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SpeakEasy: Jeff Kralik, The Drunken Cyclist

When I encounter a blog called "The Drunken Cyclist", there's one thing for sure: it's definitely going on my radar. After careful and frequent reading, I've found what Philadelphia resident Jeff Kralik has to offer is a wonderful combination of wine, bicycle touring, and vignettes from the mind and experience of his young son, Sebastian. (Though I should add that of each of these three things are served up separately.)

Find out how you tote 22 bottles of Champagne on the back of a bike (un)successfully and more from Jeff in this edition of our SpeakEasy series of interviews

You recently wrote about a cycling adventure in Sonoma on your blog, stating, “If you are a cyclist and you love beautiful scenery, you must put Dry Creek Valley on your bucket list.” What is it about this part of Sonoma that makes it a must-cycle, beyond an epic climb to Rockpile?

We only rode for two days (the first was a rather flat ride up and down the valley), but that ride up to Rockpile was epic. Other than the riding I have done in the Alps and the Pyrenées, that ride ranks right up there with the best I’ve done. My hosts for the two days in Dry Creek assured me that there are numerous other rides that rival the Rockpile climb. That was enough for me--I am going back this August!

What tips do you have for cycling in wine country, especially to stay safe on the roads?

Most cyclists know that you have to be particularly attentive when riding in any kind of traffic. Wine country traffic presents particularly challenging conditions. Most of the time drivers are from out of town (and therefore may not know exactly where they are going) and they may have been drinking--a pretty dangerous combination. I always assume that cars don’t see me (one might think it is hard to miss a 6’4” rider clad in obnoxiously colored lycra, but you would be surprised) and ride very defensively. I am trying to ride hard and get a good workout, but I always keep in mind some very good advice I got early on in my riding “career”: Cars always win.

[THE TIPLER TEN: JEFF'S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EATING AND DRINKING IN PHILADELPHIA]

You led bike tours in France. How is touring wine country via pedal power on two wheels a different experience than driving?

I am certainly biased, but I think touring by bike is the best method to visit another region, be it wine country or not. First, even though this might sound counter-intuitive, it is much more relaxing. Sure, you are out there working hard, sweating, having the sun beat down on you, but there is none of the inherent hurriedness that comes once you climb into an automobile. When you are on a bike, you know that there is no possible way that you will be able to “see everything” so you don’t even try. Second, particularly in Europe, the locals seem more open to cyclists than motorists even when there is a language barrier. I have had countless casual conversations that I am sure would have never taken place if I had not pulled up on my bike. Last, I am a bit of a tree hugger and you can’t beat the low carbon output.

One nice thing about driving is you can stash wine in the trunk. But that doesn’t seem to deter you when riding, especially when I look at this photo:

the drunken cyclist champagne mailly

Are those boxes really full of Champagne? How far did you have to go, and did you get some looks from people along the way?

Hands-down I have been asked more about that photo than any other, and I have a confession to make--it’s not me! I was visiting one of my favorite wineries in Champagne with a good friend and after a two-hour tasting, we hopped on our bikes to head to a Michelin two-star restaurant for a late lunch. Moments before I took this photo, the rack on my bike collapsed under the weight and the nearly two cases (22 bottles) of Mailly Grand Cru Champagne (along with the rest of my gear) came crashing to the pavement. I was not all that concerned about the wine (champagne bottles are a sturdy breed), but our only choice was to load everything on my friend’s bike and pray his rack did not suffer the same fate. We only had about ten miles to go, and we took it pretty easy. When we got to the restaurant, I think every employee (and a couple patrons) came out and took a picture of the bike.

[For more bicycle-centric SpeakEasy conversations AND more spandex, check out Clive Pursehouse of Northwest Wine Anthem.]

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at your commitment to bubbles, as your motto is, “If it doesn’t sparkle, it doesn’t matter.” Why so crazy for sparkling wine?

Yeah, I am a bit of a bubbles hound--I think I might be one of a few people on the planet who considers Richard Juhlin their personal hero. When I started doing bike tours twenty years ago, one of the main requirements of the job was to know about the local culture--including the wine. Well, I am certainly not the first person to find French wine to be a bit overwhelming, but I got some great advice: The owner of the company (my wine godfather, so to speak) told me to concentrate on just one region and learn everything about it, then start to branch out to other regions. For that first region, I chose Champagne in part because I loved the wine, certainly, but more due to the fact that the owner of the company (and now one of my closest friends), knew next to nothing about it.

As a statistician, what do you think of the 100 point scale? If you could be the architect of a system of your own that would be adopted as an industry standard, what would it look like?

As you may know, I use a three point range when I evaluate wines (e.g., “88-90 Points”), and I have received a bit of pushback about it (there’s a certain “Dude” that lives near Philadelphia who likes to needle me about it). I have pondered for a while about creating a different system to evaluate wines, but there is a huge problem: the 100-point scale is easy and everyone (from neophyte to experienced pro) can understand it. One might not agree with it, but I think the reason it has endured is its simplicity--and that is the key. Any potential replacement needs to be as easily understood. That’s a tall order.

I really enjoy “Sundays Are For Sebastian”, especially a recent post concerning a critical misunderstanding of a word. Tell me about how this feature came to be, and about getting personal on a wine blog.

Honestly, when I started Sundays Are For Sebastian I never thought it would be a regular “feature” on my blog for a couple of reasons. First, I had no idea how popular it would be and, second, I was not sure that my son would be continue to produce such great content. More than a year later, both concerns have been proven to be unfounded, at least for now. If I had to boil down the reasons that I write into a singular mantra, it would be rather simple: “Make people smile.” I never really thought about it as “getting personal” but there have been times, after a particularly funny yet personal moment, my wife has instructed me “You can’t write about this!” My father-in-law, for example, is completely off limits, which is too bad since he is a wine drinker and quite funny.



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