City Palate

City Palate - The Flavour of Calgary's Food Scene since 1993

THE HARVEST ISSUE - September October Issue 2018

Exploring Wine Country by Motorcycle


by Geoff Last

When I was about 20 years old, I purchased my first vehicle, my roommate's Honda 550 Super Sport motorcycle. I taught myself to ride in the alley behind our rented townhouse. Once I had the confidence to hit the open road, I was hooked. If you've never ridden a motorbike, I can only say that you're missing out on an exhilarating rush and a sense of freedom that's unmatched as far as the driving experience goes.

I rode for another seven or eight years before I started to feel like I was living on borrowed time and finally quit riding. Motorcycles have come a long way since then. These days almost any bike over about 600 cubic centimetres (cc) is faster than the most exotic supercar money can buy, and many are equipped with features like antilock brakes, GPS, anti-wheelie control, tire pressure monitors and a host of other features designed to make them as safe as possible while upping the performance abilities of the machine and rider. That being said, you may want to register as an organ donor before you take your first ride – they can be dangerous, although probably no more so than skiing or mountain biking.

Over the past 20 years, I've explored the great wine regions of the world by car, bus, helicopter, plane and, on occasion, bicycle. A couple of years ago, some friends invited me to join them touring the vineyards and wineries of California's south central coast area by motorcycle. I decided to throw caution to the wind and join them, so we flew into Los Angeles and headed to a shop called Racy Rentals, where a trio of bikes – a Triumph, BMW and Ducati – were waiting for us. After renting the appropriate gear – boots, pants, jacket, gloves, helmet – and orienting ourselves to the features of the machines, we drove into L.A. traffic – a daunting endeavour, considering it had been about 25 years since my last motorcycle ride – and headed up California's coastal highway to Santa Barbara.

As it turned out, the old adage that says "Once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget" is true of motorcycles as well. The only thing that took some getting used to was the amount of power and handling abilities of today's superbikes. Once we were clear of traffic, the pure thrill of flying along the curves of the Pacific Coast Highway with its spectacular ocean vistas took over.

We spent three days on the bikes visiting wineries (being careful to spit virtually every drop of wine tasted). Highlights included a visit to Alban Vineyards and Donelan Family Wines. John Alban produces what are arguably the finest examples of Rhône varietals in California, although the wines we tasted at Donelan were every bit as good.

On the return leg, we wrapped up the trip with a ride from the Santa Monica coast road back into L.A. via the Mulholland Highway, long considered one of the best drivers' roads in America. Should you find yourself on this stretch of road be sure to stop at the Rock Store, a greasy spoon/pub that's made out of volcanic rock. There are dozens of riders and bikes there at any given time. Have a burger and a beer and admire the many exotic rides parked out front.

Fast forward to the spring of 2015, when the same "gang" flew into San Francisco and straight to Dubbelju Motorcycle Rentals. My ride this time was Ducati's superb Multi-strada, a 1200 cc superbike that can test the limits of the most experienced riders. The destination was Sonoma, a wine region that I've toured numerous times over the years but one I never tire of visiting. I've always felt at home when I'm in a vineyard – grape-vines have, after all, provided me with a livelihood for the past 30 years.

Over the course of that time, most of the vistas were seen through the murky windows of a car or bus. On a motorcycle, the experience becomes much more tangible. You be-come acutely aware of the life force of the vineyards and the surrounding environment. While the Sonoma terrain was familiar, the experience of seeing it from a bike made it feel exciting and new. Add to that the sensation of straddling 1200 cc of growling red machine that goes from 0-100 in about three seconds flat. It's a thrill!

Read the entire article in City Palate