Russian River Valley Wine Tasting by Bike Path, Take the Kids too!

Before kids, our favorite wine tasting adventure was to rent a tandem bike at Spoke Folk Cyclery (201 Center St, Healdsburg) in Healdsburg and ride out on West Dry Creek Road and return by East Dry Creek Road. We always started with the west side because the narrow road with no shoulder didn’t leave much room for our fellow wine tasters to drive their cars in the afternoon after a few wineries.

Wine tasting by bicycle is great but wine tasting by bike-path without worrying about fellow winetasters behind the wheel of cars is fantastic. This itinerary makes for a perfect family winetasting trip so bring the kids.

10:00 am Breakfast Treats

Sleep in, this adventure starts with a late morning breakfast at Forestville’s favorite wood fired bakery, Nightingale Breads (6665 Front St, Forestville). Sonoma County takes its bread very seriously with passionate followers willing to trek out to Freestone for famous Wild Flour Bread (140 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone). Luckily, Nightingale is just as good and way more accessible in downtown Forestville. Your best bet for breakfast is to grab a cinnamon roll or one of their seasonal quick breads (scones coming soon) and head across the street to Roasters Espresso Bar (6656 Front St, Forestville) to pickup a cappuccino. Neither establishment has much in the way of seating which is just fine because right next door is the West County Regional Trailhead park which has picnic tables under an oak leaf canopy.

Strangely, despite its name, the West County Regional Trail Park doesn’t actually connect to the trail. There is a well worn dirt path heading south out of the park that connects up to the paved multi-use trail a few blocks over at Pajarro Lane. Either here at the park or at the end of Pajarro Lane are good places to leave you car. But don’t miss the great wineries right here in Forestville first.

11:00 am Wine Tasting in Forestville

Ease into your wine tasting day with Wine Guerrilla (6671 Front St, Forestville) which is a few doors down from Nightingale. Of the three main wineries in town, Wine Guerrilla is the most playful with our favorite takeaway being their small can 4-packs of  “Rebel De La Maree” Verdehlo and Rosé of Zinfandel. They make perfect picnic wines to go with your Family Adventure Day in Guerneville or as your Floating the Russian River refreshments. If you brought the whole family, the kids will be entertained by the vibrant art and decorations.

For a more traditionally refined approach to wine tasting, both Jigar Wines (6615 Front St, Forestville) and Joseph Jewell (6542 Front St, Forestville) are on the next block. Be sure to clarify whether it is pronounced like “cigar” or more like the “jigger” the bartender uses.

12:00 pm Wine Tasting by Bike

The West County Regional Trail (WCR Trail) connects Forestville, Graton, Sebastopol all the way to Santa Rosa via the Joe Rodota Trail. Having biked the whole path I can affirm that the segment between Forestville and Occidental road, almost to Sebastopol, is the most scenic and kid-friendly. This nearly flat trail rolls gently through farmland and vineyards and is shaded by mature trees for much of the distance. Even with the few small on-road sections our kids have been safely riding this path since they were four years old.

The first winery along the path will be the venerable Russian River Vineyards (5700 CA-116, Forestville). The access trail is next to a memorial bench where you will see a gate to the vineyard beyond. As of a few weeks ago when we last took this adventure, the gate was closed during the vineyard replanting.

Hopefully access will return soon but no problem in the meantime because the next winery, Ektimo Vineyards (4950 Ross Rd, Sebastopol), caters to cyclists with a sign along the bike path and bicycle rack and picnic tables at the tasting room. This is our pick for best family friendly winery along the path. The last time we were there the tasting room manager came out to help our kids call the goats over to feed them fresh green weeds while we relaxed at the picnic tables with a cool bottle of their 2014 Chardonnay.

The bike trail has a couple of small on-road sections as the pathway alignment changes, but the directions are very well signed, local traffic is slow and well aware of cyclists at these spots. The first significant wiggle is at Green Valley Road when the trail shifts over a block. This also happens to be a good landmark for finding Atascadero Creek Winery (4114 Ross Rd, Sebastopol) tucked back off the main road.

12:30 pm Lunch & Wine in Graton

The next on-road section takes you through the historic main street in the little hamlet of Graton. If you timed it right, this a good opportunity to stop for lunch and some more wine tasting. Willow Wood Market Café (9020 Graton Rd, Graton) fills the longing in my soul for delicious Muffalettas, that iconic sandwich of New Orleans. For more wine tasting action, Willow Wood is flanked by Paul Mathew Vineyards (9060 Graton Rd, Graton) and Bowman Cellars (9364, 9010 Graton Rd, Graton).

