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April 2015 Tours

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April, 2015 Issue

Take a Walk on the Delicious Side

When Harold and Kirsten Jones left their professions several years ago to spend a year traveling, their lives were forever changed. Along the way, it was people’s hospitality that stuck with them the most. They decided they wanted to extend that feeling locally: Enter Wine Country Walking Tours.
 
Their idea was to introduce people to the art of fine wine and food pairing on an intimate walking tour. Or, in other words, teach them how and why blending wine and food impacts the flavors they taste and enjoy. “At first, we offered just the wine and gourmet food lovers tour. But it morphed into multiple ones, depending on people’s preferences and due to return visitors looking for something different,” says Kirsten.
 
Today, the company offers several different tours. Some are annual, including one that showcases newer tasting rooms, food and shops; and the popular “Holidays in Healdsburg” tour.
 
“We had relationships with different businesses already and partnered with them to create a truly unique experience,” says Harold. The tours (including pairings) are custom-designed and exclusive, featuring sit-down experiences, sometimes with the winemakers and chefs involved. They range in length from four to five hours, and a “join in” option is available for more spontaneous types.
 
Each tour group consists of two to eight people. Larger groups (such as corporations) get split up into separate groups with different guides. Those types of groups are offered activities such as scavenger hunts, trivia games or raffles.
 
“We’ve always been expanding and will continue to do so,” adds Harold, noting that other parts of Sonoma County are first on the list.
 
Bottom line: These walks take wine tours to an entirely different level that has a personal, friendly touch filled with knowledge, fun and enthusiasm. When’s the last time you explored your own area like that?
 
 

What Can We Do?

People without disabilities, or who aren’t close to someone who has them, often don’t think about how difficult it can be for disabled people to get around. Sonoma-based Jeanne Allen is setting out to change that.
 
Last summer, she created her website, IncredibleAccessible.com, to spotlight places that are accessible to those with mobility issues. She and her husband, Chip, personally visit places that she then includes in her blog, which features descriptions and photos.
 
Allen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) 30 years ago, and her mobility challenges required a motorized scooter starting 12 years ago. It was when she visited Chicago with Chip, and knew she’d be alone in an unknown city while he attended a business conference, that she first knew she’d need to do her research. “I’m not the type to sit in the hotel room. So I figured out what I could do safely and without frustration by myself. I learned the bus system and which museums, parks and zoos I could visit. I spent hours researching, reviewing websites, making phone calls. And the result was a great itinerary that captured the essence of Chicago without any accessibility surprises—but what to do with all of that information afterward?” 
 
Share it, of course. It took her several years of planning additional trips and collecting information before she finally launched the site. “For example, I have upper body mobility on both sides. But not everybody does. That’s why I post photos—people can really see what they’re up against. If a bathroom stall doesn’t have grab bars on the side that they need one, that can be an issue,” she says.
 
She also includes things such as the distance a person needs to cover to get somewhere. “Distance isn’t an issue for someone with a scooter, but it is for those who use canes or walkers,” she says. “I want to ensure people bring the right equipment.”
 
For now, she’s focusing on Sonoma Valley. Her intent is to create itineraries that include lodging, restaurants, wineries and things to see and do. “We want to give people the confidence and inspiration to visit different places,” she says. “Most places don’t share on their website that they’re accessible. They don’t realize it can be a marketing opportunity and it’s something people with mobility issues are seeking.”
 
This summer, she and Chip are plan to expand into San Francisco and the rest of the North Bay, then, in the fall, travel across the country, creating additional itineraries. “We’re making this a lifestyle,” she says. “It could last a number of years.”
 
Sounds like a wonderful trip.

 

 

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