A down-to-earth wine tour in Sonoma ValleyCompared with flashier Napa, the feeling is more laid-back in Sonoma — the perfect place to learn a little something while you sip.
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THE DEVICE, A CURVED GLASS CYLINDER with a conical nose and a handle at the top, is called a wine thief. A winemaker plunges the tip into a barrel and places his thumb over the hole at the top, drawing a measure of wine from the barrel and then, if you’re lucky, depositing a taste into your glass.
This is the ritual known as barrel tasting. Ordinarily the only people tasting wine at this early stage are winemakers, who sample their concoctions as they mature. But for two weekends each spring in northern Sonoma County, the California wine region just west of the more celebrated Napa Valley, more than 100 wineries open their barrels and allow visitors to sample the nascent varietals — primarily the chardonnays, cabernet sauvignons, and pinot noirs that are this region’s best-known styles.
My knowledge of wine is quite limited compared with that of serious oenophiles, who look at barrel tasting the way cinephiles look at the Cannes Film Festival — they’re getting an exclusive taste of something that the broader public won’t experience until months later. The weekends also provide a chance to buy “futures,” that is, paying discounted prices today for wine that will be delivered when it’s ready to move out of oak and into bottles.
I’m in Sonoma for a wine-tasting weekend. As I walk between wineries in Healdsburg, a restaurant-and-shopping destination 70 miles north of San Francisco, the differences between Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley become apparent. Most of the wineries I encounter are small and family-owned, and as I taste from barrels, the person wielding the wine thief is often the owner. Many of these wines will be available only in restaurants; some are available only via mailing list. The feel in Sonoma is in stark contrast to Napa, where winery parking lots are built to accommodate large tour buses, young “tasting room hosts” often preside, and the adjacent vineyards produce oceans of wine for large corporations whose familiar labels crowd your neighborhood package store.
But the wine isn’t the only difference. In his book A Tale of Two Valleys: Wine, Wealth, and the Battle for the Good Life in Napa and Sonoma, journalist Alan Deutschman says Napa is “synonymous with elitism and prestige and the excesses of wealth and hedonism,” while Sonoma has “an almost anachronistic ideal of rural living and small town community.” He adds: “While Napa was transformed from a provincial backwater into a bastion of luxury and status, Sonoma became a refuge for free-spirited countercultural types . . . a new bohemia . . . Berkeley in the country.” In East Coast terms, think of Sonoma as having the authentic rural vibe of northwestern Connecticut or Vermont, with Napa more like the Hamptons.
Grapes at harvest time.SONOMA VISITORS BUREAU
While I had fun in Napa Valley on an earlier vacation, Sonoma is more my speed.
MY BASE FOR THE WEEKEND is a comfortable corner room at the Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort (707-935-6600, marriott.com), 44 miles north of San Francisco. My room has a gas fireplace — useful on this unseasonably chilly weekend. The hotel features wine tasting and live music in the lobby each evening, and a shuttle bus frequently runs the mile or so north to Sonoma Plaza, a large grassy square in the center of town, where most of the shops and restaurants are located.
My time is limited and the choices many, so I join the Sonoma Food Tour (866-736-6343, sonomafoodtour.com) — an eating-and-drinking walkabout led by Mia Steiger, a bubbly local who launched the business last year. We start at 11 a.m. at Depot Hotel Restaurant (707-938-2980, depotsonoma.com), where chef Antonio Ghilarducci pours a house merlot and a sauvignon blanc (each made from grapes grown in the restaurant’s small vineyard) and slices of a blister-crusted, truffle-topped pizza. At the next stop, the family-owned Vella Cheese (800-848-0505, vellacheese.com), we try eight varieties; several are the same cheese aged for different periods, and the variety of texture and complexity is striking. At other stops just off the plaza, we taste local olive oils and chocolates; at a wine shop, we try two more wines, along with bites of house-made burrata and mushroom pasta from Della Santina’s (707-935-0576, dellasantinas.com), the Italian restaurant next door.
Along the way, Steiger describes the history of Sonoma, originally settled in the 1820s as the northernmost of Mexico’s Franciscan missions. Its pivotal figure was a Mexican officer named General Mariano Vallejo, who in the 1830s built military barracks and later a stately home in the town (both still standing and open to visitors) and laid out the street plan, including its central plaza — the largest in California and the only one to allow picnickers with open containers of alcohol, Steiger notes. The northeastern corner of the plaza is a special place in the history of California: There, in 1846, a small group of settlers raised a homemade flag with a bear and declared independence from Mexico. The revolt lasted just a few weeks before the United States settled the matter by annexing the territory. Today, the bear remains the central image of California’s state flag.
