Tasting time

By Terry Roorda

I don’t know which of these two things is going to get me into more trouble: 1) referring to this most euphoric time of the year as “Indian Summer” rather than the more sensitive and correct “Native American Autumnal Anomaly” or, 2) suggesting that this is the ideal time to get out on your bike and go try some fine wine. Both will doubtless get me in Dutch with one shrill camp or another, but that’s just the climate of the times in this business and it’s gotten harder than ever to get to your point without treading on eggshells all the way there. So since I’m doomed from the outset here, I might as well get right to it by thanking all you Indians for providing us with this incomparable riding spell with its warm windless conditions, landscapes in showy transition, and woodsmoke tanging the air. It’s so unbearably delicious, in fact, that I can just about forgive you your tacky casinos.

This is also called “Harley weather” because it’s so well-suited to both air-cooled motors and air-cooled riders, and that makes it the perfect time to go out touring in the wine country. And by that I mean any wine country, because Lord knows there’s enough of them these days. Not so long ago that term referred almost exclusively to Northern California’s vineyard regions, and we’re still pretty snooty about it here, but anymore there’s a wine country in pretty much every state of the lower 48—check that; apparently they’ve got one started in Alaska too. But the one thing they all seem to have in common is that they’ve been established in the most scenic areas of the various states with some of the finest motorcycling roads available; the very areas you’d be drawn to on a bike even if there wasn’t alcohol involved. The Hill Country, the Finger Lakes, the Lake Michigan shore, Chesapeake Bay, the Ozarks and the Sangre de Cristos all have well-publicized wine countries, and that’s just a sampler.

What makes Indian Summer the best time to tour these areas goes beyond the weather conditions, too. The roads are significantly less congested in these popular destinations this time of year now that the kids are back in prison and the RV traffic has dwindled. The only real impediment is bothersome bicycle traffic, since bicyclists are hip to the wine country deal as well, but we’ve learned how to deal with them in Northern California from years of experience. What we do is sort of sneak up beside them, rap the pipes, honk the horn a couple times and give ’em a good swat right on the old Spandex. It’s a riot. (OK, that crack will probably get me in trouble, too, so I should point out that I’m only joking; I would never actually honk the horn… twice.)

The real draw of wine country is, of course, wine tasting, and it’s important to recognize in this regard that “tasting” is vastly different than “drinking.” Simply put, poor people “drink,” rich people “taste,” but don’t let that distinction intimidate you because you don’t actually have to know anything about fine wine to have a great tasting experience. All most of us in Northern California really know, in fact, is that we’re totally beered-out from a long summer of suds and anxious to try just about anything that doesn’t have a head on it. And the real beauty of the tasting deal is that it’s usually free. I say usually because, of late, more and more wineries have taken to charging money just for tasting their wares, and the reason most give is that they got burned out on all the damn bicyclists mincing in and sampling the inventory but never actually buying a bottle because they don’t have any way to carry it home. So they’re screwing that up for us, too. Honk.

Here in Sonoma County the Indian Summer tasting tour has been a biker routine for many years and it was only a matter of time before someone capitalized on that connection, and that’s just what Scott and Lisa Del Fava have done with the start-up of V-twin Vineyards (www.vtwinwines.com), a producer of premium wines with biker-themed names and labels. In a way this development mirrors the maturing of the Harley core demographic from the days, 20 years ago, of Scooter Juice, the Harley-Davidson licensed wine cooler, to a more sophisticated palate and fatter wallet. The first release from V-twin Vineyards is V-twin Zin, a 2004 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel—that most uniquely American of wine grapes—and it’s wonderful stuff. In fact I’m having some right now as I text this column from behind the wheel of a crowded school bus. (Oops. That’s probably gonna cause me problems, too.) Other selections in the offing include Poker Run Cabernet and Toy Run Rose, and the next step for the young company is the opening of a tasting room that will cater specifically to bikers. I don’t know exactly what that means or what it will look like, but I’m behind the idea in principle because this much we can safely assume: There won’t be any bicycles there.

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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