NorthBay biz Wine
A New Perspective
Judith M. Wilson
October, 2015 Issue
“Though we’re a winery, we’ve been doing hospitality the longest.” —Lauren Benward Krause, Beltane Ranch
Sometimes, visitors need more than sipping wine in a tasting room to truly savor the Wine Country experience. And for those seeking that elusive missing piece, several wineries have an enticing option: overnight stays, giving guests a chance to catch the sun setting over the vineyards and the opportunity to observe the ebbs and flows of life at a winery up close. “A winery setting is what they’re craving,” says Brian Shapiro, hospitality and direct-to-consumer manager at Stryker Sonoma winery in Alexander Valley.
Wine Country immersion
Guest accommodations are a new feature at Stryker Sonoma. “We wanted to elevate the experience at the winery,” says Shapiro. And so, in 2014, renovation began of a turn-of-the-century winemaker’s house that hadn’t been updated since the 1940s. It’s only been a year in operation as a lodging for guests, but “We’re booking out quickly. It’s busy,” Shapiro reports.
Much of the appeal is its location. “You’re in the middle of a vineyard,” says Shapiro, and the deck of the big, three-bedroom house has a view of the neatly ordered rows of vines, giving guests a front-row seat during harvest. Stryker Sonoma picks five tons of grapes per day, and the goal is to complete the crush before the morning marine layer burns off, so the work starts before dawn, at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Shapiro says that for early risers, nothing’s better than grabbing a cup of coffee and watching a harvest; guests can also enjoy breakfast and observe the activity from the deck. “You can watch the tractors come up with the grapes,” says Shapiro. “There’s a lot of action in the morning.”
While experiencing the harvest is definitely a highlight, a stay at the Vineyard Home has other perks as well. “We’ve had people comment on the lack of light at night, says Shapiro, so it’s an ideal spot for stargazing. Guests can also relax and play bocce ball, soak in the hot tub and have a barbecue on the deck. “It’s a very slow pace. You don’t feel rushed,” he says.
To make the most of their stay, when guests arrive, they find a book that lets them sign up for a complimentary estate tour and tasting. For those who want to explore the area further, Stryker Sonoma is centrally located between Geyserville and Healdsburg, and the staff will recommend restaurants and other tasting rooms in the area. The intent, explains Shapiro, is to help people immerse themselves in the environment. “It really lets guests experience our version of Wine Country,” he says.
Life on the ranch
At Beltane Ranch
in Glen Ellen, guests came long before the wine. The main New Orleans-style farmhouse was built in 1892, says Lauren Benward Krause, whose family purchased the property to farm the land in 1936. In 1970, her grandmother, Rosemary Wood, took over management and turned the house into a bed and breakfast—one of the first in Sonoma County. “It’s historic, and it’s located on a working ranch with agricultural diversity,” Krause explains. “Though we’re a winery, we’ve been doing hospitality the longest.”
Although the hillside ranch was first planted to winegrapes in the 1870s, most of them went to other winemakers before Beltane Ranch Vineyards started producing its own wines (it released its first in 2010). Now the ranch has 29 acres of vineyards in the heart of Sonoma Valley and, during the harvest season, Krause encourages guests to watch the work and taste the grapes. “We’ll grab people and say, ‘Come check this out,’” says Krause, who adds that people are always welcome to explore. The family invites them to ask questions and get involved. Some do, but others are content to simply observe the activity and enjoy being part of winery life for a brief time.
The day starts with breakfast either on the porch outside the guests’ rooms or in the main dining room, showcasing whatever the ranch has to offer, which might be eggs from the laying hens, fruit from the orchards or the ranch’s own olive oil. Chef Lauren Kershner helps plan the garden so the crops will meet the needs of her menu, which also includes picnics for guests who want to take along an outdoor meal while they’re roaming the property. The garden also includes heirloom varieties that aren’t in grocery stores. “This year, we have yummy cucumbers that go into a kale salad,” says Krause.
