Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Wine Hike

It was a Groupon deal.  For my birthday last year, my wife Karen found this online offer that seemed to be right up my alley, since it blended two of my favorite activities, walking and wine consumption, into one day-long adventure.  According to the deal, we were supposed to drive to Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, Georgia, and from there, we would be ferried via some unknown conveyance to the starting point of a hike that would take us to Chateau Elan Winery, at which we would have lunch, then return back to where we had started.  I wasn't sure how many miles this would be, but all in all, it sounded like a good way to spend a Saturday.  Given that the Groupon offer was only good for one year and that my next birthday was quickly approaching, we had to go ahead and schedule the hike.

Victoria Bryant Lake
One thing I've learned from many years of working and living is that one must be prepared for the unexpected.  And so, when I heard that our destination had changed from Fort Yargo to a certain Victoria Bryant State Park "somewhere out I-85", followed by a hike to "some winery out there", I went with the flow.  We awoke early and headed to our favorite Norcross coffee shop for our morning breakfast, then set off up I-85.  A little over an hour later, at about 11:00 AM, we arrived at Victoria Bryant State Park, where we purchased a day pass and found a nice parking space.

Although the hike was scheduled to start at 11:00, at least for a while it seemed that we were the only "wine hikers" there.  The park office featured a nice oil painting of a lady whom I assumed was Victoria and a small cooler filled with Klondike Bars and Drumsticks.  There was a stand of rod and reel kits and a rack of t-shirts, along with a table full of fishing thingies, and since I don't know much about fishing, I'll leave it at that.  Within several minutes, we had exhausted the available entertainment options at the office, so we ventured back outside to wait for our wine tour guide to appear.

At 11:30, there still was no guide, and by this time, several other Grouponers had arrived, among them a couple who appeared to be regular hikers, a man who was a big University of Georgia fan, and two young ladies who worked together in a doctor's office.  Several of the more resourceful people started examining the park trail map, thinking that we might have to do this thing on our own.  Karen suggested that I call the winery to see if we could find a number for our guide, so I did that.  The winery indicated that we were not on the Saturday tour schedule and were actually supposed to be there on Sunday, but to "come on out and it would be okay".  This was not particularly reassuring, but just as my concern peaked, up roared our guide, an energetic little man of Middle Eastern descent, ready to lead the expedition.

The hike had been billed as an "easy walk", but even as a regular walker, I would consider this trail "medium".  It was apparent early on that our guide, whom I shall call "T", was used to this sort of thing -- he was like a windup toy with well-defined calf muscles.  There were long stretches of uphill paths, spots where we had to finagle our way across rocks and streams, and pieces of trail that consisted mostly of tree trunks.  But we reveled in the fact that there would be wine at the end, and of course, during the hike, there was the promised lunch.

Because "T" was a renaissance man with a strong affinity for organic food, our lunch (which he had brought in a small backpack) consisted of turkey on flatbread, fresh kale, carrots (I think), and goji berries.  "T" had trouble saying "goji", so we started calling them "hoochie-coochie berries".  This elicited much laughter from the group, especially when I indicated that after consuming them, I had started to see colors.  One of the young ladies in the group chimed in, "Yes, you eat them, and you go, 'Where are my pants?'"  That seemed to break the ice for all of us, and we decided that we kind of liked this organic food, after all.  I even had a second flatbread sandwich.

After the rest period, we again hit the trail and completed the hike, which I would guess to have been somewhere between five and six miles.  At the end, we struggled uphill to the parking lot, except for "T", who ran up about eighty stairs to get back to his car.  Having witnessed that show of athletic prowess and realizing that it was beyond my good sense or abilities, I was relieved that it was time to visit the winery.

We had directions, but we found it easier to follow the maps on my iPhone to direct us to Boutier Winery, in the community of Danielsville, Georgia.  OK, now...I'm a city person at heart, and I can find my way to almost any nook and cranny of the city of Atlanta, but this place was out there.  We pulled into the parking lot, put on flip-flops, and headed into the air-conditioned wine tasting room, where we were greeted by a nice Irish lady named Mary.

Mary and her significant other own the Boutier Winery and an adjacent bed and breakfast, and we were not disappointed with the wine selection.  The wines, mostly fruit based, were given clever names such as Diva'licious (peach), Absolutely Sinful (peach ice) and Skinny Bitch (blueberry).  We sampled a wide variety of the offerings and went home with four bottles for the cellar.  At the end of the afternoon, we had to agree that this wine hike thing was a fairly righteous idea, even if it didn't exactly start on time or follow the initial plan.

And so I say unto you: yes, you can visit your local Trader Joe's for some Two Buck Chuck, or you can browse the aisles of Total Wine for just the perfect wine to accompany your pheasant under glass, but listen up: there is nothing to beat walking one's buns off, eating hoochie-coochie berries in the middle of nowhere on a really hot day, then heading home with some wine named Skinny Bitch. That, my friends, makes for an afternoon.