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Biking the quieter wine valleys ... Alexander and Dry Creek.

Biking the quieter wine valleys . . . Alexander and Dry Creek

Quiet country roads winding past luxuriantvineyards, small wineries to tour, glimpses of Victorian farmhouse architecture, shady tables and grassy lawns for picnicking: what more could a springtime cyclist desire?

Ten years ago, you could bicycle theNapa or Sonoma Valley and encounter little in the way of serious motor traffic. Today, it's a different story: once-peaceful highways are jammed with cars from April through November.

But farther north, less-traveled roads leadthrough another wine-growing region-- the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys-- where the quiet rural setting still suits the pace of two-wheelers. Hub of the area is Healdsburg, on U.S. 101 about 75 miles north of San Francisco.

Bicycling is an ideal way to four the valleys'lanes. You pass slowly enough to see the vines' new growth; you come to know each stone in winery driveways; and you earn your tastings with a good workout.

Two dozen wineries, quiet roads

Last year, we scouted bike routes in thisregion, settling on a two-day tour with overnight R and R at a bed-and-breakfast inn. Our route consists of two loops (see map at right), covering a total of 53 miles. This is rolling countryside, challenging enough to give you a workout, interesting enough to be worth it. You needn't be a hard-core cyclist, but be ready to pedal hard at some points and make at least one steep descent.

On our trip, we stopped at seven wineriesfor a rest or a quick tour. As shown on the map, 24 wineries are open to the public. Some require an appointment to visit; others are open on a regular basis, usually 10 to 4 daily. You can plan stops at your own favorites with the help of the Russian River Wine Road map; for a free copy, send a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope to the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce, 217 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg 95448, or telephone (800) 648-9922.

Bike rentals, sag wagon, and B & Bs

In Healdsburg, the Spoke Folk Cyclery,249 Center Street, rents reconditioned 10-speeds for $15 a day, $25 for the weekend. Hours are 10 to 6 weekdays, 10 to 5 Saturdays. May through September, it's also open noon to 4 Sundays; the rest of the year, call 433-7171 to arrange Sunday rental returns.

In Santa Rosa, you can rent mountainand touring bikes for $15 a day from Pedal Pusher, 1599 Cleveland Avenue. Hours are 10 to 6 Tuesdays through Sundays; telephone 528-0461.

It's a good idea to arrange for a sagwagon--a companion vehicle with room for a weary rider and bicycle should the trip be more than you bargained for. It doubles as a porter for any purchases you make along the route. (Bicyclists who stop at wineries for just a rest and a taste may not get an enthusiastic welcome: the vintners' business is selling wine. Some charge $1 to $4 for tasting.)

Inns of the area begin to fill up in earlyspring; many have two-night minimums on weekends, so book ahead. If you want to "taste' a variety of inns, you'll need to book even further in advance. The Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce (address at left) can send you a list of overnight accommodations in the area.

A few notes of caution: Most of the roadsalong the route are narrow and shoulderless, so ride single-file and keep alert for cars and farm vehicles. Dry air and warm temperatures can be dehydrating; carry and drink plenty of water.

Day one: 30 miles (about 6 hours)

This route takes you past 15 wineries. Thetoughest but prettiest section is an 8 1/2-mile stretch on Chalk Hill Road. You'll pedal past small vineyards, grazing cattle, and an Arabian horse farm.

One option for lunch is the small cafe atPiper Sonoma; the box lunches often sell out by early afternoon, but you can call a day ahead (433-8843) to reserve one. Healdsburg also has several restaurants.

Day two: 23 miles (about 5 1/2 hours)

The north spur off this loop takes you overa steep, 1/2-mile hill on Canyon Road, but except for that, the route is mostly undulating country roads. There are no stores or services until you pass the Dry Creek General Store, at the corner of Dry Creek Road and Lambert Bridge Road, so plan ahead with snacks and water. On W. Dry Creek Road, you'll pass beautiful vineyards and farmyards blooming with wild-flowers, and you'll look toward the Mayacamas Mountains to the east.

Guided tours

If you haven't the time or the inclinationto plan your own trip, you can join a guided tour or have an expert chart a self-guided tour in the wine country. One guided tours, all the arrangements are taken care of, from lodging and equipment to roadside lunches served out of an accompanying sag wagon. The following companies offer tours to several wine-country destinations in the North Coast counties.

Backroads Bicycle Tours, Box 1626, SanLeandro 94577; (415) 895-1783. Two- to five-day trips, $300 to $700 per person.

California Bicycle Cruises, 1362 PacificAve., Suite 4, Santa Cruz 95060; (800) 222-0072. Seven-day trips covering the wine country, coast, and redwoods, $769.

One of a Kind Bicycle Tours, 484 LakePark Way, Suite 314, Oakland 94610; (415) 763-6231. This company will design an individual, self-guided route complete with marked maps, inn reservations, and designated rest stops. Fee is $15 to $80 (with prepaid lodging).

On the Loose Adventure Vacations, Box 55,Berkeley 94709; (415) 527-4005. Two- to seven-day trips from $270 to $800.

Photo: Pedaling past rows of vines in front of Geyserville's oldest winery, cyclists ride single-file back to main road

Photo: Lawn at Lambert Bridge Wineryfeels great after a few hours on a bicycle seat. Cycling shorts help; a brief rest helps more

Photo: Victorian bed-and-breakfastin Geyserville is within easy pedaling distance of both routes

Photo: Choose a 37-mile route (darktone) or 26-mile one (lighter tone), using point-to-point mileage to help plan rest stops, lunch breaks, winery visits

Photo: Once a stagecoach stop and dry goodsstore, Dry Creek General Store now sells sandwiches, salads, and cold drinks

Photo: A toast to hills climbed and lunch at hand takes place at Stemmler Winery, one of 17 wineries in area with picnic facilities (and the only one requiring reservations for picnic use)
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Title Annotation:California's wine valleys
Date:Apr 1, 1987
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