The tour also takes us past Sonoma’s most venerated restaurant, The Girl & The Fig (707-938-3634, thegirlandthefig.com), where I dine one evening. The French country restaurant, founded in 1997, enjoys stellar online ratings and routinely wins awards for its food. I bypass the Restaurant Week special — three courses (including a pork ragout) with wine pairings, for $39 — and let the waiter steer me toward the signature fig and arugula salad, with a northern California trout as an entree. I’m disappointed. There’s nothing wrong with the meal; it’s just unremarkable. The next day, while chatting with locals, I express my regret that the restaurant hadn’t lived up to the hype. “We’re hearing that more often,” says one hospitality worker.
Grilled bread with burrata, broccolini, and romesco sauce from Oso in Sonoma.
I fare better at Oso Sonoma (707-931-6926, ososonoma.com), which opened in 2014 on the south side of the plaza. Its chef-owner, David Bush, was previously executive chef at the awarding-winning St. Francis Winery. At Oso, Bush serves smallish dishes (larger than tapas, more petite than an entree, but very shareable) of flavorful, imaginative food. I sit at a counter overlooking the tiny two-man kitchen and watch them prep my dishes: a raw tuna with avocado, cucumber, and salty nuts; grilled bread with garlicky romesco sauce and creamy burrata; and pork tacos in a mole sauce. It’s too much food for a solo diner, but I enjoy every bite.
WHILE I FOCUSED ON FOOD IN SONOMA, I concentrated on wine in Healdsburg, home to the county’s barrel-tasting festival. Tickets cost $45 per day or $60 for the weekend; each guest is given a wristband and a specially marked wineglass, which entitles barrel tastes at participating wineries (wineroad.com). At first, wandering the streets with an empty wineglass feels weirdly inappropriate, but everyone else is doing the same thing and you soon get used to it.
I have much to learn. At restaurants, I often default to a glass of the house red. If the evening calls for a bottle, I hand the menu to someone who knows more than I do. I’ve never written a tasting note, but if I did, it would be filled with unsophisticated remarks: “mmmm” or “more, please.”
Though many visitors to Sonoma are true oenophiles, I observe none of the pretense or wine snobbery you see in a movie like Sideways. Tastings seem more laid-back than I recall from my trip to Napa. While many of the wines I try during this weekend retail for $40 or more, the Sonoma winemakers I meet talk about their wares not as works of art but with a hobby-ish nonchalance, as something they’ve whipped up as a nice complement to a meal.
During my visit, the crowd is decidedly middle-aged, and over several hours in more than a half-dozen wineries, I don’t see anyone visibly tipsy. In years past, the all-you-can-drink admissions scheme of barrel tasting began attracting the wrong crowd — young people who would supplement the wine tasting by swilling beer or shots in the parking lot and generally treating the event as a venue for getting wasted. In response, the local winery association banned full-size buses and posted notices that anyone intoxicated would be cut off. (They also provide a cut-rate admission price for designated drivers, who are given nonalcoholic beverages.)
For a novice like me, it’s always surprising how, in the right setting and under guidance, tasting wines can be surprisingly engaging. Perhaps a neuroscientist can explain why our brains have a natural affinity for compare-and-contrast exercises. Tasting a number of wines in succession, with someone knowledgeable explaining the differences, helps make the subtle variations more obvious. There’s pleasure in becoming aware of small preferences.
Davis Family Winery in Healdsburg MONICA SCHWARTZ FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
In Healdsburg, the tasting room at the Davis Family Vineyards.
At Davis Family Vineyards (866-338-9463, davisfamilyvineyards.com), the owner’s son, Cooper, pours me tastes of several not-ready-for-prime-time barrel wines, then goes to the storeroom to bring out last year’s version of the same wine in a bottle, offering tastes and explaining how the “young” wine will increase in flavor and body as it spends more time in oak. The differences are obvious, even to me. Then he thieves an ounce or so from a barrel made with grapes from vines that are more than 100 years old, explaining how these “old vines” produce lower volumes of more flavorful fruit, leading to more complex and satisfying wines. This time I can’t taste it, exactly, but I nod along appreciatively.
It’s raining as I pull out of Healdsburg late on Sunday, but after epic drought in California, everyone I meet is thankful for the precipitation. Even amid galleries and boutiques, Sonoma County remains an agricultural community — a place where people understand that for miles in every direction, this rain is providing sustenance to thousands of acres of grapes. Come harvest time, local vintners will convert them into something about which I can only say: Mmmm.
