Unique bike tours open eyes to the bounty of the Hood River Valley

By Drew Myron

Blending nature and recreation with foodie pleasures, wine country tours by bicycle fill a growing need for hands-on experiences. Photos courtesy of MountNbarrel

Christie Reed wakes early to open the family winery, where she welcomes a dozen cyclists eager to spend the day rolling through vineyards, snacking at fruit stands, sipping wine and absorbing the bounty of the Hood River Valley.

“People love to see the orchards, the fields, the barns,” Christie says.

She and her husband, Dick, own and operates Wy’East Vineyards on Highway 35 near Pine Grove.

“This is a working farm and a family business,” Christie says. “It isn’t Disneyland.”

Area farmers work together to support agritourism—an activity that combines food, recreation and travel.

Thanks to MountNbarrel—the area’s first guided wine country bike tour— business is booming.

MountNbarrel brings together two of the area’s popular pursuits: cycling and wineries. Launched in 2015 by Ali McLaughlin, the guide service provides private tours through quiet, out-of-the-way farm roads, orchards and trails on hybrid cruiser bikes and e-bikes.

Tours include bikes, helmets, a trained guide, complimentary tastings of wines and ciders, a farm-to-foodtruck lunch and a meander through U-pick farms, all along private roads and paths.

Tours run 4½ hours. A shuttle service is available for pick-up, drop-off and rests. Cyclists can meet winery owners and operators, and enjoy an inside peek at the winemaking process, learn vineyard history, explore grape varieties and more.

Tours are available on Hood River’s west side (Oak Grove), east side (Pine Grove) and Lyle, Washington.

The west side tour features Phelps Creek Vineyards, Marchesi Vineyards, Viento Wines, Hood Crest Winery and Cathedral Ridge Winery.

The east side tour features Mt. Hood Winery, The Gorge White House and Wy’East Vineyards.

Ali McLaughlin, left, founder of MountNbarrel, meets with Christie Reed of Wy’East Vineyards. The winery is one of a dozen local businesses MountNbarrel showcases in its wine country bike tours.

From revved to relaxed, cyclists come in all shapes and abilities. “We have fit to not-so-fit,” Ali says.

“You have to be able to ride a bike, that’s all. I like to show people that even though Hood River is known for its extreme sports, you can experience Hood River in a leisurely way.”

The tours fill a growing need. In 2017, Hood River was named a top-10 wine travel destination by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Ali says bike tours offer a fresh way to experience the wine country.

But it’s not just tourists enjoying the ride. Local companies take tours as a team-building activity. Local folks celebrate birthdays, weddings and other special occasions.

“We live in a beautiful place, but too often we just look at the beauty instead of seeing and savoring it,” says Anne Gehrig, who lives in Pine Grove and teaches fifth grade at Westside Elementary.

Although she’s lived in Hood River for 40 years, an excursion with a group of Westside teachers helped her enjoy her hometown in a new way.

“The bike tour was the perfect chance to slow down and really experience the beauty that surrounds us,” Anne says. “The best part for me was in the stories, which helped connect the dots between people and places.

“At Phelps Creek, we stood in the vineyard and sipped the wine that the vines had produced. Although I’d met the owner years ago, and taught his son, I never knew the story behind the vineyard, the wines and even the wine labels. It was an unforgettable experience.”

By joining with ag-based businesses, MountNbarrel offers one-of-a-kind adventures that benefit a broad reach of growers, bikers, tourists and locals.

MountNbarrel tours offer backroad excursions through fields, farms, barns and vines.

“When they take home a bottle of wine, they get something special, that is of the place,” says Christie of Wy’East. “People can get wine anywhere. We can’t compete with Safeway or other big markets. We’re selling a boutique winery experience.”

Ali and her husband, Matt, moved from Bend to Hood River in 2015. For Ali, who grew up in Troutdale and then lived in a variety of cities throughout the U.S., returning to the Gorge is a sort of homecoming. A wine enthusiast who enjoys a leisurely stroll on her cruiser bike, she was delighted to discover a multitude of wineries.

“When we moved here, I found one place, then another, then another,” Ali says with a laugh. “I had a dream that one day bike-riding and wine-tasting would come together to form the ultimate Hood River experience. I think it’s important to be mindful of your community and to build partnerships.”

MountNbarrel operates bike tours from May to October, and offers discounts to local residents. For more information, go to www.mountnbarrel. com, email MountNbarrel@gmail.com or call (541) 490-TOUR (8687).