March 2014 Sonoma Trip - Annadel State Park - Day 2

Ok!  Ready for our exciting day two in Sonoma?  Remember this is a two part post.  Day one can be found here.

Solid breakfast at the Hilton
The next day, we woke up with the same routine: getting cleaned up and packing for the day. This was a much lighter load as we were only planning a few hours on the trail.  We headed down for another Hilton Gold breakfast and made our way to the park.  Wendi did such an awesome job planning this trip that the second day would top the first.  In calling around to local bike shops, she found that Echelon Cycle & Multisport was hosting a demo day at Annadel with Scott Bikes.  I've never ridden a Scott but have heard really great things about them.  What I was most excited about was the prospect of riding a 650b setup. I have been a bit skeptical of the claimed benefits of these bikes. My hope for today was that this demo ride would either confirm my suspicion that it was all hype, or that the ride would leave me a changed man.

Can I haz please!?
We arrived at the park at what we thought was a little late - around 9:30 - as the demo started at 9am sharp. We didn't see any signs of a Scott demo truck.  Were we at the wrong trailhead?  Did they cancel?  Nope....turns out that with the DST change the night before, they really meant the demo was going to kick off at 10am.  This turned out to be an awesome thing, as we were the first people to show up and kick the tires on a sweet ride.  It also gave us pick of the litter on the demo bikes they had available, and for me to chat it up with the Scott reps as they were setting up.  Turns out they did come fully decked out with a line-up of full suspension 650b bikes.  Woohoo!  They fitted me up on a medium Genius 700, which is their top of the line carbon trail bike.  Initially I thought a medium frame would be too small, as I typically ride a large in XC frames. It ended up feeling quite nice.  Wendi was fitted to a Spark 720 which is Scott's XC FS 650b platform.  I had a feeling she was really going to like this bike. 

Littered with rocks and roots
line selection was key.
After getting fitted and tuned I ripped into the trails.  We put in at the north trailhead on the Cobblestone trail which was about a mile and a half of climbing guessed it....lots of cobbles.  There were roots, rocks and switchbacks for the entire climb up the hill.  This turned out to be the perfect terrain to get acclimated with my new friend.  I quickly learned the benefits and shortcomings of the new wheel size as I navigated the tight turns and rough rocky climbs.  The 27.5" wheel size reminded me of riding my old 26er as I plowed though the switchbacks - it certainly had more maneuverability than the 29er platform.  I'm not sure if it was a measurable difference, but it was noticeable.  Where I thought the wheel size suffered was climbing through rocky terrain. It didn't have quite the roll-over capabilities of its larger brother.

Once I made it to the top of Cobblestone, I decided to stay on the north trails. We were on demo bikes that they probably didn't want us to keep all day, and I knew from experience the nasty conditions of the southern trails.  I plotted a course down Orchard to Rough-Go, over the top of the Lake Trail to Lewis and then to North Burma.  I remembered how much fun the Burma trails were from the day before, so I knew this is where I wanted to end up.  The other area where this middle brother wheel size shines is in descents. Although rollover was effected some, I thought that the combination of a more rigid wheel and the flickability of a compact setup was a huge benefit on technical descents. On the exact same trails, I felt way more confident and comfortable descending on the 650b Scott than I did the 29er Specialized the day before.  The only other variable was that the Genius was a supple carbon frame where as the Stumpy was alloy.  I am much more used to the feel of carbon vs aluminum so this could have been a factor.

Because North Burma was so damn fun I decided to head back down Live Oak and back over to Burma for two more loops. This trail was one of those trails where you catch yourself smiling from ear to ear as you rip through the sweeping corners.  I would have taken it for a few more loops if it wasn't already coming up on an hour and a half in the woods on a demo bike....I'm sure the Scott guys were looking forward to getting their bike back. After the final loop, I headed back up the way I came in and was happy to run into Wendi on the Orchard Trail.  She was having a great time on her borrowed bike as well and I surely see a FS bike in our future for her.  The climb up Cobblestone was pretty brutal but the descent on this cush full suspension ride was a blast.  Once again the handling ability of the slightly smaller tires really shined as I tore through switchbacks through the descending rock fields.

