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Brett deLeuze, president of Rutherford’s ZD Winery, was one of many cyclists raising their hands and cheering at the start of the Oct. 12 Crush Challenge.

The group was heading out on a 50-mile ride, starting and ending at Yountville Park and climbing up Ink Grade into Angwin. It was one of three routes. Two of them included some hills and the other was mostly flat.

At the end of 50 miles, deLeuze said Ink Grade was hard, adding, “I haven’t done it in a while,” but, he added, “I got on with some partners of ours, and there was one guy who pulled us down the (Silverado) Trail at 24-and-a-half miles an hour, so that was a big help. And, it was into the wind.”

In early afternoon, after the ride had ended, deLeuze said, “What a fantastic day. We’re here in the Marketplace with 10 Napa Valley wineries and 10 restaurants from the Napa Valley all celebrating the Crush Challenge and our efforts to raise money for UC Davis for our professorship there to find a non-toxic cure for lymphoma, as well as Parkinson’s with Davis Phinney and the Boys & Girls Club of Napa Valley.”

A few days after the event ended, deLeuze said, “This year, we continued to expand our Crush Challenge to 40 percent more attendance and a new Food and Wine Marketplace location at the Yountville Park. We are excited to continue to grow Crush Challenge and donate 100 percent of our net profits from the event to funding programs for UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s and Boys & Girls Clubs of Napa Valley.

“We anticipate adding significantly to the $225,000 already raised from previous year events. To date, ZD Wines and The deLeuze Family Charitable Foundation have raised more than $1 million to support research led by Dr. Joseph Tuscano at the UC Davis Cancer Center.”

He added there were close to 200 riders, somewhere between 400 and 500 people at the Marketplace, and on Saturday night there were 120 people at the dinner at St. Helena’s Las Alcobas.

Wine importer Tom Byrnes

Another 50-mile rider was Tom Byrnes, owner of T Edward Wine, a wine importer and distribution business based in New York City. He called Ink Grade amazing, completely bucolic and relatively doable, adding, “I live in the south of France, so I’ve been training on lots of hills.”

He brought 20 people to Crush Challenge, all with black kits (uniforms), pledging that “next year, we’re bringing 100.” It’s their fifth year of co-sponsoring the event and the third year Byrnes has participated. He’s been riding bicycles for 20 years, since he began selling ZD Wines in New York.

The best ZD wine he’s had? “That was two nights ago, the 2010 reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which was as good as any wine I’ve ever had. It was a world-class category, as good as any Bordeaux,” Byrnes said. His company imports wines from 400 different wineries around the world, brings them to a warehouse in Northern New Jersey and distributes them to metropolitan New York and 33 states.

When asked how hard it is to push ZD Wines, Byrnes said, “It’s a changing demographic in metro New York. The story of ZD is a relatively easy one, because they’re organic,” using American oak barrels, a low-temperature ferment, and “an approach to organic before organic was cool or interesting. Very unique, and kudos to them for sticking to their guns, not chasing the trends in the market.” Additionally, he said ZD is responsible in the community.

Byrnes added that the pendulum has been swinging, shifting to the left, with consumers seeking natural and lower alcohol wines.

“It’s very interesting for wineries in the south of France,” he said. “How they can stay the course and stay relevant in the marketplace, while the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. Our job as importers is to keep them relevant with the 25-year-old, with the 30-year-old.”

The importer maintains that millennials are “drinking as much wine” as other generations, “although they are drinking a different category of wine,” lower alcohol and natural with less intervention, which is “very prevalent in metro New York and around the country. Other alcoholic drinks that are popular with millennials include Kombucha, a fermented Asian tea, sour beers and “orange” wine, that is white wine that is fermented with the wine in contact with the skins.

The Crush Challenge is touted as “The Food, Wine & Cycling Experience of a Lifetime,” and one of the unique features is that cyclists may stop at ZD Wines for glasses of wine and hors d’oeuvres and then finish 6.4 miles to Yountville Park.

Connie Carpenter Phinney

At the park was Connie Carpenter Phinney, the Olympic gold medalist who won the women’s road race at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. She was representing the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s, which she runs with her husband, Davis Phinney, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 20 years ago.

“At that time, there was a lot of work and a lot of activity about finding a cure for Parkinson’s,” she said, but “not a lot of information about how to live with the disease.” What Davis had to do, his wife said, “was figure out how to live with the disease,” asking, “Who do I have on my team to help me live well, besides me?” Phinney said.

He ended up starting a foundation 15 years ago. “Probably everybody knows somebody who has Parkinson’s, and it’s a kind of disease that you’re going to live with for a long time,” Phinney said. “So, you need the tools to live better. As it turns out, it’s really good to ride a bike when you have Parkinson’s, so Davis has continued to ride.”

So has she. In fact, she was on a Trek electric bike for the 35-mile ride. The story behind their use of e-bikes is interesting. Five years ago, Davis started riding an e-bike and it really helped him.

“A lot of what happens with Parkinson’s is the disease is one-sided, you get weak on one side or rigid on one side,” Phinney said. “When he would ride his bike, it would be very uncomfortable and not very safe, because he would be compromised. An e-bike helps him even it out, especially when he begins to struggle.”

At the time, Phinney was riding her regular bike to keep up with her husband, and she admitted it wasn’t fun. “Riding an e-bike rolls back the clock like you’re 30 years younger. Once you start doing it, it’s hard to stop. I have a lot of back issues that are difficult and I ride for health, not much more than that,” she said.

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You may reach David Stoneberg at 967-6800 or editor@sthelenastar.com

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st