The Wholistic Approach to Wine Country Bike Tours
Wholistic refers to the idea or philosophy that all parts of a thing are interconnected, with a focus on complete systems rather than simply upon individual parts. At Sojourn, we pride ourselves on the wholistic consideration that drives the creation of our tours. The time you spend with us isn’t just about the biking, or the scenery, or the places you visit – it’s bigger than that. Your time with us is a wholistic experience, mindfully crafted by Sojourn staff, designed to transcend typical active vacations and deliver on our promise of “The Good Life, By Bike.”
There is perhaps no better showcase for this wholistic approach than our wine country bike tours. Whether you travel with us through the well-known appellations in California’s Sonoma County, or to the distinctive microclimate of Canada’s Niagara Escarpment (a ridge carved by ancient glaciers) that supports Ontario, Canada’s most active wine region, you can expect a luscious fusion of cycling, culinary delight, and vinous exploration.
Sonoma Wine Country
With more than 425 wineries, miles of rugged coastline, and breathtaking redwood forests, Sonoma County represents the best of Northern California — premium wines, farm-to-table dining options, unique resorts and spas, and dozens of state and regional parks.
While it’s not one of our “official” stops on our Sonoma Wine Country bike tour, we always encourage guests to visit Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves. Winding your way to the quiet end of West Dry Creek Road brings you to this unconventional spot, providing an opportunity to gaze back over the vast fields of grapevines nestled into the landscape abutting Dry Creek. First, in their tasting room with a selection of white wines for consideration, and then in the unique wine caves where an array of red wines are available to taste, a visit to Bella gives you a delightful glimpse into the unique character of this region. Grape vines completely cover the hill that shelter the cave; beneath the sprawling vines in the cool, low light of the cave’s interior Bella’s Zinfandels take center stage. Bella is one of the first stops guests might opt to make on the inaugural day of this tour. When you visit, stop for a moment and take in the scene. Smell the fragrance on the breeze. Taste and enjoy the wines that originate right there. This is what you came for.
A few days later, as you pedal down California’s coastline on the renowned Highway One, consider how much your surroundings have changed. The rolling hills of the vineyard valleys have given way to the rugged coastline and sound of the crashing surf. Do you taste the saltiness in the air, and relish the warm sun on your face? Once, as we spun our way toward Bodega Bay along this route, a guest exclaimed to me, “My face hurts, I’ve been smiling so hard.”
It’s that buoyant feeling that floats you into Bodega Bay Lodge. From its coastal perch, the Lodge offers unparalleled views of the Bay, Bodega Head, and the Pacific Ocean. The sun sets slowly over the tide pools and marshes that adjoin the spot, affording breathtaking western views and opportunities to view the myriad waterfowl that make their home here. Walking the manicured grounds of the Lodge, between the guest rooms and the property’s many onsite amenities, it’s hard not to have a feeling of restfulness and contentment here on the edge of the continent. In the morning, a short walk down to Doran Beach affords you the feeling of sand between your toes and the sights of pink, high clouds as the sun returns in the east. From our wholistic viewpoint, it’s not just the ultra-comfortable king bed, the award-winning restaurant, or the heated pool and whirlpool spa; it’s a combined experience of the sun and surf, the food and wine, the rides and rest. It’s no wonder we stay here for two nights.
When it comes time to depart the coast, and start our trek back inland, a day of riding through the coastal farmland provides a glimpse into yet another landscape and microclimate. Cattle lazily grazing, goats and sheep dotting the hillsides, and a stop at the Tomales Bakery capture the rustic charm of this part of Marin County perfectly. The bakery’s pizzettes – oh my!!! Enough said.
Pedaling our way up to the bohemian enclave of Occidental, we look forward to winding down our Sonoma Wine Country bike tour at the recently-opened Hazel Restaurant. Husband and wife team Jim & Michele Wimborough spent 15 years cooking in kitchens around the Bay Area before moving to Occidental to create Hazel. With a strong commitment to using local, seasonal and sustainable produce, meats, and fish, the restaurant features two wood-fired ovens that drive the ever-changing menu. Jim uses his many years of experience working with live fire to make rustic, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. Michele’s expertise and love of pastry lies in making all kinds of sweets including fresh fruit shortcakes, creamy pot de crème, decadent sundaes, and a large variety of cookies and cakes. The menu changes seasonally, but some of our guests’ favorites have been the fried Brussels sprouts, the corn pizza, and the Branzino (European sea bass). Not too long ago, we shared this wonderful online write-up about Hazel through our social media outlets, and our guests’ comments confirm it: “The corn pizza is truly to die for” – “The meal we had there was fabulous” – and, our favorite, “Crazy good food!”
