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Convention and Visitors Bureaus 10

To la famiglia

by Becca Hensley

  Our family line derives from “The Trippy Girls,” three sisters born in Geary, Oklahoma, in the early 1900s. We are a small, tight-knit clan gathering every couple years for a three- to four-day reunion. Because we’re spread across the country, location varies so everyone doesn’t have to travel too far each time. Events have evolved in the last few years from the first formal get-together--a Thanksgiving meal hosted by one family in Zwolle, Louisiana, to the most recent and most organized--a long weekend in Northern California wine country.

  This reunion was the brainchild of my cousin Claudia DiClemente, who lives in Boyes Hot Springs in the Sonoma Valley and works at the Kenwood Winery. The event succeeded because Claudia worked with what she knew. She knew bed and breakfasts, wine tastings, giant Redwood trees and some of the country’s best Italian food. Her home was too small to serve as a meeting place, so she sought a large B&B to house us; the Beltane Ranch in the hamlet of Glen Ellen was perfect. Its long balconies, porch swings, common rooms and grounds provided perfect spots to mull about with family members. This 1890s style ranch, also a working vineyard, was so entertaining, my three children didn’t notice their room held no television. Instead, they frolicked outside with cousins, playing croquet, basketball, tennis and hiking the ranch’s trails. Perhaps even more important, many adults joined in their games and for a few short days the only thing that mattered was connecting with the family.

  The Beltane has only six rooms, so some family groups stayed in other nearby inns, most just a few miles away. We met on a Sunday at four o’clock for a wine and cheese reception in the ranch’s antique-filled common room. Most everyone got lost driving from the airport or San Francisco, so arrivals were staggered, which made greeting time fun and anticipatory. Who would come next? How would they look? How wonderful to see them. We came from Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana, Washington DC and southern California. Some of us hadn’t seen one another in 20 years, despite regularly scheduled reunions.

   Inspired by her connections with area chefs and wineries, Claudia showed us the real Sonoma Valley. Yet she provided free time for leisurely strolls, sightseeing in places like Bodega Bay, or touring any of the multitudinous area wineries. She organized two dinners and one lunch. We were alerted about the cost for each meal per person in advance and asked to send a check before our arrival. This simple, efficient management of a sometimes dicey situation allowed Claudia to enjoy herself without playing bookkeeper and, even more important, eliminated cost misunderstandings before they occurred.

The first night, following the Beltane Ranch reception, we enjoyed an Italian extravaganza at the bistro Caffe Citta. We were loud and happy to see one another and other restaurant clients joined our celebration, toasting us and sharing good wishes.

   Lunch the next day was a gourmet box lunch carefully prepared by Kenwood winery chefs and eaten on their private picnic grounds. The beautiful vista, punctuated by neatly rowed grape vines and wildflowers, was almost as delicious as the food. A winery tour followed. Dinner was at Uncle Patty’s in Boyes Hot Springs. The casual atmosphere and good food was conducive to the gathering’s subdued and reflective mood. Since there had been free time between events to visit, hike, shop many local emporiums, lounge on porch swings – and even take a famous mud bath cure – we were tired and content at day’s end.

   The last day was “free,” opening up myriad sightseeing possibilities. Some wished to go to the ocean, others to the Redwood forest, and others wanted merely to recline on one of the ranch hammocks. By the third day, we were content to break into various groups and experience northern California. We chose The Swiss Hotel in Sonoma for our last meal together. Even with short notice, this fine eatery managed to set a large u-shaped table and provided us with keepsake menus that read “Trippy Family Reunion.” My mother passed hers around, yearbook style, for everyone to sign.

