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Fresh off climbing Drum Canyon Road during their trip to Los Alamos, California, our test riders Ben and Sean soon find themselves emerging from remote country rangeland and passing through the vineyards that make this region famous. The number of vineyards and wine-tasting rooms here can be overwhelming—they seem to stretch forever along the local highways and back roads. Each is taking advantage of the region’s ideal grape-growing climate.
Fans of the hit 2004 movie “Sideways” that took place here might remember Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles, waxing poetic about how the region’s proximity to the coast makes it one of the best locations in the world for growing Pinot Noir. You might also remember Miles’ now-iconic contempt for Merlot, which caused a real-world decline in Merlot sales.
Ben and Sean don’t have opinions strong enough to influence national wine sales but they do enjoy tasting limited-run wines that you might not find anywhere else. After all, when you’re riding in an area where great wines are made, you don’t want to pass up tasting them. So our riders decide to ride their Cannondale Synapse Neo 1s along Highway 246 to Babcock Winery, which has been owned by the Babcock family since 1978.
Babcock is a small winery, producing 10,000 cases per year. The vineyard used to make many more bottles, says winemaker Bryan Babcock, but it cut back on production to focus on smaller, more exciting runs. That reduced production freed up the vineyard’s entire second warehouse, totaling 5,000 square feet, which brought new opportunities.
Bryan’s wife Lisa turned the extra space into a tasting room decorated with a midcentury aesthetic, complete with a record collection, Americana antiques and a pool table. It is easily one of the coolest tasting rooms in the entire valley and a place where you’ll want to stick around while sipping wine.
After spending time perusing the record collection and antiques in the converted warehouse, our riders are ready for a glass. They sip on Sauvignon Blanc poured by Bryan Babcock himself, listening intently as the experienced winemaker tells them a bit about the characteristics of the refreshing wine.
“It’s really a treat to have the winemaker personally pour you a glass of his wine,” says Sean. “Yeah, it’s definitely rare to be so close to the person actually making your wine,” adds Ben. “You won’t get that at the bigger wineries.”
Finishing their tasting session, Ben and Sean are not quite ready to head back to Los Alamos. They lounge outside and take in the beautiful day and the green hills they conquered earlier in the day. Eventually, they decide to ride around the vineyard on their Synapses to get a closer look at the vineyard’s landscape.
Passing along the outer edge of the property, they take in the entire winery: the mud-coated tractors, the uniform rows of grapes and the gently rolling terrain accented by the occasional oak tree. On returning to the tasting room, Bryan is waiting for them. He generously offers them a personal tour of the vineyard and the warehouse, complete with wine-stained wooden barrels stacked neatly overhead. There’s no turning down that opportunity!