Divine Daytripper Freelance Travel Writer


Ride, Wine & Dine: Biking Napa’s Wine Country
by Ingrid Hart

Koleen is ready for a bike ride in the cold


In my mind, bike riding and wine tasting don’t really mix. Kind of like peanut butter and banana sandwiches, it’s an odd pairing. However, I’m always willing to try anything once. So here I am on a winter’s day, sitting on a touring bike with a wide, comfortable seat, riding past boutique vineyards in Napa Valley’s wine country. It’s a cool 45 degrees, my nose is running, my ears are freezing, and I am bitter with envy as my friend Koleen rides in comfort with her wool gloves and thermal head band. I mock her preparation skills—Ms. iPod, she’s probably wearing thermal underwear, too. Still, I get over myself long enough to marvel at the stark beauty of the dormant winter vines. I promise myself to come back here in early spring when the mustard blooms and the temperature is mild. Or maybe during fall harvest, when I can pluck a juicy grape off the vine as I whiz by on my bike, wearing nothing more than a flowing skirt, a skimpy t-shirt, and, of course, my trusty helmet.

Leading us on this survival challenge is Nick Wierzba of Napa Valley Bike Tours. Nick tells me his love of wine and passion for biking is a good fit. “The people I guide on bikes are on vacation, they are already happy, and it’s fun to show my backyard to everyone.” Nick’s “backyard” includes hidden wineries that a visitor might not otherwise discover.

Nick Wierzba of Napa Valley Bike Tours

Chef Percy Whatley
Viewing art at the hip and tony Clif Lede Winery

“Biking is a good way to see the Napa Valley,” says Nick. “If you’re in a limo or car, the vineyards look like corn rows.” I ask Nick what the policy is on drinking and biking. “We cycle an average of four miles between each wine tasting. It gives people time to burn off alcohol—we’ve had zero accidents related to people being drunk.”

I actually like the thought of being drunk on my bike—might take the edge off of our chilly winter’s afternoon cycling adventure, which thankfully is only two hours long. We stopped and imbibed at the hip and tony Cliff Lede (pronounced Cliff Lady), a 60-acre winery set in the Stags’ Leap District. This quintessential Napa Valley winery’s got it all: indoor art gallery, outdoor sculptures, state of the art gravity-flow conical tanks, and acres of hidden caves filled with single-layer barrel storage. Owner Cliff Lede, who acquired the property in 2002, put some serious coin into this bucolic slice of heaven. Repeat after me: swank-tastic. I recommend their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (15.2 percent alcohol content—yum!), which conjures exotic spices, old leather, and new money—a winning Napa Valley combination.

Alas, it is time to get back in the saddle, and continue this unique two-wheeled adventure. By the time we get back to our hotel, I discover that bike riding and wine tasting do mix after all. My suggestion is to wait until warmer weather prevails when it's enjoyable rather than just endurable. Next time I’ll tear a page out of Koleen’s Girl Scout book and be prepared—Sunscreen and Chardonnay anyone?