  Though the best parts of the reunion were the intimate moments--the wink, the smile, heads bent to hear intensely engrossing anecdotes--much can be said for the outstanding food, wine and scenery. A reunion in an enchanting place has an almost magical tone. And each one, more fun than the last, threatens never to be outdone. So when my brother meekly suggested Washington DC next, I frowned, thinking, “It will never happen. My brother, plan a reunion? And would the Westerners go that far east?” Before I had the words out of my mouth, 30 of my closest relatives were chanting, loud and raucous as the first night, “DC, DC.” So we had a place and we left, hugging and whispering, “See you in DC.”

About the author
Becca Hensley, lives in Austin, Texas, where she is a full time writer who also paints and teaches writing. Her poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in over 100 magazines, journals and newspapers.

Sonoma shines

by Edith Wagner
Sonoma is a familiar name triggering thoughts of wine, ocean breezes and the freshest gourmet cuisine. It conjures idyllic, bucolic vineyards, dazzling green gardens and fields of cows, goats and sheep munching their way to some world class cheeses. Sonoma County, California, is a great reunion destination with spectacular vistas, accommodations and tastes you’ll long remember. In fact, long-time resident and famed horticulturist Luther Burbank called it, “God’s chosen place on earth.”
Sonoma is a font of interesting history and influence of immigrants from all over the world and US regions. Stake your reunion claim to northern California: land in San Francisco if you’re flying, and a short ride gets you into Sonoma County’s heart.
“Charming” describes much of the area, from Petaluma’s stately Victorian homes to the giant redwoods and the clouds enveloping pre-dawn Occidental. I wouldn’t have considered antiques of such importance anywhere in California, but there’s a concentration in this area.
Elegantly costumed docents from the Petaluma History Museum become “street walkers” to show you around their unique, well preserved downtown, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They deliver the colorful history and point out special architectural features that survived earthquake damage. Petaluma has been a location in many movies and a self-guided tour will put you in scenes from American Graffiti, Peggy Sue Got Married, Shadow of a Doubt, Basic Instinct, Howard the Duck and more.

Small reunions of immediate family, friends or buddies will find ideal locales and wonders in this area, though there are large group accommodations.
Up the coast road, consider Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa, a magnificent Woodside Hotel overlooking bird-filled marshes, flower-covered dunes, pristine Pacific coast beaches and, from December to April, nearby whale-watching. Rooms have panoramic views, balconies and fireplaces. Nearby is the Bodega schoolhouse where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds. The Duck Club at the Bodega Bay Lodge is one of only six Five-Star Diamond restaurants in the US. Don’t miss an unforgettable Chef Jeff Reilly gourmet meal.
At nearby Gourmet au Bay, you can sample (they call it “surfing”) countless local wine specialties. Sit on the deck as the ballet on the bay unfolds; watch seals, blue heron, sandpipers; at low tide, crabs and crustaceans frolic.
I have always loved the name Sebastapol and there it is, in the middle of Sonoma County--a small but by no means sleepy community with a traditional bustling downtown. Lunch at Pasta Bella where owner and young mother Ryn Wood produces Italian cuisine staples. At GTO, Creole fare reigns with a Pennsylvanian touch; something for nearly everyone. Nearby Full House Farm offers a unique small reunion venue for friends or family.

Sonoma County is the origin of fine California wines of many genres, colors and textures. Take the opportunity not only to sample, but to learn and perhaps develop special tastes. Learn to “volumize your esters” and enjoy the wine experience much more. Betsy Fischer of Winespeak (707-577-8358; presents wine seminars and tastings which are both fun and a learning experience. Betsy is one of a select group of Sonoma residents who joyfully announce “I drink for a living.” Another is Linda Viviani (800-658-1940), who stages an ice breaker called “Who Wants to be a Wine Taster?” Both support the philosophy that wines are to be enjoyed however or wherever they’re savored.

Sonoma County wineries are open seven days a week and eager to tell their stories. Many host special events including product samples. Paradise Ridge in Santa Rosa, overlooking the Russian River Valley, produces hand-crafted wines and has fine event accommodations. The charming owner, Marijke Byck-Hoenselaars, offers a greeting--“Welcome to Paradise”--that is very real. Don’t leave without touring their impressive sculpture garden. Landmark Vineyards in Sonoma Valley has a lovely wine country gift shop and small conference room that can be reserved with catering service and their excellent wines.