It’s not one place, or one ride, or one meal that will define your Sojourn adventure along the Sonoma coast in California. When you think back to each of these parts, it will remind you what you felt as part of the whole.
Canada-Niagara Wine Country
Mention “Niagara” and most folks probably conjure up visions of the iconic falls – and then, unfortunately, stop right there. In reality, this charming and unforgettable destination offers much, much more, boasting a burgeoning culinary scene and a landscape of vineyards and orchards stretching across the countryside. Canada’s Southern Ontario is in roughly the same latitude as southern France (Provence and the Languedoc) and Ontario vineyards and wineries produce world-class wines in the table wine, Icewine, and sparkling wine categories. With few hills to be found, cycling here is as laid-back and approachable as the friendly Canadians who welcome you to the region. In truth, it is the perfect location for a wine country bike tour.
To be clear, there’s no glossing over the fabled landmark. A ride along the Niagara River Recreation Trail kicks off this Sojourn excursion with a terminus overlooking the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. During the ride, excitement builds as the river widens and roiling rapids begin to appear. Ahead, clouds of mist mark the nearly 200′ drop over Horseshoe Falls that stretches a half a mile in width as it thunders over the escarpment. The beautiful park overlooking the falls offers the perfect spot to relax and contemplate the power of this natural wonder. Following your visit to the falls, a short transfer brings you to the charming wine country town of Jordan, and your first of two nights at the Inn on the Twenty.
As a pioneer of regionally-focused cuisine, the highly regarded Inn on the Twenty Restaurant (also known as “On the Twenty”) continually delights guests with delicious farm-to-table creations that help contextualize Niagara wines with regional cuisine – what the restaurant calls “an easy task, with the bounty of Niagara all around us for inspiration.” Their goal is to make seasonally-responsive, innovative dishes that complement regional wines and leave guests with a completely refreshed understanding of the Niagara peninsula. Your introduction to this bountiful region begins in Cave Spring Cellars, the respected winery owned by the Inn on the Twenty and the restaurant that bears its name. Savor a glass of their renowned Riesling in the wine cellar before dining overlooking the Twenty Valley and the property’s lush perennial garden. With an interior backdrop of fine Ontario art, the restaurant conveys an elegant, yet still casual feel. On the Twenty staff love food and wine, and love to talk about it, too! These knowledgeable ambassadors for the region are one of the many reasons why we consider the Inn on the Twenty an integral and beautiful part of Sojourn’s Niagara wine country tour.
Of the vineyards and wineries you might visit in the region, Stratus is among the most extraordinary. Stratus Vineyards sits on 62 acres near the southeastern border of the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation, and shares the benefits of the region with its neighbors, while enjoying advantages that are uniquely its own. That is to say: the vineyard is distant enough from Lake Ontario to grow grape varieties that need warmer temperatures in the summer, while simultaneously in close enough proximity to the lake to protect vines from early autumn frosts. Constructed in 2005, the “cozy but cool” tasting room is part of what Stratus may boast as Canada’s first LEED-certified building, and serves as a chic spot to sample from eleven varieties of red and seven varieties of white. In describing themselves, Stratus writes “the winery, like our signature assemblage wines, is a composition – a whole greater than the sum of its parts. On their own, the individual elements are distinctly unique – a diversely planted vineyard with unusually rich soil; a sustainable facility that unites tradition and science to serve the winemaker’s art; and a retail gallery with adjoining tasting rooms that are both chic and welcoming. Working together, they create wines and experiences that are truly memorable.” Undoubtedly it’s this connection to a wholistic approach that first drew us to them.
Perhaps a recent guest’s description of her experience best captures the flavor of our Niagara-Canada wine country tour:
“This trip exceeded my expectations! The beauty of the area; riding on small, very good roads with almost no traffic, or on the bike paths; riding bicycles along the Niagara River to the Niagara Falls; outstanding Canadian wineries and wine that we haven’t even heard about before; charming towns and inns; very friendly Canadian people; and of course Sojourn guides are people that are hard to say goodbye to. Even though this tour is rated as “easier” I would recommend it to any level of cyclist.”
I opened this post by defining wholistic as interconnection that creates a whole experience. That’s true of our trips, but it also applies to you, our guests. The people you meet, the laughter you share, the new friendships you create – these are some of the most memorable parts of your Sojourn experience. Please come join us for one of our exceptional wine country bike tours.
Sojourn is a boutique tour operator offering bicycling and active vacations in the US and Canada. Based in Charlotte, Vermont, Sojourn is known for its one-of-a-kind itineraries, exceptional tour leaders, and personalized service. Jim Beebe-Woodard is Sojourn’s Tour & Operations Manager.