• On the Road with Dan

    March 15, 2018 11:58

    On the Road with Dan


    When we decided to describe another treasured local bike ride for our winery newsletter, I felt inspired (fueled by a fine glass of Pinot, along with a post ride high) to attempt a reflection on the nature of this connection—riding a bike and growing wine. You certainly don’t jump on the bike specifically to go check out vineyards (marketing rap aside) or even particularly to get exercise. You do it to pursue that cleansing and liberating feeling that comes from putting yourself out while absorbing the beauty, magnitude and personality of a place. Maybe it’s that absorption into the physical world, the blurring of the lines of self/other, the awareness of your limited control and power, and that pleasure/pain interface that starts to reveal the winemaking connection.

    1. You ride to feel the power of the earth interact with the little bit you call your own, and accept and enjoy how truly little it is—what could be more like wine production than that?
    2. You ride to feel, and make part of you, the changes in the terrain, the vegetation, the ground conditions and the micro weather conditions—there’s clearly the winegrowing connection there.
    3. You ride to find and feel the limits of your own abilities and control, appreciate what’s beyond them, and maybe even to get to know the pain that comes with finding that edge—I guess that relates to any endeavor, but certainly for working the edge in attempting to make great wine.
    4. You ride for the pure sensuality of the visuals, the aromas, the feel of the air against your skin, and the rush of movement—no need to explain the wine connection there.

    So, all cosmic noodlings aside, today’s ride is certainly one that will make you feel one with West County, or separated from your lunch, depending on your conditioning. It’s the classic King’s Ridge Loop, with a few optional variations thrown in. If biking and exertion isn’t your thing, then discover it with your Harley, Honda or Peterbuilt—it’s a memorable view of the best and wildest of the California coast.

    King’s Ridge is a sinuous, narrow ridge, the third in from the coast, which offers a great feel for the variation of climate from the Pacific to the inland valleys, as well as the wild ruggedness of this part of Sonoma County. The loop brings you from the deep valley of Austin Creek, up to the heat of King’s Ridge, down through the Gualala River valley, and up to the coastal, and far colder, Seaview Ridge. Or for the truly fit (or masochistic) out to the cold coast itself and back up and over Seaview Ridge on the gnarly Fort Ross climb.

    There are many variations on this ride, but to get right to the heart of it you can start in the beautiful little berg of Cazadero, situated in the redwood forests along Austin Creek. The minimum distance is about 40 miles, and elevation gain about 4,000 ft. overall. To bring the classic more toward epic, you can start in Occidental and add about 25 miles and a bit more climbing. Be sure to stop at the killer bakery just south of Caz for some home baked bread and coffee.


    We start at Dutton Ranch, then head west on Graton Road, passing Rued Vineyard on the right. We start climbing for a few miles before going over the ridge and turning left on Bohemian Highway to the scenic little town of Occidental—highlight: West Pole Cafe, owned by the mythic Tom "Snappy" Gonnella.

    The cafe is the reincarnation of Gianni Bike Shop, which Tom tore down to build a restaurant because the bike shop didn't lose enough money— next thing you know he'll be building a winery!

    Make the right up Coleman Valley Road and immediately start climbing (hill #2 of 6) out of town to great views to the north and east of all of western Sonoma County, Mt. St. Helena and the Santa Rosa Plain. We head into the redwoods and get a sinuous downhill before we start the next steep ascent of the coastal ridge. This is a good place to have a friend next to you to take your mind off the climb, or to have a good version of Terrapin Station playing on the MP3.

    We crest out at about 1,100 ft., the ocean spread out before you, the mouth of the Russian River to the north, and Bodega Head to the south. After paralleling the coastline, often with wicked winds blowing from the west, we hit the edge of the ridge and drop like a rock to the coast; steep descent, sharp curves, and awesome scenery, but you better keep your eyes on the road so you don’t launch into the ocean.

    At the Coast Highway we hang a left and spend just a few miles along the water, then head back into the hills on Bay Hill Road, another steep but not too long climb, Bodega Bay directly behind you, pasture ahead, and huge Eucalyptus lining the road. We crest over the top of Bay Hill to another killer descent back down to Rt. 1—awesome downhill, but too many potholes to really let loose. Left onto 1, then another left back inland on Bodega Highway in just a mile or so.

    We now roll through the picturesque town of Bodega and the open coastal hills in the Petaluma Wind Gap. If we went straight it would be a fairly flat ride all the way back to Sebastopol—Freestone Hill Vineyard is just about 2 miles up—but we don't want that, so just past Bodega we hang a left on the lightly traveled Joy Road (whoever named it Joy was going the other way) and start climbing again.

    This is the climb that hurts—not because it's so mean (ok, maybe it is), but because you've already done 4 good ones before it. After a few nasty but beautiful redwood-studded miles, we roll over Taylor Ridge and make a right on Bittner Road for a rolling, shaded downhill back into Occidental, climbing back up Occidental Road, over Stoetz Ridge and return to the Green Valley side of the hill.

    Now we get back into vineyard land, and views to the east. We crest Occidental Road, descend a bit, peel off on Cherry Ridge Road, and do a beautiful big ring climb up to Grand View Road (on the corner is the new Dutton-Goldfield Syrah vineyard), descend down past Galante Vineyard on the left, then dead end at Mill Station Road. Make a left, cross Occidental again, and continue up to Graton Road. A left will bring us back to Dutton Ranch in under a mile, beat and ready for a few beers.