10 places to mix adventure with a beer/wine tour
[Note: This post is sponsored by our friends at Zephyr Adventures.]
1. Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Pretty much every mountain town up here has at least one brewpub these days; there are 120 and counting in the state. CO is good to go year round for activities — snow sports in winter, and mtn / road biking, rafting / paddling, and backcountry hiking / camping once it all melts.
Zephyr’s Colorado Hike, Bike, Beer & Brewpubs trip matches morning adventure itineraries — highlight would be hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park — with afternoons sampling the local taps and dinners off brewpub menus. The tour includes a visit to the biggest of the micros — New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins — and entry to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
2. Stellenbosch, South Africa
Grapes have been grown in this part of what’s now known as the Cape Winelands since 1679, helping Stellenbosch become the center of wine production and study in South Africa. Red varietals are the focus here, led by Cabernet and including Merlot and Shiraz. A number of Port-style fortified wines are also produced.
The area around Cape Town is one of the best for combining a wine tour with some killer surf, such as the 70ft waves of Dungeons. Other activity options are kite boarding, sea kayaking, sand boarding, and mountain biking on nearby Table Mountain.
3. Tuscany and Umbria, Italy
Home of the “dry Chianti,” the hills of Tuscany both moderate the summertime heat and give the elevated vineyards more exposure to the sun, something that benefits the region’s signature Sangiovese grape. Further inland, Umbria is less trafficked, with DOC wines that are more niche as well: Orvieto and Torgiano, for example.
Towns in these regions are often located on hilltops, so you can put together a hike or bike route that takes in several climbs, with the chance to check out local varietals at the end of each.
Side trip: Just up the coast from Tuscany are the five villages of Cinque Terre and the national park of the same name.
4. Dublin, Ireland
The home of Guinness is situated just north of Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains National Park, where there are opportunities to hike, climb, paraglide, and hang glide. Head to Malahide north of town for windsurfing.
People like to claim that Guinness is a whole different drink in Ireland, that it doesn’t taste right anywhere else. From personal experience, I can say…this is true. Best to get it at the source.
5. La Rioja, Spain
Pretty much the whole of Spain is planted with grapes, but this is the classic Spanish wine-producing region, located in the north of the country. Winemaking here is over 1,000 years old. Today, the region is best known for its blends, with the primary red varietal used being Tempranillo and Viura the white.
In addition to good cycling in the Rio Ebro valley, Rioja sits within easy driving distance of north coast surf spots around Bilbao. Zephyr’s Spain Hike, Bike & Wine trip covers both Rioja and the adjacent Basque region and includes two days on the Camino de Santaigo.
Side trip: An easy drive to the northwest is the mountain region of Picos de Europa, probably my favorite spot in Spain.
6. Portland, OR
Portland swings both ways. On the one hand, nearby is the 175-mile-long Willamette Valley, which produces some excellent Pinot Noir and Riesling. On the other is Portland’s well-established microbrew scene, from big names like Widmer and Deschutes to 30+ little local operations. Plenty to drink.
To earn it, you’ve got skiing at Mt. Hood just down the highway, hundreds of local bike events every year, and easy access to hiking, camping, and boating, with protected mountain and forest land surrounding the city.
7. Andean wine country, Chile / Argentina
This is where I got into wine beyond the $5 table red. And it happened in a bicycle saddle, cruising the main road in Maipú, south of Mendoza, Argentina. You’ve probably seen plenty of Malbec from this region, but other varietals like Tempranillo and Torrontés were equally memorable for me.
From Mendoza, hop in a car — or, if you’re hardcore, on a road bike with fat tires — and head up into the mountains on Ruta 7, waaaay up past Parque Provincial Aconcagua, and eventually you’ll drop down into Chile and a whole new set of winegrowing regions.
Zephyr has a tour that takes in all of this, plus chances to ride horses, raft rivers, and go zip lining.
8. Sonoma / Napa, CA
I the prefer smaller, less-crowded wine regions of northern California, such as Anderson Valley, but Napa and Sonoma have so many wineries that you could plan 20 trips and never hit a repeat.
The narrow roads jammed with shiny white Expeditions and Escalades bum me out, but as soon as you get out of town and off the main tracks, it’s a different story. Check out Monica Prelle’s guide, Mountain biking California wine country, for recommended trails, tastings, and campgrounds.
9. Yellowstone / Grand Tetons
The terrain at the intersection of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho is incredibly diverse. There’s the unique geothermal features of the world’s first national park — geysers, hot springs, and old lava flows; the serrated Teton range, youngest peaks in the Rockies; and the forests of lodgepole pine and big-mammal wildlife that permeate it all. Forming a perimeter around the region is a series of ‘gateway’ towns — Bozeman, Big Sky, Jackson — and their local breweries.
Zephyr’s tour of the area, Yellowstone & Grand Tetons Multisport Beer Adventure, has some pretty sweet activities lined up, including river rafting and a 5,500ft road-cycle descent from the top of Beartooth Pass. Plus, visits to 6 microbreweries.
10. McLaren Vale, Australia
Australia is the fourth largest wine exporter in the world, but the focus in McLaren Vale is on quality over quantity. Vines were first planted here in 1838, and many wineries are still family run.
The Shiraz grape is the region’s mainstay, while Cabernet, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, and others are grown as well. McLaren Vale is a short drive south of Adelaide and in close proximity to beaches and Coorong National Park.
Side trip: Drive down the coast and cross into Victoria to find the Great Ocean Walk.