Park pairings

Three local parks and wines to pair for the perfect date with nature

Wine trekkin’.

Wine trekkin’.

PHOTO by mitch barrie (via flickr)

Every bottle of wine is uncorked potential, the beginning of a journey. Perhaps that’s why a glass of wine pairs so nicely with a nature walk. On the trails into forests and along rivers and canyons, wine will leave its city pretensions behind. An inexpensive bottle, split among friends while traversing new paths, becomes the greatest wine of all.

Here are three local trails and three suggestions for local bottles to elevate your late-summer adventures.

Upon first glance, the Indian Fishery Day Use Area, west of Chico in Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park, seems a little plain—a parking lot, a few picnic tables, and a half-mile nature trail. However, on that trail—as with a glass of sweet moscato wine—something special happens halfway through. You start to smile.

The short trail runs parallel to an oxbow lake, created by erosion over time, cutting off a bend of the Sacramento River and isolating the small body of water. Overrun with flora, the lake is a sea of green spread between ivy-covered banks, vines a few feet shy of climbing to the top of waterside oak trees. Viewed between sips of a silky moscato—such as Moscato Dolce’ from Oroville’s Grey Fox Vineyards—the undisturbed riverbank seems silently spiritual, though playful, as if colossal forest specters may awake from eons of slumber and shrug off the world that’s grown over them.

Then the riparian revenants appear—river otters popping their heads above the isolated water, slick brown bodies rolling in the reeds, wiggling between the foliage. The otters bob in the dark waters as you sink into the indulgence of the syrupy wine.

North of Indian Fishery along the Sacramento River, Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area calls for a bolder, but still smooth, wine.

Located outside Corning, the spot is popular for fishing, birding and camping, while the nature trails wind through valley oaks and blackberry patches that would be at home with the fruity flavors of St. James Syrah of the New Clairvaux Vineyard—which is just a stone’s throw away. The towering oaks are overwhelming compared with the frolicking otters but a spicy—though still fruity—syrah is audacious enough to take on the grand scene. Unlike a zin, which may be too full-bodied, a syrah plays nicely with the wild blackberries plucked free of their thorny embrace from the bushes beside the trails.

On a damp day—like those after a surprising summer rain—the red wine’s earthy musk mingles in the air with the sickly sweet smell of decaying detritus rising off the forest floor. Each sip draws the two in, the wine carrying the essence of the forest on crimson waves. And, if those or any other waves carry you to a place where you find yourself in need of an impromptu campout under the stars, a syrah’s drinkability means you can pour into night while sprawled under a sky so full of starlight that it dwarfs the surrounding mighty oaks and outshines the wine.

The 3,670-acre Bidwell Park straddles Big Chico Creek, is home to a simian outcropping, and was a filming location for Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)—it’s a big park with a big attitude and a big rule about alcohol not being allowed. If there weren’t such a law, or if you indulged in advance of your hike, a go-anywhere, powerful barbera (even the name sounds worthy of Robin of Locksley)—perhaps one from Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyards—would pack enough umph to get you up the Upper Park ridges, but this everyday wine won’t thumb its nose if you go ape standing atop Monkey Face.

Keep a safe distance from bluff’s edge, and take in the grand views of Big Chico Creek Canyon. Sit and let the barbera grease your mind as it slips into canyon and cup alike. Listen for the repetitious raps of a woodpecker while the shadows of turkey vultures circle the grass-spotted rocky outcropping, and wrap yourself in the natural wonder. Your blood pumping with confidence, declare yourself one with nature and, in doing so, own its grandiose wonder.