Guests are free to wander the property and take advantage of whatever the ranch has to offer. That might mean plucking ripe peaches from the trees, gathering a handful of juicy raspberries from a patch outside the house in summer or tasting the ranch’s own olive oil in winter. In October, when the last grapes are coming in, heirloom tomatoes and figs are ready, and “We have all kinds of veggies,” says Krause, listing rainbow chard, squash and herbs for use in the kitchen.
Pumpkins are also in the spotlight. “We have what we think are very large pumpkins, in the 500-pound range,” says Krause, although she acknowledges that they’re not big by Half Moon Bay standards. The ranch holds a contest, asking guests to guess the size, and the winner gets a free night’s lodging. “550 pounds is the biggest we’ve had,” she reports. “We display them and everyone really enjoys them.”
The ranch doesn’t currently make its wines on the property and doesn’t have a tasting room, and “That makes it really quiet,” says Krause. She notes, however, that plenty of wineries, restaurants and cultural events are nearby, and the staff will help guests plan an itinerary before they arrive. “There are so many fun and interesting things to do around here,” says Krause. “We get a wonderful range of people. We get guests from all over the world,” she adds, describing them as adventurous, warm, curious people. “We want guests to just enjoy being here.”
Bubbles at the seashore
Point Reyes Station in rural west Marin County might seem like an unlikely spot for a winery, but Point Reyes Vineyards
has been making wine in the coastal community—and welcoming guests to its three-bedroom bed and breakfast overlooking the vineyard—for more than 20 years. Manager Will Clark, nephew of Steve Doughty, who owns the winery with his wife, Sharon, explains that, when they planted the first vineyard in 1990, the plan was to open a winery and inn at the same time four years later.
The Point Reyes Vineyard Inn opened on schedule in 1994, but the tasting room took two years longer, because Marin County had to figure out the permitting process. “It was the first wine-tasting room in the county since Prohibition,” he says, so it didn’t have a precedent and was something of an unknown.
Clark explains that the winery uses grapes from its vineyard to produce sparkling wine, because it’s the most appropriate variety for the cool Pacific Coast climate and unpredictable weather can affect the harvest, which is usually in October and can shift one way or the other and be two weeks earlier or later than anticipated. Whatever the time of year, however, “We have an incredible view and a great location,” he says.
While wine tasting is a draw, the inn, which is set back from the road with a view of the vineyards, is at the gateway to the Point Reyes National Seashore, so guests have plenty of recreational opportunities as well. Clark suggests kayaking, hiking or visits to the beach, and guests can get a taste of local agriculture at Toby’s Feed Barn, where the Point Reyes Farmers Market offers organic products and entertainment every Saturday morning from late June through early November. Cheese makers, notable restaurants, art galleries and even a meadery all are nearby to round out a unique North Bay experience.
The French touch
Jordan Vineyard & Winery
, located in Alexander Valley north of Healdsburg, has always had lodging, but until 2008, it was for members of the trade only. Seven years ago, the winery launched overnight stays for members of its loyalty program, Jordan Estate Rewards, giving those who reach the gold or platinum level an opportunity to enjoy Wine Country ambiance in luxury at Wildwood, a two-bedroom cottage, or in one of three guest suites in the chateau. “It’s very popular,” says Maribel Soto, assistant guest service manager of Jordan Estate Rewards, who explains that most overnight guests have already visited the winery for tastings or tours, but are looking for a unique experience at a vineyard. Now, she says, “They have the opportunity to enjoy the estate like never before.
“The accommodations are very beautiful, with a bit of a French theme,” she says, and it’s extremely quiet after the tasting room doors have closed for the day and the daytime activity has subsided. Guests start the day with a continental breakfast, which takes into account special dietary needs such as allergies and gluten-free requirements, and is delivered to their rooms. Then they can spend the day exploring the estate’s 1,200 acres, which include a private lake and an expansive chef’s garden. “It’s a beautiful garden,” says Soto.
