A few years back, the best way to travel around Napa or Sonoma counties while wine tasting was in a rented stretch limo. However, with savvy travelers yearning for more unique and healthful experiences, the transportation method of choice is the bicycle these days. Want to experience the best of Wine Country by bike? Here, we breakdown a journey through Sonoma to some of the region’s most illustrious wineries.
Start your journey by booking a room at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. Perfectly situated amongst the vines, this picturesque property gets you in the mood for all the movement to come with a sweat-inducing itinerary that includes everything from yoga in the mineral water pool to tennis lessons and Pilates.
Once your bags are comfortably stowed in your room, get the Fairmont’s concierge to connect you to Sonoma Adventures, a great mobile bike, segway and vehicle rental company that will drop your wheels off in front of the hotel. The company offers all sorts of tours, but we think a trip through the valley is the way to go.
After you’ve familiarized yourself with your bike, head north to your first stop of the day, Hamel Family Wines. Hamel, which started producing wine in 2006 and opened its stunning new tasting room a year ago, is a 100-percent organic and biodynamic vineyards. George Hamel Jr. and his sons, John and George III, are the ones ensuring that things go well with the grapes. Additionally, both Georges are biking enthusiasts who greet you with a friendly smile and provide as much insight on area routes as possible. “Sonoma is a cycler’s paradise,” Hamel Jr. says before mentioning how his commitment to the cause is so strong that he offered up a part of the property to be used for a scenic bike path through Sonoma.
Back inside, you’ll find the Hamel Family tasting room to be incredible; it’s an indoor-outdoor space with a massive stone fountain, wide umbrellas, lounges, tables and plush seating. The space is keenly decorated, but its architecture is nearly as notable. The Hamels made sure that each room’s rectangular windows frame the outside view as if they were pieces of art.
Like the vistas, the vino is exceptional — especially for a lesser-known, younger producer. The 2014 sauvignon blanc is tropical and smooth while the red blends, especially the 2012 Isthmus, are full-bodied and delightful on the palette. There’s a playfulness to the sips, much like everything else about Hamel. This family doesn’t take itself too seriously and it has an awesome time doing what they do. The sentiment is contagious, so it’s hard to pedal away from here without having a wide smile on your face.
But alas, you are on a bike tour and your next stop is a bit of a trek away. This time, you’re headed to the other side of the Sonoma Square, nearly 10 miles, to Scribe, a winery that pours a completely polarizing experience from the one you just finished. Scribe is a rebellious little outfit run by brothers Andrew and Adam Mariani, the reigning princes of the Sonoma wine scene. Their tasting room is just that — a small spot on the bottom floor of an old hacienda where the bearded and braided staff handles the incoming crowds. A dozen or so picnic tables dot the landscape in front of the tasting room and Edison light bulbs hang from the trees. Scribe is known for its lively quarterly parties for wine club members and, of course, its bottles. On a recent visit, four current releases were sampled, but the stand-outs were a lovely dry Riesling; a wildly good, almost-orange skin-fermented chardonnay; and an unfiltered-yet-versatile pinot noir. Since Scribe values pairing food and wine, too, each tasting involves a small wooden plate of seasonal eats like local dry jack cheese, miniature apricots, nuts and cucumbers grown on site.
Your next station is just a 10-minute ride to the winery Gundlach Bundschu, the oldest family-owned winery in California. (But be warned, there is a long hill that leads up to the address.) If you’re planning ahead, it’s best to make a reservation for an outdoor table overlooking the lake; it’s the ideal spot to savor a picnic lunch. However, drop-ins are welcome in the tasting room, which is generally packed on weekends. Elbow your way to a spot at the bar and you won’t be disappointed. There you’ll find the reasons why Gun Bun has been in business since 1858: the selections are lovely (the refreshingly dry rosé, the elegant and jammy Tempranillo); the staff is warm and knowledgeable; and the space is eclectic with cement floors and walls that are covered in family artifacts.
The final stop on your whirlwind wine trek is 15 minutes away at the refined Patz & Hall winery. The new tasting facility, The Sonoma House, opened in January 2014. The sparkling building comes to life with slate and sage touches, charming artwork, and plenty of spaces for savoring wine while staring out at the just-planted vines. Patz & Hall was founded in 1988 as a sort of experiment among friends Donald Patz, James Hall, Anne Moses and Heather Patz. According to Donald, they “never imagined we’d be this fortunate.” You might feel similarly after you try seven different wines with small gluten-free bites by a local chef. The brut sparkler is toasty with a welcomed lingering finish and the Hudson Vineyard chardonnay is a classic, tongue-tingling glass. Patz & Hall specializes in chards and pinot noirs that they strive to make as well-rounded as possible. Adds Patz, “A great wine tastes great whenever you taste them.” Even after a long day of bike tastings.