Around Christmas time I was pretty set on doing an interesting bike tour once summer rolled around. I found one that fit the ‘interesting’ criteria and where the timing would pretty well suit as well. And so, I’ve been trying to routinely ride since then. Nothing like planning a bike tour to motivate you to get out on your bike!

On many of my rides since Christmas I’ve had a Garmin device on the bike. Perhaps the majority of the rides – but not all of them. But I found it pretty interesting that the Garmin website had a calendar view that identified the days that you had logged a ride. You can see a screen shot of the calendar in this post.

Seems pretty clear that the time I get a chance to ride has mostly been on the weekends. But I’ve tried to step it up a bit and get in some mid week rides at the end of the work day as well. It’s been easier to do that after Daylight Saving Time kicked in, and while we haven’t gotten into the truly hot weather of central Texas.

If I can keep a similar routine up I hope it’ll make the tour more enjoyable.

We took time out over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to head out into the Texas Hill Country to enjoy some wine tasting at a couple of really great Texas wineries.

‘Wine Country’ in this part of the world often implies just one stretch of highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, TX. (About an hour+ west of Austin.) And indeed these two wineries were 10 minutes apart on that very stretch of road around Stonewall. That so many wineries have popped up in that area is no surprise. Fredericksburg is very popular and that stretch of road is highly trafficked. But in reality, while there are grapes growing in the area and on the estates, much if not most of the fruit in Texas wine comes from the ‘high plains’ – up near Lubbock. Soil and temp conditions are just better up there. But… nobody goes up there if they can avoid it so consequently the wine biz has set up shop in central TX. They do grow fruit in the hill country though and have for ages … but most of it used to be peaches. There are still peaches of course but now there’s a lot more vines and grapes.

This visit out that way was mainly to catch a [relative] newcomer to the area. Kuhlman Cellars has only been there a couple of years, and yet judging by the quality of the wine, you’d never know that. I was throughly impressed with the experience.

You need a reservation for a tasting at Kulhman and if same-day, you can call them. In this case though I made the reservation online the day before. That was handy. I got the “Signature Food and Wine Pairing”. It’s the way to go I think. It was a few bucks more but the food pairings were a nice addition and enhanced the experience.

The tasting was a sit-down event and just about right on time per the reservation. A sit-down tasting / pairing isn’t something I see often at hill country wineries but I really liked it. I snapped a shot of the food pairings which you can see here in this post.

We were ably guided through our tasting by Jeremy Wilson. Follow the link to his blog postings at the Kuhlman Cellars blog. By his description, his job is essentially anything that needs to get done. From planting in the vineyard to driving the forklift – but he really likes doing the tastings and explaining everything. He’s very knowledgable about the regional wines.

We were fortunate enough to also briefly meet and say hello to the winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne. She’s originally from France. Her mom was visiting from France and was there that afternoon for a tasting, which was kinda cute. Follow the link for a bio.

There were 5 wines tasted and I enjoyed each. The Sauvignon Blanc was a surprise and very nice. “Green apple, pear and gooseberry.. crisp acidity”. You’d never guess the fruit came from Ft Stockton way out in west TX.

The reds in general were lovely but the 2014 Barranca was a standout. Tasting notes: “violets, sweet baking spice, cedar cigar box and cherry, .., dark chocolate, creme fraiche and intense mineralogy”. (I’m always amazed at how wine writers come up with these descriptions.) Anyway, it was 31% Mourvedre, 30% Tempranillo, 24% Malbec and 15% Sangiovese .. and it was yummy. Pricey at $36/bottle but as things go this is pretty much a specialty item and nicely done at that so you’ll pay a little more.

The photo at the bottom of the post of the vines and grapes is, if my notes are correct, Marsanne. You can read all about this at the winery’s own blog post here.

With plenty of time left of the afternoon we decided to also take in Hilmy Cellars 10 min down the road. I had been there only once and was impressed with their wines. So, off we went.

You can see another couple photos here from Hilmy. The first is one is of their 2015 Persephone. A blend of 2/3 Viognier and 1/3 Chenin Blanc. The white wines in general at Hilmy were excellent. My fav was their 2015 100% Viognier. A bit more floral than the other two white but with enough acid not to make it cloying.

The reds were equally enjoyable but the 100% Sangiovese was my fav and is it then any surprise that we got one of those with a plan to stop by Sorellina pizza on the way back to Austin for a couple of pies? Great combo! (Sorellina is just on the Austin side of the bridge over the Pedernales river and well worth the drive out west on hwy 71 if you wanna take the time.)

