A RIDE TO THE RIVER
A romantic route through the rolling hills of Carneros
You’ve tasted the wines. You’ve tested the beds. You’ve strolled and you’ve shopped and you’ve held hands by starlight. For days you’ve been gorging from Wine Country menus, and now your blue jeans won’t zip. At least not easily.
Falling in love is high-calorie magic. There’s not a great distance between good curves and bad lumps, so before you cross over, consider a ride. Wedge into that spandex before it’s too late, slide into your shift racers, saddle up. Carneros awaits.
Because of the viticultural hyperbole bestowed on the region, visitors often think of Carneros just for its vineyards and vines. But Carneros translates from Spanish as “ram,” and the region was once known for sheepherding and ranching. Saddled between Napa and Sonoma counties, Carneros is a postcard-perfect assemblage of gold, rolling hills: you won’t need your granny gears for this trip. The roads are virtually traffic-free, especially in the morning, and the only hazards you’re likely to encounter are an occasional stray lamb, slow-moving farm equipment, cattle crossing and, perhaps, other couples on bikes.
To ride through Carneros is to roll past fat little porkers lolling in their sties, cows pasturing on low hills, lofty llamas watching from their pens, mares nursing newborns. To ride through here is to see wineries as elaborate as Domaine Carneros’ French chateau or as humble as Richardson’s old red barn, all set among miles of trim vineyards.
Slice straight through Carneros down Sonoma’s back roads. If you and your beloved have a “typical” Carneros day, you’ll see fog on the way down and blue skies and bright sunshine on your return. But Carneros is famous for killer afternoon winds too, so, if last night’s crème brûlée finds you ambivalent about a face full of big air, go early.
Wrested from the Indians by Mexican pioneers, appropriated by the Catholics and secularized by Vallejo, bundled and gifted to settlers willing to abide bears in the woods and Russians to the north, claimed by frontiersmen and finally annexed by the United States, Carneros boasts a rich and storied history. But you’re newly in love, so none of that matters. What might, at this juncture, is lunch. Ride on, Romeo, ride on.
From the Sonoma Plaza, take East Napa Street east to Fifth Street East. Turn right and go to Denmark. Turn left on Denmark, go past Gundlach-Bundschu Winery and cross Napa Road. (Don’t be confused: Napa Road and Napa Street are not the same.) You’ll be on Old Burndale for a few hundred yards until you get to a stop sign. Turn right onto Burndale, crossing Highway 12/121 along the way, and go to Dale Avenue. Turn left and go to Ramal Road. Turn right on Ramal and wind all the way around, past Buena Vista’s vineyards to Duhig Road. Go left on Duhig to Las Amigas and turn right. Acacia Winery will be up the short hill on your left. Continue on Las Amigas, keeping to the left at the stop sign where Las Amigas and Milton Road meet, to Cutting’s Wharf Road. Turn right and go to the landing at the end. Moore’s Landing is open Monday to Thursday 11 to 3; Friday and Saturday 11 to 8; and Sunday 11to 3. Round trip: 30 miles. (www.mooreslanding.com).
If you’re up for a longer ride, follow the above directions till you get to Cutting’s Wharf Road. Continue straight (away from the river) on Cutting’s Wharf until you get to Los Carneros and turn left. Follow it to the highway, cross carefully and you’ll be at the Boon Fly Café. Open seven days a week from 7a.m. to 9 p.m. For your return, follow the highway west to Duhig Road, turn left and go up the hill past Domaine Carneros. Follow Duhig back to the intersection of Duhig and Las Amigas and repeat your morning’s ride back to Sonoma. Round trip: 36 miles. (www.theboonflycafe.com).
For a shorter ride, take the same route from Sonoma Plaza, proceeding on Denmark, Old Burndale and Burndale roads. Before you get to Highway 12/121, turn left on Knob Hill Road. Follow the curve all the way around to the right, where Knob Hill becomes Central Street, until you intersect the highway. The Fremont Diner will be on your right. Open Monday through Friday 8 to 3; Saturday and Sunday 7 to 4. Round trip: 12 miles. (www.thefremontdiner.com).