When I started writing this blog, I wanted to explore the seemingly strong connection between the wine industry and cycling, which is, at least in part, why I chose to name it The Drunken Cyclist.
As a researcher, I readily admit that my evidence is at best anecdotal, but with all my travels to wineries on three continents, nine countries, 15 states, and countless appellations, I constantly see evidence of a devotion to cycling.
On just about every wine trip I have ever taken, there was at least one story to be told about the relationship between the vines and the vélo (that’s French for bike, in case you were wondering). I am not only intrigued by those that race or have raced their bikes competitively, but also by those who use it for exercise or transportation.
I have some theories why this connection seems so strong:
- The love of the outdoors–there are few cyclists that do not enjoy the feeling of sunshine on their back and a slight breeze in their face (actually most would like to feel both on their backs, but I digress). Winegrowers are much the same–getting outside is part of the allure.
- Stewards of the environment–people in the wine industry, for the most part, understand the need to care for the planet as their livelihoods rely on it. Similarly, many cyclists, particularly those who see it as recreation or transportation, see an environmental (and health) advantage in using the human body as an engine.
- Riding in wine country is incredible–most (all?) of the wine regions I have visited are particularly suited for bike riding. Beautiful vistas, rolling hills, relatively low traffic–pretty much a bike rider’s dream scenario.
There is another aspect that is a bit more difficult to bullet point. In both cycling and wine there is both the need to go it alone as well as rely on a bigger team, one needs to know how to work well with others but also realize there will be times when you are left alone to suffer.
Bill Kesselring of Peloton Cellars in Avila Beach knows that dichotomy in both winemaking and cycling well. He is also somewhat of an anomaly in San Luis Obispo Wine County–he’s pretty intense. He bought his first bike when he was a fifth grader in Ukiah, California, a town about 120 miles north of San Francisco. After buying that mountain bike, what was one of the first rides he did? He embarked on a 450 mile odyssey with a group organized by his pastor.
Soon after that he took up racing–first mountain bikes and then road–and racing soon lead him to Cal Poly SLO as he followed his older sister to the famed Central California school and its cycling team.
While most cyclists participate in all three disciplines (“road races” are usually on open roads, “crits” or “criteriums” are usually on a closed, short course with tight turns and lots of laps, and “time trials” are a race against the clock), Bill described himself to me as a “Crit Rider” which is by far, the most intense of the three.
At Cal Poly, Bill also took up viticulture, which he found as a natural fit coming from rural California and having family that had deep routes in Iowa cornfields. He graduated from Cal Poly (where he also met his future wife, Tricia) and after a bit of traipsing around Europe, he returned to California where he took a job with a vineyard consulting company in Napa.
There, Bill put in particularly long days, working in the vineyards during the day and then working at night as a cellar rat in the winery, often alone, often into the wee hours of the morning.
But that is also how he learned to make wine.
Fast forward a couple of years to find Bill owning his own vineyard management company, one of the larger operations on the central coast. Almost simultaneous to the opening of his business, he and a group of friends made their first wines under the Peloton label in Paso Robles in 2005. They then opened their current tasting room in Avila Beach in 2010.
Peloton (which means “group” or “pack” in cycling terminology) makes about 1200 cases a year, but often, Bill does not know what wines he is going to make until right before harvest; he will ask his vineyard management customers if he “can have a ton of this or that” based on the quality and quantity of the crops he has been managing.
When it comes to selling the wine, however, Bill takes a decidedly hands off approach–he does not even have a key to the tasting room–he lets Tricia be the face of the brand. While Bill can be intense and driving, Tricia is much more relaxed and chatty–I think they both would agree that she prefers to take it SLO (particularly when compared to her husband).
As we were a bit strapped for time, and we had plenty of Pinot and Chardonnay tastings in our future, Tricia decided that we should taste a couple of wines that exhibited Peloton’s style and approach. As she was opening the two bottles, she added: “Let’s just try these two, any more would just be too…
I think the two have found the secret of a successful marriage.
2013 Peloton Grenache Spanish Springs Vineyard, SLO: Retail $37. Luscious cherry fruit with good depth and plenty of spice. Big but not brooding, this will continue to improve for a while. Now? Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Peloton Le Pavé: Retail $59. Limited release. 80% Syrah 20% Grenache. Named after what the French call cobblestone sections of a road race, the ride upon which can be jarring. Well, that is certainly not the case with this wine. Sure, it has oodles of rich raspberry fruit on the nose, a Richie Rich kind of rich, but the palate is as smooth as can be. Yes, it is a big boy, but it is not a fruit-only bomb–the cool climate grapes ensure plenty of depth and intrigue. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.