Thursday, May 16, 2013

Biking & Wine

There are hundreds of fine bicycle tours through California wine country.  Some are organized; some, like ours are spur of the moment, seat of the pants tours.  Nori suggested riding the roads from Solvang to Los Olivos, so we squeezed our bikes into the back of her Volvo and headed up Hwy 154 from Santa Barbara to Solvang.  The coastal ecology changed radically as we powered up the curves out of Santa Barbara.  Looking back on the red tile roofs, whitewashed adobe, and misty ocean, I noticed how quickly the climate and vegetation changed to the tinder-dry grass and shrubs of the inland.  I remembered reading E.O. Wilson's "Biodiversity".  He told that the most threatened ecosystems in the world were those along the California coastline.  Almost every plant is an exotic brought from Africa, Asia, and beyond. The local plants are almost all gone.

It was a chilly 54 degrees, so we walked around the little Danish-motif town like tourists, peering into a dozen stores: pastries, bamboo clothing, antiques, restaurants...  I'd lived in resort towns and national parks most of my life, so it seemed a bit too much for me, but fun for a tourist.

Once on the bikes we pedaled up towards Los Olivos into the heart of the wine country. 

Or should I say, wine tasting country.  Every driveway we passed advertised wine tasting.  Once in the little town we tied our bikes to a sign and walked the streets.  Almost every store, home, or building had been converted into a wine-tasting bar. 

Nori strolls by the Byron tasting room

A well-fed calico cat soaks up the sun in the window
We popped our heads in several small shops but decided riding a bike on the highway while tipsy might not be the best idea.  However we noticed a number of gold medals hanging on one shop, so we decided to do a 3-wine tasting at Daniel Gehrs.  The proprietor poured three whites: The Chardonnay was delicious, and as I sipped the drops, the fellow explained that Mr. Gehrs ferments the grapes in stainless steel vats, not in oak barrels, so the taste is clean and bright.  Thinking back on my beloved Bordeaux wines, I'm probably a romantic who cherishes the subtle flavors of the oak.  Wine should have heart and soul, a bit of magic, so the chemically pure taste seemed to be missing something.  He described the Chenin Blanc as "buttery", and I agreed.  It swirled in my mouth not unlike a fine olive oil.  We learned that Gehrs does not own any vineyards but buys the grapes and makes boutique wines.  Not sure what to make of this, I lifted the Riesling to my lips.  Much sweeter, like the German wines I love.  If I want a Riesling, I always buy the German ones, but this gave me a very sharp, clean vision of a fine wine.  We left the shop after about an ounce of wine and didn't feel a thing.  Perfect!

On around the block to a little nursery and yard ornament shop, full of Buddhas, ferns, flowers, vases, and odd stuff that I'd be unlikely to find anywhere else.  The over-stuffed clutter gave me some ideas for landscaping my new yard. 

Right now it's mostly mud and weeds, no lawn, no grass, and a pile of sandstone rocks the builder left in the front yard.  I've been thinking of making them into a fountain for the birds.  However, I couldn't see a contemplating Buddha staring up my walk.

We took off out of town on the bikes, rode on some backroads, then down into Solvang.  I had originally thought of the bike ride as physical exercise, but up till now it had been a cultural experience.  With the breeze on my face and my leg muscles pumping, it felt good to be back on the bike and exercising.  I thought ahead to home and getting on my bike again now that spring had come to the Rockies.

Nori suggested we have lunch at the "Cold Spring Tavern", an old stage coach stop near the top of the pass.  She promised a beer, fine food, and another cultural experience.  Since 1865 The Cold Spring Tavern has been serving travelers over San Marcos pass.  It was on a little side road, originally the main road from Santa Barbara to the high country.  Huge trees shaded the tavern.  A busload of tourists stopped just as we did, so we sprinted for the door.  Just in time, since it closed at 3pm. 

One waitress did everything, and we were impressed at her efficiency.  She brought us a pile of home-made onion rings that Nori had recommended; then Nori ordered the salad, I opted for the hamburger and a pint of Hoppy Poppy IPA. 
By now we were the only people in the tavern, so I looked around a bit and took a few photos of the dusty old fireplace and memorabilia on the walls.

I managed to force down the entire burger, the large IPA, the onion rings, and a potato salad along with Nori's bread.  I waddled to the car and lapsed into a food coma as Nori drove down the hill to home. So much for a day of exercise on the bike.

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