Winetasting by bicycle during the harvest may look idyllic in a travel brochure, but the reality can be harrowing, at least for new riders and sometimes-cyclists unaccustomed to having trucks, tractors and—yikes, wine tasters!—whizz by their elbow.
While proposed bike paths through the Napa and Sonoma valleys are just getting started, we've already got an unofficial wine trail that runs, mostly off-street, through the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA: the West County Regional Trail, where the cool, riparian smell of blackberry bushes along Atascadero Creek preps the nose for teasing out the aromatics of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
From Mill Station Road to Forestville, the trail runs just over five and a half miles; for shorter trips, there is trail access and parking at Graton Road and Ross Station Road. Even before the trail picks up again at Occidental Road, there's a winetasting opportunity a brief jog down Barlow Lane, at Taft Street, an old favorite. In downtown Graton, Paul Mathew Vineyards hangs a sign a few spins of the wheel from the trail.
Here, co-owner Barb Gustafson confirms that many of her visitors say they'd like to bike from winery to winery, but they're not comfortable with the highway traffic. She's thinking of putting together a map of wineries along the trail. Paul Mathew's 2014 Russian River Valley Gewürztraminer ($20) is spicy and floral, but this Gewürz finishes dry and refreshing. Rest up for the next leg on cushioned benches in this spacious tasting room.
Further on, a sign invites a detour to the new kid on the block, Ektimo Vineyards, at the former Cahill Winery. At Ross Station Road, don't miss the turn where the trail picks up again—or go ahead and turn the other way: if you can climb a little hill, sparkling wine and a great view from Iron Horse Vineyards will be your reward. There's more encouragement for the wine-seeking wayfarer at Russian River Vineyards and Corks Restaurant, where an unlocked gate and big, purple banner all but shout, "Secret entrance here!" A well-worn path leads through the vineyard to the iconic, hop kiln–style winery.
In Forestville, lock up to a proper bike rack right in front of Wine Guerrilla, specialists in big, brambleberry-fruited Zinfandel. Up the street, there's rustic-chic new Joseph Jewell.
A well-timed afternoon round trip ends at Sebastopol's Barlow, where tasting rooms are open past 5pm. Wind Gap is all the buzz with their obscure, concrete-fermented varietals like Trousseau Gris ($7 glass; $28 bottle), with a shy aroma, but a finish that can go for miles.