I'm not an expert bike rider. And I'm even less knowledgeable about wine. But last Saturday's inaugural "Winery Touring by Bike" day trip led by the REI Outdoor School turned out to be right up my alley.
That's right, we toured wineries using mountain bikes. (Yes, I know what you're thinking and, no, nobody got drunk or crashed their bike into an arbor.)
The REI Outdoor School is offering this and other such trips in response to customers asking for fun and informative outings close to home. Ours was held in the Temecula wine-growing region, which is an inland valley between LA and San Diego in Southern California. This scenic region has become a small but respectable viticultural area in recent years. As an REI employee, I was lucky enough to be able to tag along.
The tour was fun and easygoing. In addition to enjoying some fresh air and a pair of short but pleasant bike rides, my trip mates—Eric, Shawna, Rodrigo and a second Eric—and I learned a ton about wine and got to sample a number of sometimes-pricey varietals.
Interesting Wine Tidbit #1: American, French and Hungarian oak is popularly used to make wine barrels; each is said to add its own unique subtlety to a wine's flavor and aroma.
Our first stop was the Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards. Our tour guide, John, was a veritable encyclopedia of wine knowledge. He chatted amiably about the brief but colorful history of the place, poured some samples and then showed us the vineyard, the barrel rooms and other production areas. He was just getting into discussing the molecular properties (!) of different varietals when it was time for us to move on.
We then biked the mostly dirt back roads a few miles to Leoness Cellars for a brief tour and tasting. This winery covers 500 acres of an especially scenic corner of the valley. Even though the vines had yet to leaf out, it was a beautiful place. One of the exclusive-to-REI highlights of the trip was to pedal up and speed down the gently rolling hills of the vineyard itself. It was a kick.
Interesting Wine Tidbit #2: "Toasted heads" refers to the seasoned tops of the oak barrels using in the aging process. It's another important subtlety, or so I was told.
After a short downhill ride, our final stop was for lunch and more tastings at the Keyways Vineyard & Winery. It was mid-afternoon by now, and this stop had more of a party atmosphere than the other wineries. It was all smiles and fun though, and it appeared that a good time was being had by all of their guests. And why not?
Interesting Wine Tidbit #3: Once the "buds break" in spring, the shoots of a grape plant can grow up to 2" per day (wow) before the growth settles down.
All in all, it was not bad for an inaugural trip. Eric and Shawna headed back to finish their camping trip on the coast. The "second Eric" bought a bottle of a port wine that he fancied. Rodrigo was already considering his next outing with Outdoor School, possibly later in the wine season.
The manager of the REI Outdoor School for the LA area, Scott Ammons, tells me that they're always looking for new ways to get folks to have fun in the outdoors. This explains a groundbreaking trip such as winery touring by bike. To find opportunities in your neck of the woods, visit REI.com/learn.
What about you? What kind of trips would you be interested in taking?
Below: Group shot with Leoness Cellars vineyard behind us.