Super dialed ride in the Scott Genius
I reluctantly handed the bike over to the demo team and reclaimed my pedals.  After today, I am pretty convinced that the 650b wheel size has a place in mountain biking.  It isn't the solution for every course or terrain but has its merits.  If I lived near Annadel or a similar trail I would go buy this bike today.  For our buff trails in the South, the Genius is obviously too much bike.  I am, however, looking forward to seeing if our local Scott dealer (The Bike Crossing) gets Scott in for a demo as I'd like to ride both the FS Spark and their XC hardtail, the Scale, in 29 and in 27.5 models on our local trails.  That will give me a final verdict on the subject, and determine whether I need to add a full suspension bike to the family.

We wrapped up riding right around noon so we had the rest of the day to do fun stuff.  After getting cleaned up we headed to Petaluma (Petaluma is a fun word to say) to go to Lagunitas for lunch and a couple of beers.  This is such a chill place with great beer and awesome food.  The courtyard tables were full, so we ended up sitting in the bar looking out over the patio.  We ordered an appetizer of an olive jar, I ordered a sour beer and Wendi was thrilled that they had a good selection of ciders.  We both ordered sandwiches and shared.

The other thing we really wanted to do was hit a winery while we were in town. The day before, we had driven through a small town called Glen Ellen. It was kind of a sleepy little town in the Sonoma Valley.  We are not wine aficionados, so I just looked up the highest rated winery in the area and came across the Benzinger Family Winery.  I called ahead to make sure they had tour availability, and they were wide open.  After a short drive over from Petaluma we made our way into a beautiful piece of property.  We parked and made our way to the little shop where they started the tours.  Having only been on a few winery tours we decided to go all in with the "founder tour", which ran us $40 per person.

The cool thing was that we were just about 10 minutes early for the tour so we didn't have to wait around long.  Our tour guide, Pat, put us aboard his little electric tram with two other couples and we were off for a tour of the winery grounds. Pat gave a great overview of the property's history and how the winery came to be.  This winery uses a holistic agricultural process called biodynamic farming.  This is essentially organic farming, but incorporating other balancing aspects such as planting of complimentary flowers and plants, using livestock such as cows for manure to be composed into natural fertilizer and using sheep to keep the grass down. They also reclaim all of their gray water from wine processing and filter it through a series of tiered ponds and gravel beds. Along the way we stopped for a tasting of their estate Chardonnay.  I'm not a big fan of whites but this was a pretty refreshing sipper -not too buttery like a lot of NorCal whites.

Tour through the caves
After touring the grounds and the crush pad, we were off to the coolest part of the tour.  The Benzinger family  understood early on the need to maintain the temperate and humidity of their wine while it is aging in barrels, so they invested in the creation of an extensive cave system excavated into their hillside. You walk through two heavy twenty foot tall wooden doors and immediately feel the coolness of the cave and the sweet smell of red tannins.  Pat walked us through narrow rows of barrels while telling us the process of barrel aging.  After turning a corner, we saw a room with glass doors. Inside was a massive oak table set with tasting glasses. We all sat at the table while Pat walked us through the tasting of three different reds from the winery. Afterwards, we walked out of the room and did a tasting directly from a young, unblended barrel. This allowed us to experience what a raw, unfinished wine tastes like.  Quite different from the blended or aged vintages we had from the bottle.

Such an awesome weekend with my best friend. Two days of riding, two breweries, a winery and lots of driving around very pretty countryside.  We can't wait to get back up here and do it all over again.  If you have any recommendations for wineries, breweries or trails in the NorCal area please let me know.

Ride on.

Click here to see my Strava activity for this ride.

Jason Shearer