On bike tours with Gears and Grapes Getaways, groups cycle through the iconic Napa Valley, internationally recognized as one of the nine Great Wine Capitals in the world, and the slightly-more-indie Sonoma Valley, home to nearly every type of grape grown in California.
Groups typically stop at four boutique wineries during the tours, pausing at midday for a gourmet picnic lunch. Those who get tired of pedaling or who want to pretend they're on a stakeout can hop on the shuttle that follows close behind at any time. Guides also take visitors on tours of wineries and breweries in San Francisco proper.
Bluxome Street Winery is a celebration of California winemaking history. More than a century ago, SOMA—then called South of the Slot—was the center of new-world wineries. To pay homage to that legendary time, Bluxome draws upon rustic decor and old-school practices, such as sourcing high-quality fruit from small, meticulously farmed vineyards.
Bluxome also extends its reach to a Balinard vineyard in Russian River. There, three acres of pinot noir clones grow in an organic environment, producing the fruit that composes Bluxome’s aromatic, smooth, and electric wines that linger on the palate and pair perfectly with steak.
The last Saturday of every month sees the winery explode into a community-focused farmers market filled with artisan food vendors. Pinot in hand, visitors are free to roam among vendors such as Sinful Salt and Crescent Farm, tasting the honey of Gerard’Z Honeybees and the jam of Grandma’s Homemade. This eclectic gathering is perhaps a reason readers of the San Fransisco Bay Guardian named Bluxome one of the Best Wineries in 2013.
The history of Ceja Vineyards dates back the 1950s, when Pablo Ceja, then working in St. Helena vineyards, dreamed of owning his own land where his ever-expanding family could grow their own grapes and make their own wine. Fueled by this dream for a better life for his children, Pablo moved his family from Mexico to the Napa Valley in 1967. Fortunately, 2 of his 10 children, Pedro and Armando, inherited his passion for wine and belief in hard work. When they were old enough, Pedro and Armando planted their first pinot-noir grapes in 1986 and, 13 years later, officially founded Ceja Vineyards with their wives and children. Today, the Cejas' operation boasts 113 producing acres and a chic wine-tasting salon where guests can enjoy sips of the vineyard’s red and white varietals, artisan cheeses, gourmet food items, and featured works from local artists.
In good Ceja tradition, Pedro and Armando’s kids are now beginning to purple their feet in the family business as well. Pablo’s family has undoubtedly made him proud; they’ve done much since their humble beginnings in St. Helena. The family hopes their story of hope and determination surfaces in every sip of their lovingly cultivated wines.
Wildflower-filled vases adorn hardwood tables within Savour St. Helena's rouge-tinted tasting room, where servers dish out hard-to-find vinos culled from small wineries. The Vinter's Tasting offers oenophiles and foodphiles the makings of an authentic vintner's lunch, uniting assorted cheeses and charcuteries with the sipper's choice of three wines. Quaffs of the Areté 2010 sauvignon blanc or the Houdini 2007 merlot escort nibbles of artisanal cheeses, cured meats, and mixed olives to a flavorful promenade chaperoned by bites of crusty french bread and a kindly corkscrew. Alternatively, a flight of Spotted Owl Vineyards 2008 mountain cuvée and Veendercrest 2005 Rutherford cabernet sauvignon can coast in for a smooth landing upon your palate's runway.
Grace and self-confidence are learned skills at Allegro Ballroom. The nonprofit, volunteer-operated dance studio teaches students of all ages and skill levels how to master the footwork of various American and international ballroom dance styles. Instructors lead group and private classes in everything from the Viennese waltz and the tango to the rumba and the cha-cha, meeting in one of the three ballroom practice spaces that range in size from 800 to 3,000 square feet. Whether visitors are looking for an introduction to the fundamentals of ballroom dancing or a more in-depth study of a particular style, the instructors are available to provide engaging and informative insight intended to help people navigate a dance floor with ease.
Many Mexican restaurants have mole somewhere on their menus, but it's generally not the star component. Yet at Los Moles, the complex sauce is the specialty of the house. Chef Saldana relies on his family recipes to create six varieties of mole made with guajillo chilies, poblanos, or pumpkin seeds—all of which are served with grilled chicken breast, poblano rice, and handmade corn tortillas. Saldana recommends eschewing all flatware and using the tortillas to scoop up the moles.
Even the drink menu gets a splash of mole, with bartenders mellowing the flavor of the mole poblano with lime juice and agave nectar or spicing it up with habanero and an IPA draft. Not all drinks are this complex, however; bartenders also make classic cocktails such as flavored mojitos and house sangria. Plus, they create six styles of Micheladas, which, like a first kiss on the last day of summer camp, are both sour and sweet.