Daniel McGinn is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review. Send comments to email@example.com.
If you have a passion for food and wine, we have found the event that will have you drinking straight from the source. Enjoy three days of exploration in the majestic Sonoma Wine Country, located just 45 minutes north of San Francisco.Out In The Vineyard, a Sonoma-based LGBT Tour & Event Company, produces the annual Gay Wine Weekend.
Immerse yourself in the culture and lifestyle of Wine Country living and make friends for a lifetime. Think Gay Ski Week, but for wine!This year marks the fifth year that Gay Wine Weekend will take place; attracting people from all around the country to partake in VIP Wine Receptions, Winemaker Dinners, Winery Tours, a brunch and Wine Auction, along with a pool soiree and some very fun after parties! The signature event of the weekend is the hugely successfully Twilight T-Dance, where guests dance through the magic hour of the summer sunset and into the evening, literally Out In The Vineyards of Sonoma Valley Wine Country! This year at Sonoma’s iconic Chateau St. Jean Winery, located in the heart of the bucolic and historic Valley of The Moon.Gay Wine Weekend also is host to annual AIDS fundraiser benefitting Face to Face, Sonoma County HIV/AIDS Network, whose mission it is to end HIV in Sonoma County. Over the course of the past 5 years Gay Wine Weekend has helped raise over $130,000 for the organization.GWW is founded by Gary Saperstein and Mark Vogler, true winery insiders who reside in the Sonoma Wine Country and strive to bring the best of Sonoma to Out In the Vineyard guests that attend this very special weekend of wine and celebration.This year Gay Wine Weekend takes place June 17th through 19th. For the full experience, stay at the host hotel, MacArthur Place.Advance Purchase VIP Party Passes on sale now. À la carte event tickets go on sale in March. For further information and to get your tickets visit www.GayWineWeekend.com.
Inside Sunset Magazine’s grand opening at Cornerstone this weekend
The Sunset Outdoor Kitchen Stage at Cornerstone will be ready for the grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15. (Photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)(1 of 5) (From left) Kevin Griffin, Mario Newton and Donald Lewis install the banner at the entrance to the outdoor kitchen. The Sunset Outdoor Kitchen Stage at Cornerstone will be ready for the grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15. (Photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)(2 of 5) Julie Lennon, executive director of marketing at Time/Sunset, takes time to walk through the almost-completed kitchen area. The Sunset Outdoor Kitchen Stage at Cornerstone will be ready for the grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15. (Photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)(4 of 5) Sunset magazine garden editor Johanna Silver in the greenhouse at the Sunset test gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma on Arnold Drive. (Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)(5 of 5) Jim Jenkins, of Jenkins Construction, who is the general contractor for the outdoor area, instructs a worker on installation of kitchen equipment.The Sunset Outdoor Kitchen Stage at Cornerstone will be ready for the grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15. (Photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)(1 of 5) (From left) Kevin Griffin, Mario Newton and Donald Lewis install the banner at the entrance to the outdoor kitchen. The Sunset Outdoor Kitchen Stage at Cornerstone will be ready for the grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15. (Photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)(2 of 5) Julie Lennon, executive director of marketing at Time/Sunset, takes time to walk through the almost-completed kitchen area. The Sunset Outdoor Kitchen Stage at Cornerstone will be ready for the grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15. (Photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)LORNA SHERIDANINDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER | May 12, 2016, 6:56PMAll you need to knowTickets for the celebration are $35 online, $45 at the gate, kids 12 and under are free in advance, $5 at gate. A wine glass is $15 wine and it include two taste tickets. Additional taste tickets are $3 each. Beer and wine seminars cost $20 with tastings.VIP ticket holders can enter at 10 a.m., they receive a gift bag, unlimited beer, wine and spirits tastings, access to a VIP lounge access and catered meals and snacks.There is a shuttle from the Plaza from 9:30 a.m. all day. There is also parking at Sonoma Valley Airport with shuttles. