cheeses and two types of bread. The brie on the olive bread was fantastic. Then we had several salads, a spinach salad with goat cheese, a black bean salad and some bow tie pasta with pesto. For dessert we had chewy, moist little round brownies.
After lunch we got back on our bikes with new water bottles and headed for Twomey Cellars. Twomey Cellars is a sibling of Silver Oak winery created to showcase their Merlot while Silver Oak specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon. Twomey has a beautiful building and overlooks a great view of the Russian River Valley. Since we had relaxed at lunch and it was getting warmer now the air conditioning at Twomey was welcome, especially since the last part was uphill. They had a separate tasting bar set up for us with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc waiting. Ari certainly has a good relationship with these wineries and they all treated us special. After we cooled down a little we moved outside to sit and enjoy the view. We didn’t even have to get up to try more wine, they brought it out to us.
At this point, depending on your fitness level, you knew four wineries were going to be enough and you would soon be headed for the next one. Of course you can hop in the van anytime you want to take a break. We all walked our bikes up the steep driveway at Twomey, mounted up and were on our way to DaVero. One really nice thing about this trip is there are a lot of trees everywhere so you are almost always riding in the shade. It was only a short ride to DaVero where they have Italian varietals and olive oils, balsamic vinegar and jams and such. This made for a great last stop as you found something new to pique your interest even though you were tired. As we tasted, Ari and Arielle started loading the bikes for the drive home.
We started with a Vermentino which is a white varietal I had never heard of. It was quite nice, great flavor and refreshing. Then we switched to an olive oil and was given a lesson on tasting olive oil. Pretty much the same way you taste wine by the way. We were also told how different olive oils are processed and how theirs is made with olives of three different ripeness levels. Then we tried a Barbera and looked around the tasting room a little. I had heard about another wine they also made but which I knew nothing about, a Sagrantino, so I asked if I could taste it, too. Very different from any other red wine I have had. The nose was very floral for a red wine. It also had a substantial amount of tannins, this wine called out for food. You probably would not enjoy it by itself but I would like to try it again. After we took some pictures of the several sculptures around the winery we all got in the van for the ride home. It was nice to sit in a nice padded seat and doze off for the trip back to San Francisco. Ari dropped us off near a BART station even though it was still very crowded from the parade and we made our way home.
We had a great time on the trip, had some real nice wines to taste, a great scenic bike ride and a great lunch. Ari and Arielle were always around to answer questions and help with anything you needed. We highly recommend you try a trip. It was a lot of fun with some interesting people and very good wine.
Disclaimer: We did receive a consideration on the cost of the trip.