Wine Ink: Running the vineyards
In last week’s column I mistakenly identified the 2018 Tour de France as the 104th edition. Of course, it was a miscalculation. Every one knows this is the 105th vintage of the classic cycling event.
We all know that drinking wine is a sensory experience. If we pay attention, we use four of our five senses — sight, smell, taste and feel, or touch. It can make you feel alive to see, sniff, sip, savor and swallow a great glass of wine.
There is another way to immerse yourself in a total, full body, wine experience, however. That is to take a run through a vineyard. I confess that the opportunity to take a long jaunt between the vines is one of my favorite experiences. As a wine lover and a lover of the outdoor world, I rank the experience of a wine/vine run up there with skiing deep powder or surfing in the Pacific. It is simply invigorating.
There is something special about being amongst the vines. Getting up close and personal with the clusters of grapes can give you a new perspective on the living, breathing eco-system that permeates each region, each vineyard and even each vine.
Simply experiencing the difference in weather variations can be a revelation. I have run along the Sonoma Coast in the hills near Ft. Ross and felt the impact the coastal winds and creeping fog have on the pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. A hot afternoon can quickly drop by as much as 30 degrees, turning a sweaty hillside gallop into a chilly trot back to the barn for a jacket. The diurnal shift also provides relief for the more delicate varietals from the unrelenting sun.
Conversely, I have run in 100-degree heat amongst cabernet sauvignon and merlot vineyards on Red Mountain in Washington and on trails high in the hills beyond Col Solare that seemed like they would be scorched by the heat. There, as was the case on a mid-day summer’s run through the shiraz vineyards of the Barossa Valley in Australia, the hearty, thick skinned black grapes bask in the heat and ripen with the help of triple-digit temperatures.
Of course, in exposed places like those, it helps to have a healthy canopy of leaves that can shade the clusters of grapes to keep them from turning to raisins in the sun. That is another advantage of running among the vines. You can see the ways in which different vineyard managers use different practices to either expose their grapes to sunshine or protect them from the heat.
You can see the differences between vines that are head trained, cordon trained or even pergola trained. This refers to the way in which the vines are “hung,” or not, as they are planted. In different places, different kinds of vines are planted and tended in different ways. Travelling by foot through them can provide an education in the art of training vines.
Then there are the soils. A run through a vineyard will help you realize the differences in soil types. I have slogged my way through a sandy, loamy vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island that was like running on a beach. I have also run on rounded stones big enough to break an ankle on the slopes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
In each case, I came away not with just a good workout, but a better understanding of the land and soils and terroir of the different wine regions.
Now I must note that there are private property issues involved with taking to the rows of vines that grow in the prestigious wine regions of the world. Over the years, there has been a tightening of trespassing regulations and just about every vineyard has some sort of sign that states emphatically: KEEP OUT!
You certainly can’t blame vintners in this day and age for being protective of their property. To simply allow folks to tread, many not so lightly, in the place where they make their living doesn’t make much sense. So this article is not a suggestion to just pull over at say, the To Kalon or George III vineyards in the Napa Valley and head out for a run. The Beckstoffers who own and operate those epic vineyards would assuredly frown on the practice.
If you are visiting a winery property in some of the more relaxed wine regions, you can always ask the owners if you can take a trot. There are also a number of organized runs like this weekend’s Napa- to-Sonoma Half Marathon that you can enter that will take you on a tour of wine country. Go to MotivRunning.com for information on other wine country marathons and half-marathons in wine regions including Oregon, Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Virginia Wine Country.
Get out and about. It’s almost as much fun as drinking wine.
Kelly lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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