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, VIPs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advance tickets are available at sunset.com/cw.Who will you find at Cornerstone besides SunsetArtefact Design & Salvage Chateau SonomaEurasian Interiors Keating WinesThe LoopMeadowcroft Wines Nomad Chic Park 121 Café & Grill Poseidon Vineyard & Obsidian Ridge Prohibition SpiritsPotter Green & Co. Sonoma Valley Visitors BureauStrata a|p Tesoro FlowersAfter much anticipation, national home-and-garden magazine Sunset will unveil its new outdoor kitchens, test gardens and an Airstream Village this weekend at Cornerstone Sonoma.This is the magazine’s first time hosting its annual “Celebration” event at its new “country house” in Wine Country. The two-day event includes celebrity chef demos (including MVP Warrior guard Steph Curry’s wife Alyesha); more than 50 home, garden and travel seminars; wine, beer and spirits tastings; shopping; and live music.Throughout the weekend, in addition to the cooking demonstrations on Sunset test kitchen stages, food editors will cook campfire recipes from Sunset’s new “Camp Sunset” cookbook. Visitors will tour Sunset’s test gardens, which are divided into distinct “garden rooms”: a cocktail garden, a farm garden, a gathering space, a backyard orchard and a flower room. And scattered throughout the Cornerstone campus will be a caravan of Airstream and travel trailers, some reimagined as cocktail bars, retail shops and home layouts.Julie Lennon, Sunset’s executive marketing director, manages the magazine’s operations at Cornerstone. She estimates upward of 5,000 visitors will stop by over the course of the weekend.In anticipation of Sunset moving in, retail space at Cornerstone has been snapped up in recent months, including outposts of Chateau Sonoma, Nomad Chic and the Loop, as well as a new Prohibition Spirits tasting room opening this weekend.Sarah Anderson’s French-style home décor store, Chateau Sonoma, left its West Napa Street location to open at Cornerstone Sonoma in November. High-end apparel, accessory and furniture shop Nomad Chic opened its doors the same week. The popular Plaza women’s clothing store, The Loop, op
T R A V E L P R O C U R E M E N TPROCUREMENTThe Rise of Private Jets in Corporate Managed TravelBy Michael B. Baker / May 06, 2016 / Contact ReporterBoosted by mobile tech and demand in secondary markets, private jet suppliers now offer a variety of service levels, booking styles and corporate agreements. Here are four U.S. booking engines, three operators & the inroads they’re making into corporate managed travel.JetInsightThis booking engine provides operators a network and technology platform. It does not add every possible aircraft but rather handpicks “the highest-quality operators focused on safety and customer service,” according to founder and CEO Dave Benjamin. Primarily for the United States, its aircraft reach worldwide.How it works: Customers search, view options, book and pay online in moments.Fleet: Aircraft range from turboprops to heavy jets like the Gulfstream V.Traffic: “We hope to continue growing as fast as we can handle in 2016,” according to Benjamin.Pricing: No membership fees, annual fees or commitments. Operators determine rates, and JetInsight technology calculates cost as requests are received. “As we grow the network, we are able to route aircraft more efficiently, and we expect prices to decrease significantly.”Corporate travel penetration: A slight majority of business is corporate. JetInsight has had “initial conversations” with corporate travel buyers but is working to “deliver the right experience for them from the start.”Distribution: It is looking into travel management company collaborations.JetSmarterThe mobile-based jet supplier aims to “make flying private something accessible to the masses, not just a privileged 1 percent,” said CEO Sergey Petrossov.How it works: Via the app, passengers charter entire aircraft, space on scheduled flights or space on flights assembled from pooled demand. They often fly within six hours of booking.Fleet: More than 800 carrier partners around the world.Traffic: More than 300,000 have downloaded the app, a monthly growth rate of 15 to 20 percent since its March 2013 launch.Pricing: A $3,500 initiation fee, plus $9,675 annually. Memberships include free flights on one-way JetDeals flights, as well as free seats on regularly scheduled shuttles including Dallas-Houston, New York City-Chicago, New York City-Los Angeles and Los Angeles-San Francisco. Nonmembers can book these at discounted rates. Additional membership amenities include wholesale charter pricing and a luxury concierge service.Corporate travel penetration: A typical user, Petrossov said, is a corporate traveler needing to book a last-minute trip. Corporate travel buyers also have booked charters and seats.OpenJetOpenJet’s cloud-based management software for private jet operators calculates and modifies the availability of fleet and crews in real time.How it works: Travel arrangers submit origin and destination, date and number of travelers and OpenJet checks crew availability, runway configuration, fuel prices and aircraft performance, among other data points. Arrangers receive a choice of jet types and prices within 45 seconds and pay online.Fleet: Turboprop to midsize. It partners with five operators in Europe and will expand to the United States this year.Traffic: €1.5 million in revenue projected for 2016.Pricing: OpenJet takes fees from operators for each flight sold and costs bookers no more than direct booking with the operators.Corporate travel penetration: 65 percent corporate and 35 percent