Syrah license plateby Lisa RichardsonPhotos by: John Murphy, James and Lisa RichardsonAn exhilarating adventure is akin to these tasting notes: Balboa Winery, 2009 Reserve, Columbia Valley, Eidolon, Candy Mountain and Pepper Bridge Vineyards — 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 10% Malbec, and 10% Petit Verdot. Aromas of apple peel, cherry compote and leather. Flavors of dark cherries, blackberries, and vanilla.

Consider this: Classic Six Day Bicycling Tour, Washington Wine Country: Seattle to Yakima and Walla Walla Valley Vineyards — 40% cycling the great Northwest, 25% locally-sourced food and wine, 25% camaraderie, 10% imagination.  Aromas of crushed grapes, freshly harvested wheat, pears. Flavors of exhilaration, laughter.

Two guides deftly maneuvered the fifteen passenger van and trailer brimming with bicycles to collect eleven passengers in Seattle. Our bags secured, equipment dispensed and checked, we were off, skirting through the city, a “WA Wines Day 1” route visible in the plastic pouch on our handlebars.

THE RIDE
“Follow the blue skies,” called a rider in front. The introductory leg was an opportunity to become one with the bicycle, make adjustments, and check out central Seattle. Under the Space Needle, we paused to look up at the one-of-a-kind structure.  Zig-zagging through funky Fremont to Lake Union, we popped onto the Burke-Gilman trail in West Seattle. Our senses were jolted by the fresh Northwest. Lush growth on the meandering path hinted of autumn’s changing hues.

bikes_fenceAt our seventeen mile point, a gentle rain demanded our attention and spared no one. Our cheerful hosts greeted us with big towels and our first tasting at Novelty Hill Januik winery in Woodinville [ed. Note: Novelty Hill and Januik are independent wineries under one roof].

Locally-foraged golden Chanterelle mushrooms on our pizza made for good munching while the grape crush progressed before our eyes. The winery was bustling and the pourers friendly. Mike Januik, now in his thirtieth vintage, has earned access to exclusive grapes in Ciel du Cheval, Champoux, and Bacchus in southeastern Washington.

Later, the Januik 2010 Weinbau Vineyard Cabernet Franc was a treat with local plums and apples as we warmed by the fire in our lodging at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, in the heart of the Cascades.

EAST OF THE CASCADES
Yakima, WA is home to a lava flow exceeding 200,000 square feet, with depth to 10,000 feet, according to our guides on the route.

East of the Cascades

East of the Cascades

Day 2 featured an optional forty-mile ride in the early morning. The remaining riders took in oversized hanging flowers, wide porches, and tire swings in farm country from a seat in the van to the start of our route in Yakima Canyon.

Sharply angled slopes and sunshine shooting through basalt formations followed as we geared down on challenging inclines. The descents were a blast. Railroad tracks marched alongside. Three deer sipped at the river’s edge. A huge peace sign adorned the canyon walls.

Our group bonded by the second day. Personalities and stories surfaced. We were among experienced bikers and some wine zealots. How appealing.

“The lollipop route” sounded so benign. We did our best to conquer the Young Grade incline on the AM ride on Day 3. Today, the novice comprehended the guide sheets: 16.7 miles; increasing elevation, to max 11% incline = physical challenge. But huge Bartletts and ruby red apples were close enough to touch and smell as I climbed by in “granny gear”. And applause at the finish was sweet.

In the afternoon, valley views and an invigorating descent brought the twelve of us to gentler undulating country roads as we circled around that “lollipop.” Back on the bike path, returning opposite the way we’d come, we enjoyed different perspectives.

At Birchfield Manor in Yakima, our destination for two nights, Steve presented our group with a wine tasting and instruction par excellence, citing 780 licensed vineyards in the state. More tempting group wine tastings were held at Windy Point Vineyards and Gilbert Cellars.

THE FUEL
“Eat like Bears,” one guest sagely suggested, praising the superb salmon and berries. For breakfast, berry jam, homemade granolas, yogurt, and egg white scramble with smoked salmon and baby spinach left us sated. Lunches on the way were fresh and balanced creations of our multi-talented guides, served in the great outdoors in a circle, on a picnic table or on a deck at a winery. After the bicycle roundtablerides, it was time to enjoy a local Moose Drool brown ale. In the evenings, our group of thirteen came together for abundant fine food, wine and sparring, at a long table over three plus hours.

One evening in Walla Walla, we found Brasserie Four, recommended by Jan from TERO Estates Winery and The Marc’s executive chef, Antonio. The moules and frites and Charles Smith Boom Boom! Syrah were scrumptious. We loved being joined by the couple from Connecticut sharing our adventure.

THE NEXT LEG
“Day 4: Transfer Day of Fun”: The territory from Yakima to Walla Walla was covered by van. Our bodies relished the break from the bike. Todd handily provided a group wine tasting at l’Ecole No 41 Winery. From the French word meaning school, this converted 1915 schoolhouse quarters the third winery established in Walla Walla valley.
At the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla, we were given options for the afternoon: biking the wheat fields or exploring on foot. Easy decision. Peeking over our glasses from our wonderful tasting at TERO Estates, we witnessed a downpour. Later, some had stories of the flash flood and a kind woman who saved the day.

BEST OF THE BEST
bicycling by wheatDay 5 satisfied mind and body. Through dramatically illuminated wheat fields, vineyards and orchards, we biked, soaking up the rich panorama of rolling hills. We were eyed by llamas, Black Angus, goats, and sheep under mostly sunny, windless skies. Even the street signs amused at the intersection of Last Chance and Frog Hollow Roads.

At Pepper Bridge Winery, after a group tasting and luncheon overlooking the vines, we departed for independent wine tasting and cycling in Walla Walla. Our route was mapped with potential winery stops. Deviation was encouraged. Balboa Winery and tasting room manager Becca so impressed us that we joined their Ringside Club. Bonus: our guide offered to transport our wine so we could resume the ride.

 

There was that euphoria again. Was it the pleasure of pedaling, the countryside, the company, or the wine?

“IT’S NOT A BAIL; IT’S A BOOST.”

wine tastingThe sun emerged from dark clouds for an auspicious start on a chilly Day 6. As we loped across asphalt roads among rolling hills of wheat, corn and alfalfa, we were a spirited bunch. Tractors and other farm equipment enhanced our ride, as did fluffy sheep, more Angus, horses and more incredible lighting effects. The sky changed. Cross and headwinds pressed against our advances. We succumbed to quartering wind and took advantage of the van boost. A little guilty disappointment but much relief followed. Others took the boost 25 miles down the road. Half the group pushed on doggedly to finish the route.  I admire their resolve and stamina.

THE COUNT
My cyclometer logged in excess of 150 miles over five days. The experienced riders probably hit 230. We felt in the company of legends!

Our guides and fellow riders were terrific companions. From different walks of life, we came together in pursuit of an inimitable adventure: cycling, new vistas, the glorious grape and fun. Such a delicious balance!

 

IF YOU GO:
Bicycle Adventures has innovative cycling trips in the US, Canada and New Zealand.www.bicycleadventures.com.
Choose your skill level, duration and destination. Toll-free: 800.443.6060 | direct: 425.250.5542

Alaska Airlines waives tasting fees at participating wineries and offers free shipping for one case of WA wine per boarding pass from Yakima, Tri-Cities/Pasco or Walla Walla Airports. Visit tasteandtote.com.

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