The guy in the photo at the bottom is Michael at Hilmy. Didn’t catch his last name. He’s only been in the area for 3 months. He moved from California. He was very knowledgable about the wines though and as you can see, he clearly enjoys what he’s doing.

Vines and Grapes at Kuhlman Cellars, Stonewall, Texas

The Willamette Valley came to Austin – at least for one night. I’m a big fan of Oregon wines and have written here before about visits up there. So I was excited to see an event called “Pinot in the City” come up right here in Austin that showcased nothing but Oregon wines from the Willamette valley area.

First and foremost I appreciated that the organizers somehow managed to make the winery to taster ratio a very good one so that we weren’t all just packed in there like sardines and making it difficult to get a tasting. In fact, it was a pleasure to just take our time, have a bit of food and then go check out the next winery that looked interesting.

In the end, I made note of my two favorites. One white and one red. Perhaps not surprisingly these came from two wineries I have visited in the past. And while these I noted as my favorites, there was nothing that I didn’t like.

The first of these was the Pinot Blanc from Brooks. When I saw they had a white I at first assumed it’d be a Riesling. They make excellent Riesling! But instead it was this 2014 Pinot Blanc. Lemon lime with a round and reasonably full body. I’d love to find some more of this. I don’t see this particular year available on the Brooks website but they have the 2015 there. Might have to give that one a try.

My favorite Pinot Noir of the night, by a nose – because there were so many good ones – was the 2013 Lange Pinot Noir Reserve. If you click through to their website you’ll find tasting notes there which who am I to argue with:

“Bright and lively, the palate shows an array of red berry fruit layered with sweet herbs and hints of rich earth.”

Lange is a lovely little winery to visit I might add. I have been there at least a couple times and hope to visit again one day.

It’s been another fun year of posting to Instagram. For the last couple of years there’s been a website you can use to collect the nine photos you’ve posted that got the most likes – from upper left to lower right. I wouldn’t use the term ‘best’ for these. They’re just the ones that happened to get the most likes. Sometimes that’s just a matter of timing or the hashtags that might have been used. Head over to Instagram and add your own like if any of them grab you.

Instagram 2016 Nine Most Liked

The only time I go out of my way go to Las Vegas is when there is a work related event there. The glitz of Las Vegas can be fun to look at but there’s something very unnatural about Vegas. I suppose that’s an understatement. This glitzy place with large water attractions like the one at the Bellagio and yet it’s right in the middle of the desert.

Regardless, it’s very photogenic and can be a fun place to wander the streets with a camera in hand. Over three nights while there I snapped the photos I’ve posted here. If you follow my Instagram account I posted these there but thought I’d capture some notes about them here as well.

Elvis and his dancing girl were standing on the street outside Caesar’s Palace and begging for attention. Quite literally. For a tip each they were happy to give me a great pose and show those great pearly whites. I really liked how this one turned out, considering how quickly it all transpired. There was not much setup time here. Just a few seconds. It was probably 40 degrees out there at that point so I’m not sure how long they were on the street. Probably not too long.

The black and whites below were each taken on separate nights on different sections of the strip.

The ballerina was all alone and had some music playing but was otherwise seemingly oblivious to passersby. But she was actually a pretty good dancer. I took several shots but this one turned out the best. She wasn’t in this pose but for an instant. And I was lucky to have so little traffic in the background.

The cowboy accordian player was on one of those pedestrian bridges over the street and between hotels. He had a tip basket out and I passed him twice – once going and later returning. On the return trip I tipped him and asked if I could take his picture. As you can see he agreed but he also asked me where I was from and then immediately broke into “Deep in the Heart of Texas” on his accordian.

The last guy with the guitar was out there a couple nights in a row on the bridge between Caesar’s and the Bellagio. I think I tipped him both times I walked by him. He was pretty good. I snagged this shot that second night I saw him out there.

These were some of the interesting people on the strip in the evenings that seemed very approachable. At other times – and particularly very early in the morning – there were some really sketchy people out there. They probably wouldn’t have been too happy with me taking their photo – and I was conference bound anyway.

I did leave Vegas though with the thought it’d be fun to go back and spend more time with the camera and on the streets there, seeing what I might be able to capture.