leisure. Corporate travel buyers are OpenJet’s “first target,” and it is launching a commercial campaign aimed at corporate travel managers, COO Raphael Vullierme said.Distribution: A partnership with Amadeus launched in January, and others are forthcoming, Vullierme said.VictorVictor allows travelers to search, com-pare and book private jets to “cut out the inconsistency of brokers,” according to senior vice president for North America David Young.How it works: Travelers search routes via mobile or desktop, and Victor responds within an hour with multiple price estimates.Fleet: More than 7,000 jets worldwide.Traffic: Membership grew 260 percent from May 2014 to May 2015, and the three-year average for sales has grown 142 percent per year, Young said. Victor introduced an app in April 2015 that accounted for half the year’s bookings.Pricing: Flights booked through the app have ranged from $7,500 to $250,000, according to Young. Victor caps booking fees and provides “complete trans-parency of pricing and flight details.”Corporate travel penetration: Its membership roster includes corp-orations and C-suite executives. Travel buyers use the tool to “quickly create bespoke plans with preferred operators,” Young said.Distribution: It has established relationships with TMCs like the United Kingdom-based CTI.Three Private Jet OperatorsJet EdgeThe on-demand operator flies super medium, ultra-long-range, large-cabin planes, according to CEO Bill Papariella.How it works: A significant volum
Hilton Sees Gains from Direct BookingBy Julie Sickel / April 27, 2016 / Contact ReporterThree months after launching a campaign intended to get guests to book direct with the promise of lower room rates and free Wi-Fi, Hilton Worldwide reported growth in bookings through Hilton.com and its mobile app.”We have global scale in a business where scale matters and are using it to drive a more direct relationship with all of our customers,” CEO Christopher Nassetta said during the company’s quarterly earnings call on Wednesday. “The business we received through web direct is higher than it’s ever been and is growing faster than ever, thanks to increasing share shift. The share of web direct channels in our distribution mix is growing five times that of the [online travel agency] share of growth in the quarter.”Nassetta said HHonors enrollment since the launch of its direct booking campaign increased almost 90 percent, and HHonors occupancy hit a record 55 percent during the first quarter, a 4-point year-over-year increase.Hilton’s decision to market direct booking through its loyalty program as a way for guests to gain perks like free Wi-Fi and online check-in has led other lodging players to follow suit. Marriott this month began adding Marriott Rewards member rates to its website that are lower than retail rates. Hyatt last week announced a similar initiative, tying lower rates and complimentary amenities to direct bookings made on Hyatt.com or through its app.One travel manager, who preferred not to be identified, noticed the new Marriott rates and expressed concern about the growing trend from hoteliers. “It confirms my suspicions that the sales teams are not working close enough with [the loyalty teams] to protect the integrity of the corporate rates offered,” the travel manager said. “I am almost convinced that they are trying to take our travelers from our managed programs and push them right into their own Brand.com. This tactic may seem good right now, but long-term I think they will hurt themselves as they hurt the relationship between the buyer and supplier.”Hilton’s Q1 ResultsHilton reported positive metrics for the first quarter despite softening occupancy and corporate transient demand.Average daily rate increased 2.5 percent year over year to $141.62. Occupancy dropped 0.3 percentage points year over year to 70.2 percent. Weakness in business transient growth caused a 60 basis point drag on occupancy, CFO Kevin Jacobs said.”The best visibility we have on the demand side continues to be in the group business segment, which remains healthy,” Nassetta said. “We have less visibility in the transient segment, which makes up the largest portion of our business and historically tracks more closely [than group] with macro-indicators, such as GDP growth. We did see strong U.S. booking pace across all segments and channels, in the month for the month of April, particularly in corporate transient.”Group room revenue increased almost 4 percent year over year during the quarter in Hilton’s Americas owned and managed portfolio. Hawaii and San Francisco were the two top markets for year-over-year group revenue growth, Jacobs said, and the company benefited from corporate meetings.Hilton opened 67 hotels, comprising a total of more than 9,200 rooms, during the quarter. Its global portfolio currently stands at 4,615 properties. Hilton cited significant interest in its new Tru by Hilton brand, first unveiled in January. Nassetta said the company currently has 48 hotels in the pipeline and 170 more deals committed or in-progress.Hilton’s total first-quarter revenue increased to $2.75 billion from $2.6 billion last year.
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