1:30 pm Butterflies and Blackberries

The segment between Graton and Occidental Road marks the end of the kid-friendly section of trail. The on-road section of trail at Occidental Road seems too hazardous for smaller children due to the relatively high speed of traffic. Fortunately there is a wide shoulder so teens and and adults should definitely carry on with the adventure.

Since the littles will be turning around, there are two great options to celebrate a turn around destination; butterflies or blackberries. From Graton, rather than continuing along the WCR Trail, take a detour over to the Hallberg Butterfly Garden (8687 Oak Grove Ave, Sebastopol). It is a perfect oasis for the littles to rest their biking legs and frolic in the flowers in search of the most colorful butterflies. Heads up; Hallberg is only open by appointment so be sure to call ahead during normal weekday business hours to arrange for a volunteer guide. As an alternative ending destination, during late summer and early fall the west side of the bike path just before Occidental Road has blackberry vines heavy with sun-ripened fruit. We usually bring tupperware and pick enough to make blackberry compote to go with tomorrow’s pancakes.

2:00 pm Cider Time

For the grownups and big kids who carry on, the path transitions to east-bound shoulder of Occidental Road and picks up the paved multi-use path on the east side of Highway 116. If you are tired of wine this is you opportunity to switch to cider. Ace Cider‘s tasting room (2064 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol) is just across the road on the west side followed by Horse & Plow (1272 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol) a bit further south. Horse & Plow truly has something for everyone. They have both excellent wine and refreshing cider. Our favorite is Hops and Honey, a classic dry cider infused with hops to give it a floral complexity that raises this cider into the same class as wine. They also happen to have a snack menu so even the teens can enjoy outdoor seating with everyone else.

3:00 pm We All Scream for Mimi’s

Between Horse & Plow and Mill Station Road, the WCR Trail heads off to the east to downtown Sebastopol. This segment is also flanked by heavily fruited blackberry vines. Once the WCR trail ends you will find yourself on North Main Street near Analy High School (my inner 13 year old snickers every time I see the school sign). It is not obvious that the Joe Rodota Trail picks up again just north of the school along Eddie Lane and then transfers to Morris Street. Google Maps on bicycle mode in your shirt pocket will get you where you want to go.

Since I always like to have a destination that signifies the turnaround point; here are three options. Along Morris Street you will find the Americorps Trail footpath that ventures into the Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetlands Preserve which is a great spot for birding.

Morris Street runs along the south side of the Barlow which has lots of wine tasting options all within walking distance of each other. Lots of great dining options are here as well and outdoor live music on the weekends. If you are feeling ambitious, Spirit Works Distillery (6790 McKinley St #100, Sebastopol) offers tastings of the best gins in Northern California. This is one of the few domestic producers of Sloe Gin, which is steeped in sloe berries turning out a beautiful ruby elixir that makes amazing French 75s. Bourbon fans should try the Barrel-Aged Gin which picks up the smokey and vanilla characteristics of the oak; my wife sips it neat when she needs a lift above the kid craziness. Or maybe you are more of a Watermelon Gin Punch or Sparkling Negroni type of person.

Another solid option for the kids and teens who stuck it out through all the previous stops is Screamin Mimi’s Ice Cream (6902 Sebastopol Ave, Sebastopol). Try the Olive Oil ice cream or the Grapefruit Campari sorbet.

4:00 pm Back to the Farmer’s Market & Early Dinner

Retrace your path back to Forestville. Hopefully you paced yourself on the way so you have enough energy to visit wineries that you might have skipped on the way. For a special treat at the end if you trip, little ones who didn’t go all the way to Mimi’s, head over to Scoop of Sonoma (6544 Pocket Canyon Hwy, Forestville), next door to Joseph Jewell Wines. If you plan your adventure for a Tuesday you will return just in time for live music organic produce festivities at the Forestville Farmer’s Market from 4-7pm.

What better way to cap a fun day wine tasting by bicycle than with a beautiful meal; beside maybe a nap? Our favorite Forestville restaurant is Backyard (6566 Front St, Forestville). The atmosphere is casual and the menu features local Sonoma County ingredients.

Other Bike Path Wine Tasting?

There are lots of bike path discussion happening in Sonoma County with several new bike paths in planning stages. Do you know of any other wine tasting by bike path? Please leave comments, we’d love to check out other great wine by bicycle destinations.

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