Sometimes it’s Monday and the only thing you have to look forward to is another long, busy week. But sometimes it’s Monday and you get to have lunch with Sonoma County, which as luck would have it is the very thing that happened to me at the beginning of this week. The Northern California destination hosted a lunch for meetings and events people at Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and as you might expect, they brought along their own party favors.
Which were front and center at the start of the program, a speed-dating-inspired tour of five of Sonoma County’s 17 officially designated American Viticultural Areas (AVA) — Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma Valley. Broken into groups of two or three, we spent about five minutes with a representative from each AVA, enjoying small pours of delicious pinots, zinfandels, chardonnays, cabernets, and varietals. The people doing the pouring were winemakers and wine sellers alike, and to a person were charming and happy to talk about whatever we wanted — the climate and soil conditions in their AVA, the history of wine-growing in Sonoma County, and, yes, of course, the types of group business their wineries host. It was like a cocktail reception in miniature, 25 minutes of tasty sips, small talk, and professional networking.
Then it was time for lunch. The whole program was hosted by “the Trio” — Sonoma County Tourism, Sonoma County Vintners, and Sonoma County Winegrowers — and my table had representatives from each organization, including Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers and a partner in Argot Wines; Ana Keller, estate director for Keller Estate; Barbara Cox, director of marketing and communications for Sonoma County Vintners; and Ryan Decker, winegrower relations manager for Rodney Strong Vineyards. The AVAs brought their leftovers from the tasting to lunch, so every table was planted with half- and two-third-full bottles of wine, to which we were encouraged to help ourselves. The advantage of eating with wine people: As Charlie Palmer served an elegant three-course lunch (fresh salad, beef tenderloin, and various sweets), I asked my table mates to recommend pairings and they came through — serving up expertly considered pours of not just their vintages but their competitors’.
That was in keeping with the fiercely collegial, collaborative spirit of the day. A lot of the people I met are direct business competitors, but first and foremost they’re boosters of Sonoma County — its 400-plus wineries and thousands of wines, its rollings hills and romantic fogs, its warm sun and warmer people. Heck, even their D.C. venue had a Sonoma connection, noted Tim Zahner, CTA, Sonoma County Tourism’s chief marketing officer: Master chef Charlier Palmer himself lives there with his family. Because, really, why wouldn’t you?