 

Day 3 had doing a loop ride out of Rocamadour and then right back to stay at the same hotel as day 2.

The weather and the riding on the routes in this area were again fantastic and especially in the morning.

The photo at the boulangerie (bakery) was a particularly fun little stop in the morning. Nothing fancy, just some good coffee and a croissant. That’s Jim on the left there, me on the right.

By mid day we had arrived at a planned activity for the day and that was a visit to Gouffre de Padirac. Quite touristy but also actually pretty cool – quite literally. You descend into this giant hole in the ground to find some spectacular caverns and an underground river. And, it was much cooler down there than up top so I was glad that we had been given a heads up to bring something more to wear. I was also glad to not be in cycling shoes down there. It’s wet, its slippery and you actually do quite a bit of walking up and down stairs.

You’re prohibited from taking photos while on the tour (though that has to be hard to police and I saw more than 1 tourist being admonished) so consequently I don’t have any to post here. I would suggest instead you check out the official website.

The darker evening photo was taken from our terrace dinner location back in Rocamadour. Rocamadour is pretty small. There where other restaurant options but many of us – based on recommendation – opted to eat again at the same terrace restaurant we had been at the night before. Food was again good – I got the duck. The most enjoyable part though was simply being able to dine outdoors in what amounted to room temperature. It was really perfect weather to be outdoors in the evening.

I’d be remiss while I jot notes about Rocamadour if I didn’t also mention the cheese I ate at every opportunity while visiting. I’d never actually heard of it before the visit but the 1st night it was served as part of the dessert courses and then I noticed it was available (along with some meats/cheese) at breakfast the next morning. It was rather aptly named Rocamadour Cheese and was a little goat cheese served in a small flat and round shape. I’ll look for it around here in Austin but I don’t expect to find it. I did, however, find it in other nearby towns. In fact, I bought some more in the town of Sarlat, which would be our next destination.

One last photo. This one was taken from my hotel room window just about sunrise as we prepared to head out and ride to our next destination.

From Rocamadour

Day 2 had us heading off from Brive to the little village of Rocamadour.

Check out the link to read more about Rocamadour but as you can see from the photo it’s a beautiful little town tucked into the limestone cliffs. As you can also see, the weather we had that day was spectacular. Warm but not hot – at least by Texas standards for the time of year.

The route from Brive to Rocamadour was in my opinion outstanding. While there’s undoubtedly some troublesome traffic to endure as you leave the center of Brive, once you’re out on the rural roads it was quiet, quaint, rolling and picturesque.

Not far out of Brive we had a pre-arranged visit planned at a little farm and bakery. Had this not been pre-arranged it would have been very easy to simply roll by just another farm. But having pulled in, we were directed into a little barn and inside was the owner of the farm/bakery was a big wood fired oven and a whole lot of loaves of bread and bread-making equipment. He was also in the midst of making more bread with plenty of doughy goodness ready to be stuffed in the oven. You can see a photo here of some of the loaves in a big bin. The best part of course was sampling the fresh bread!

After leaving the bread behind and what seemed like a relatively short ride on our route we passed through another pretty little town named Collonges-la-Rouge. The town is clearly mostly a tourist attraction at this point but it’s beautiful. I didn’t take a lot of photos here but you can see one I’ve included. The town was built entirely of red sandstone bricks. Had I arrived post the noon hour I would have been inclined to stop for lunch at what looked like some interesting little places. I was a little too early though so I kept on.

Our route that day was 47-something miles and the afternoon presented both some warmer temps and some hill climbs. Challenging enough but the grades were not that bad and the roads were quiet. It was an outstanding route into Rocamadour.

Rocamadour consisted of pretty much one main street at the base of the cliff. Along the street were mostly shops and restaurants and hotels. It definitely exists mainly as a tourist destination though I would say I didn’t find the touristy bits to be too overdone. In late August, we were told the crowds were much less than just a couple weeks before.

Our hotel was right in the center of the town and conveniently had two highlights: the first was that it had a really inviting terrace/bar next to the hotel. It was shaded in the afternoon and afforded good people watching at the same time. Our crew of riders and guides gravitated to the terrace given the fantastic weather and tasty beverages. You can see a photo of some of the group laughing it up at the terrace bar post that 2nd day ride. Good times.

The other good thing about the hotel turned out to be its restaurant. The food was excellent and it too had a terrace. Loved dining outdoors!

Next day: a loop ride and right back to Rocamadour.