I bought my first “real” bike back in 1990 shortly after Greg Lemond had won his third Tour de France. It was a Centurian Accordo and today, I am pretty certain that it was stolen since the bike fit me perfectly (I am 6’4″) and the guy I bought it from, the “original” owner, was about 5’6″. As Sebastian, my teenage son would say: “Suss” (which means “suspect” I think).
At the time, if I had thought about the scenario at all, it was not for very long as I was quickly out on the roads of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and soon after that I found myself lining up for my first race (I would love to give you a Hollywood moment and say that I won that first race in spectacular fashion, but my main take away from that first race was “at least I wasn’t last.”)
Shortly thereafter, I moved to Baltimore, Maryland for my first teaching job, bringing both my Centurian and my passion for cycling with me. Since I made next to nothing as a teacher, I picked up a weekend job working at the local bike shop, Cockeysville Schwinn, which, like most bike shops, employed several bike racers who were eager to share their experiences with a noob like me. (Again, I borrowed from my son’s lexicon and I believe “noob” is short for “newbie” or an inexperienced person.)
It was at that shop that I was first introduced to “sports nutrition” which, at the time, was basically PowerBar. Back then, PowerBars were pretty close to inedible; they were hard and sticky and would suck out any dental work quickly and easily. But just about every serious cyclist who came into the shop (“serious” was determined by clean-shaven legs) bought them by the case, so naturally, I did, too.
Several years later, when I moved out to California, I again found part-time employment, this time at Mike’s Bikes in San Rafael. I was still riding and racing and my results had certainly improved since that first bike race in downtown Ann Arbor. Sports nutrition had also evolved and the new leader (and still my favorite today) was Clif Bar.
Started in 1992, Clif Bar made energy food that you could actually eat, occasionally tasted good, and enabled your dental work to remain intact. A handful of years later, the creators of Clif Bar, Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, moved to Napa Valley and, eventually, started making wine.
[Ed. Note: CLIF Bar was sold in 2022 to snack food giant Mondelez, netting Erickson and Crawfors somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion.]
I had hoped to visit the tasting room in St. Helena on my most recent trip out to Napa last week, but other obligations pushed that visit to the perennial “next time.” Too bad, since the last time I visited was almost a decade ago (!) in 2014.
Until I can get my way back there, I will have to settle for the next (?) best thing, a few bottles from the winery showing up on my doorstep here in Houston….
2021 Clif Family Winery Chardonnay Unoaked, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $36. Under screw cap. Clif Family Winery is owned by the Clif Family (if that were not already exceedingly obvious), the same folks who churn out millions of Clif Bars (and other assorted energy products) which have delighted cyclists (among others) for decades. Oh. The wine? Clear to play straw in the glass, with a vast array of fruit on the nose: lemon, peach, pear, kiwi, and quince (OK, I made the last one up as I’ll never know what quince smells like). Fruity, yet lean, but balanced and quite tart, this might confound some as it is not your “typical” Chardonnay. But it is tasty and lovely. Excellent. 91 Points.
2021 Clif Family Winery Sauvignon Blanc RTE Blanc, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $28. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Under screw cap. While there are a ton of connections between cycling and the wine industry, few are as clear-cut as those with Clif Family Winery. I would wager that there is not a serious cyclist in this country that has not at least tried a Clif Bar at some point. In the same breath, I would also argue that very few of those same serious cyclists realize that the same company owns a winery in Napa Valley. Pale straw with a green tinge in the glass along with aromas of citrus (pretty intense lime and grapefruit), pineapple, and a subtle grassy note. The palate is zingy and bright, with loads of fruit and plenty of minerality. There is also a delightful roundness on the mid-palate, no doubt a result of the nearly 40% that spent time in neutral French oak. Delightful. Excellent. 91 Points.
2020 Clif Family Winery Bici, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $42. 67% Grenache, 33% Syrah. Under screw cap. If there were ever a wine designed for the drunken cyclist, this Clif Family Winery Bici would be it. Made by one of the leaders of cyclist nutrition, a bottle with a cyclist on the label, and a tasting room adorned with tons of cycling memorabilia (including a photo or two of a good friend of mine), this wine screams my name. Fairly dark in the glass with equally dark fruit on the nose: cassis, blackberry, plum. Plenty of spice, as well, with black pepper and clove at the forefront. The palate is fruity, spicy, and fun. While I would never endorse drinking and riding (in that order) I am definitely a proponent of riding then drinking. And this would be a good wine to crack after a hard ride (and a shower, natch). Excellent. 90 Points.
2019 Clif Family Winery The Climber, California: Retail $42. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Verdot, 6% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc. Under screw cap. I have stated my affinity for the Clif Family many times and it is rooted in the fact that the family supports cyclists (and all outdoor athletes, but we really only care about cyclists so let’s keep it simple). But I am also becoming a fan of the family’s wines as well. I have tasted through a few now, and this “The Climber” is pretty fantastic. Great fruit on both the nose and the palate with good weight, balance, a touch of spice, and a healthy dose of verve. The finish is lengthy, spicy, and, well, memorable. Well done. Excellent. 91 Points.
Clif Bar is the same family as Clif Winery?? How did I not make this connection??
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Yup, indeed. If I had a nickel….
I discovered Clif bar(and shot!)thanks to big Lance and till today it is eternal love!
I love the stuff as well!
It is not owned by the Clif family. Clif is the father’s first name of the founder of Clif Bar.
Well, I was not aware that they sold the sports bar side of things, so thanks for pointing it out, but it is certainly the same people:
By the way, Erickson sold the sport bar brand to Mondelez in August, 2022, for $1B and change….
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I had no idea, thanks for letting me know!
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