Sojourn Bicycling :
Sonoma Coast, CA
Getting In The Saddle. Falling In Love With Cycling...
They say, "It's like riding a bike; once you learn--you never forget." So without a second thought, I signed up for Sojourn's cycling tour through Sonoma's wine country. Although it's been years since I've ridden miles at a time, pedaling through Northern California sounded intriguing. Biking, wine tasting, gourmet meals and luxurious accommodations--this trip sounded too good to be true. Ready and willing to embrace adventure, I was determined to go the distance.
After greeting my new cycling friends at the Santa Rosa Airport, we boarded a private shuttle bus and drove to Sbragia Winery. Here we met our guides, Cy (short for Cynthia) and Kurt. Busy amidst Cannondales, hybrids and a trailer loaded with gear, they introduced themselves and instructed us to claim our personalized water bottles and helmets. We assembled for a brief meeting and tried out our bikes before walking into the tasting room. The winery was bustling with activity on a busy harvest Sunday. A band played outside on the terrace and we gathered there, wine glasses in hand. I felt the first rush of excitement on my palate as I swirled and sipped a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Chefs cooked spicy paella in a huge pan over an open fire--simply gastronomical!
GETTING IN THE SADDLE
Back at base camp, Cy and Kurt handed us our "road map" for the next five days. Our first seventeen-mile ride through the Dry Creek Valley was about to begin. Encouraged to stop at wineries along the way, we carefully navigated our way down the hill to warm up. It wasn't long before I was in the "groove" of shifting gears and soon I was cruising along quiet roads, soaking up the sun on this Indian summer day. Roadside stands bearing local fruits and veggies beckoned and white picket "street signs" pointed the way to the wineries up ahead. My new friend Nancy and I pedaled to Ferrari Carano and then to the charming Bella Winery where we snacked on goat cheese "tartine" and reveled in the flavor profile of their Ten Acre Pinot Noir. I loved the 2009 vintage so much that I joined their wine club and anxiously await my first shipment.
The last hill of the day was biking up to the private entrance of the Madrona Manor. The grounds and this majestic estate (built in1879) were a time travel back to an era of Victorian elegance. The fountain, tiered gardens and sprawling front porch were a welcoming sights after a full day of cycling. It was comforting to know that the Manor would be our "home" for the next two nights and I looked forward to a soak in my tub before dressing for dinner. My comfy room was filled with antique furniture, wood burning fireplace and a gorgeous glass headboard that lit up like a Tiffany lamp. Two freshly baked chocolate chip cookies had been placed on my dressing table. Now that's what I call "turn down" service! Later, seated in the restaurant's private parlor, we were treated to a gourmet dinner of Yukon gold potato gnocchi followed by local duck breast served with apples and a sinful chocolate mousse bar accompanied with blueberry sorbet. Each course was perfectly paired with wine and dessert was served with a Dow's 20 year Tawny Port. Chef Jesse Mallgren and his team deserved a standing ovation for these culinary creations. Our meal, along with the wines and great conversation, was nothing short of spectacular.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH CYCLING...
After a blissful night's sleep, I woke at dawn and tiptoed to my balcony. The fog had not yet lifted from the vineyards below and the view was absolutely magical. I sat on my chaise lounge and took deep, meditative breaths and lingered there, transfixed. After dressing in layers of riding gear, I headed downstairs to the breakfast buffet. I helped myself to fresh fruit, a giant homemade popover and a slice of skillet frittata. I savored this bountiful breakfast guilt free knowing that I would burn all these calories on my ride today. Biking out of Healdsburg and into the Alexander Valley was exhilarating. Short climbs were well rewarded with the visual expanse of open fields, wooded hillsides and opulent vineyards. There are 160 wineries clustered here within a thirty-mile radius and it's no wonder that they call these valleys "heaven condensed." I certainly felt as though I was in heaven--it was oh so peaceful. I felt totally at one with my surroundings. Embracing the rhythm of my breathing as I pedaled was truly meditative; my senses were awakened in ways I could've never imagined.
It's amazing how cycling through wide-open country works up an appetite. Knowing that a picnic ....