On weekdays during the harvest season, guests can enjoy a private winery tour and tasting or they can join the winemaking and viticulture staff to share in a family-style lunch that Executive Chef Todd Knoll creates with produce from the garden and local products from farms in Sonoma County. If guests opt not to take advantage of either, however, they can attend another event at a different time of year, such as Christmas at Jordan. Whether it’s high season or low, Jordan offers full concierge services and will assist guests with booking private tours at other wineries and make suggestions for restaurants. Soto explains that it’s a way to cater to the individual tastes of Jordan’s guests. Complimentary car service to the restaurants surrounding Healdsburg’s plaza is another benefit.
The harvest is high season in Wine Country, and a stay at a winery gives guests a rare chance to feel the excitement and get a taste of life in the vineyards from a new perspective. “It’s authentic,” says Beltane Ranch’s Krause. It is, however, just one season in the yearly growing cycle, and winery stays are popular year-round. The action slows down in winter, but Northern California’s wine-growing region offers plenty to do all the time, she adds. A visit to Wine Country is always a pleasure, and adventurous guests have lots of choices. Staying at a winery is an experience that lets them feel the energy of a dynamic, ever-changing industry and makes a visit special any time of year.
If a stay at a winery leaves you wanting more, Sonoma County Grape Camp takes the Wine Country experience to a higher level. “The Ultimate Wine and Food Adventure” has participants picking grapes, blending wine, learning how to pair wine with food and getting an inside look at life in the wine industry for three full days. At night, following vineyard dinners, guests relax at the Vintners Inn in north Santa Rosa, in the midst of 92 acres of vineyards; at camp’s end, they celebrate with a graduation reception.
The Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission, which represents 1,800 vineyards, puts on the annual camp each September. Registration for 2016 opens December 2015. Visit www.sonomagrapecamp.com to find out more.
Spend the Night
Local wineries cater to diverse tastes with a variety of offerings, from quaint cottages to luxurious suites. Here’s a selection.
Five-room farmhouse; private cottage
11775 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen
3339 Hartman Rd., Santa Rosa
Minimum two-night stay
De La Montanya Estate Winery & Vineyards
DLM Wine Club members only
989 Foreman Lane, Healdsburg
1791 Olivet Rd., Santa Rosa
Inman Family Wines
3900 Piner Rd., Santa Rosa
Jordan Vineyard & Winery
Two-bedroom cottage; three guest suites
Platinum and Gold Jordan Estate Rewards members only
1474 Alexander Valley Rd., Healdsburg
4551 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg
One-bedroom cottage; guest suite
101 Adobe Canyon Rd., Kenwood
Larson Family Winery
23355 Millerick Rd., Sonoma
Occidental Road Cellars
Children welcome, pets considered
870 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol
Point Reyes Vineyards
Three-bedroom bed and breakfast
12700 Hwy. 1, Point Reyes Station
5511 Hwy. 128, Geyserville
(650) 464-7154 or (707) 431-9800
Three-bedroom vineyard house
5110 Hwy. 128, Geyserville
Thomas George Estates
Two-bedroom house; two three-bedroom houses; one-bedroom studio cottage
8075 Westside Rd., Healdsburg, CA 95448
St. Anne’s Crossing Winery
8450 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood
Three-bedroom Inn at Salvestrin
Wine club members only
397 Main St., St. Helena
If you’d like to enhance your winery stay by exploring the surrounding area, here’s a starting point to help you acquaint yourself with local restaurants, shopping and other activities before your arrival.
Marin Convention & Visitors Bureau:
Click on Point Reyes and Coastal Marin
to get suggestions for things to do on the Marin County coast. www.visitmarin.org
West Marin Chamber of Commerce:
Find out more about Point Reyes Station and Marin County’s beach towns and rural communities at www.pointreyes.org
Sonoma County Tourism:
Find tips on food and wine, upcoming events, specials and a free guide for visitors and map. www.sonomacounty.com
Visit Sonoma Wine Country:
Learn more about Sonoma County’s Wine Country. www.sonoma.com
Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau:
Check out this resource for things to do, restaurants and shopping. www.healdsburg.com