Sport meets wine… fitness is the new wine festival

It seemed like a great idea, until I realised the full extent of what winemaker John Forrest had in mind…
When he first suggested cycling the annual Forrest Estate GrapeRide, I figured that I’d travel to Marlborough, write a blog about a cycle race at a winery and enjoy a few glasses afterwards. What could be hard about that? Nothing at all, until I realised I’d have to take part in the 42 km race in order to write about it.
Cycle 42 kilometres? Are you kidding?
I’m hardly a couch potato. I walk, go to the gym, tramp a little and  I used to swim every day followed by a few years of running five times a week. But… 42 kms on a bike sounds so long and so hard. And how wrong I was. Turns out, 42 kms is not far to cycle and  there’s nothing like two hard core cycling travel companions to bring this into stark contrast with their 200 km rides at Forrest Estate GrapeRide.
If GrapeRide sounds like a cushy excuse for drinking, think again. Most participants are serious cyclists and the event is redefining the way wine lovers enjoy a little of what they fancy.
The ride begins and ends at Forrest Estate Winery on Blicks Road and loops the Queen Charlotte Drive once for the 100km ride and twice for those who are insane enough to check in for the 200km race. Those who love killing their leg muscles on the hell of the hills along the way.
If you have a good bike, a comfortable seat and a shred of fitness, then the 42 kms is a walk in the park by comparison and even for amateur cyclists like yours truly, it’s pretty cushy actually. But what I really loved about the event (even if it took me five years to get round to doing the ride and this blog) is that it gives people a valid reason to see grapes, vineyards and wines up close, without going there purely to stand around and drink all day. There’s no shortage of good stuff to drink but it feels like one has earned it when it all happens after a bit of hard out exercise.
The same thing happened at the first Pegasus Bay Vine Run in late January this year. It was the first event of what the organisers, Di Donaldson and Mike Donaldson (sister-in-law/brother-in-law duo) hope will be many. And while it was held on a stinking hot, windless and humid day, it was a great way to enjoy working up to a few mid afternoon Rieslings from this outstanding North Canterbury winery.
Events like these two and the Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon and the Martinborough Round the Vines Fun Run/Walk are changing the way that wine lovers visit winery.
Still, for all that was great about GrapeRide this year, it was far from easy. And that’s because of a tree. A low hanging tree.
A low hanging tree that we got up far too close and personal with on the night before the race.
There we were, minding our own business, driving down a dark country driveway the we felt something go crunch on the roof, and realised that it was in fact a tree mangling a bike brake. Disaster.
Still, it was nothing that a cup of tea and half a dozen phone calls later couldn’t fix, thanks to Dr John Forrest, winemaker and co-owner of Forrest Estate and Brent, owner of Bikefit Marlborough Blenheim – who opened his store and did a midnight repair job for us.
Fast forward to 6am the next morning when I am driving down the same dark driveway at 6am (having dropped the 200km cyclists off), only to have that familiar feeling of that same tree grabbing the front wheel of my bike and destroying both wheel, roof rack and roof of car, all at the same time. Great. So much for the relaxing extra hour’s sleep I had planned. Luckily, the car roof is only dented slightly and the bike is now repaired. John Forrest loaned me his daughter Beth’s bike – and helped extract the damaged one from the car roof (before the car’s owner could see how bad it looked).
I love GrapeRide and hope to take part next year, possibly even for one of the longer races. I do not love low hanging trees and am wary of driving a certain person’s high spec’ cars with his high spec roof racks when bikes are on board. This is now the second roof rack event with me in the driver’s seat. But all’s well that ends well. And GrapeRide is  inspiring.
It started back in 2005 with 698 riders and has grown so massively that it’s now capped at 2500 people. It began after a friendly chat between a couple of local cyclists; namely, a budding Olympian Robin Reid and police sergeant Pete Halligan. Soon, fellow cyclists Drs John and Birgid Forrest (owners of Forrest Estate Winery) got involved and the rest is, well, history.
These days John Forrest is also working on a Picton to Kaikoura cycle trail. Watch this space.
Find out  more about GrapeRide here

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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