You’d think wine country would be a place of rest. Maybe even some overindulgence. Then there’s Napa Valley, where rest and overindulgence are certainly allowed and encouraged, and where there’s also a winery founded and run by the Clifs, the same family behind the popular sports performance food brand Clif. The winery, Clif Family Winery just south of downtown St. Helena, welcomes everyone, but it is cyclists who flock there. Its tasting room is called Velo Vino and there, alongside wine and espresso, are branded bike shorts, jerseys and bottles. Staff can give recommendations for rides throughout the valley. Most of the people in the line at its food truck, Bruschetteria, sport spandex and bike shoes. “I know riders plan their route so that they hit the food truck when they’ve got about a quarter of their ride left,” says Thatcher Greene, a Calistoga Bikeshop rep who was born and raised in the valley. “They stop for some tasty bruschetta and a rest and then finish up.”
“The road riding here is world-class because you can be very selective with what kind of ride you want to do and there is so much scenery to see,” Greene says. “You can go out for a flat, mellow cruiser ride, or a 100-mile ride with climbs that have 20 percent grades. Add the great food and wine and amenities that come with being in a wine destination and you’ve got a five-star package.”
For a “mellow ride through pretty scenery on the most excellent shoulders in the valley” Greene recommends Silverado Trail. This road is home to dozens of wineries. Ride as long as you want—stopping at as many wineries as you want—and then turn around. “You can hop on this road anywhere in the valley,” he says.
Cyclists looking for a challenge should check in at Clif Family Winery or the Calistoga Bikeshop for details on riding the Oakville Grade to Dry Creek or Howell Mountain to Pope Valley. Both of these are loops with “good, solid climbs off the valley floor,” says Greene. Thankfully the 1,500-foot climb up Howell is slightly blunted by the scenery—the mountain is terraced with vineyards; grapes from Howell vines go into some of Napa’s best wines, including several of the Spire Collection’s seven Napa wineries. I love wine and cycling equally, but the high-speed, twisty descent through pine forest off the backside of Howell Mountain down into Pope Valley excited me more than any wine I’ve ever had, including the 2010 Dancing Hares cabernet blend (95 points from Wine Advocate) I enjoyed at the Michelin-starred Solbar at Solage Calistoga the evening after my ride.