In Sonoma County, spas are popular and readily available. Some, such as Sonoma Mission Inn, are famous for their extensive offerings, while newer operations can be found at Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa in Bodega Bay, and MacArthur Place in Sonoma. If your reunion is a group of adults, this is a perfect time to pamper yourself. Feel rich and wonderful with a massage, facial or pedicure that leaves you sparkling. Or try a rejuvenating Japanese heat treatment with an enzyme bath and massage at Osmosis in Freestone.

Sonoma County hotels include off-site venues for your special events. An example is Flying Cloud Ranch near Petaluma, where a wine barrel room and reception area are adjacent to a horse arena. Area riders might be performing on their gorgeous animals. After wine grapes, horses are the area’s second major “crop.”

Plan a croquet breakfast and get everyone laughing on the front lawn at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park.

For guided walking tours, call the Petaluma Historical Museum and Library, 707-778-4398. Petaluma Visitors Program, 800 Baywood Dr, Petaluma CA 94954; 877-273-8258;; ask for self-guided film tour map.

When you go
General information
Ask for a free 68-page visitor guide from Sonoma County Tourism Program, 800-380-5392;

Doubletree Hotel, One Doubletree Dr, Rohnert Park CA 94928; 707-584-5466;
Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa, 103 Coast Highway #1, Bodega Bay CA 94923; 707-875-4406; Ask for 101 Things To Do In and Around Bodega Bay.
Inn at Occidental, 3657 Church St, Occidental CA 95465; 800-522-6324; In a setting that is so European, you’ll have to pinch yourself. If you are early enough or all the rooms aren’t taken, you might be able to tour some of their uniquely and exquisitely decorated theme rooms. Ask just in case! Wine and cheese in the evening is a lovely array of special treats. Breakfast is by a master chef (who can cater other meals). The morning I was there, breakfast included house-cured salmon.
Full House Farm Retreat House, 1000 Sexton Rd, Sebastapol CA 95472; 888-596-6006; Just outside Sebastapol is a fully furnished house atop a hill with an excellent view from the dining room or the hot tub just outside the door. Accommodates up to eight comfortably. The owner, Christine Cole, also offers equestrian services, teaching you to ride or learn the language of horses (fascinating).
Hotel La Rose, 308 Wilson St, Santa Rosa CA 95401; 707-579-3200; A historic hotel on Railroad Square in Santa Rosa that even boasts ghosts.
Fountain Grove Inn, 101 Fountain Grove Pkway, Santa Rosa CA; 800-222-6101; An elegant venue with meeting facilities.
Safari West, 3115 Porter Creek Rd, Santa Rosa CA; 707-579-2551; Offers a tent camp adventure in deluxe safari tents surrounded by an impressive collection of wild animals.
Sonoma Mission Inn, 18300 Highway 12, Sonoma CA 95476; A large, pink mission design and luxurious accommodations throughout. First-class spa and world-class cuisine.
MacArthur Place, 29 E. MacArthur St, Sonoma CA 95476; 800-722-1866; In Sonoma, once a 300-acre vineyard and working ranch, now a luxury inn and spa within walking distance of Sonoma Mission and downtown area.

Vineyard Creek Hotel, Spa and Conference Center, 170 Railroad St, Santa Rosa CA 95401; 888-920-0008 (toll free),
Sheraton Petaluma Hotel, 745 Baywood Dr, Petaluma CA 94954; 707-283-2888;;

Try these great eateries. Hana’s Restaurant in Rohnert Park is said to be the best Japanese food north of San Francisco. The Duck Club at Bodega Bay Lodge and Pasta Bella and GTO in Sebastapol are great treats. Or for a picnic, visit Springhill Jersey Cheese Farm, where proprietor and cheesemaker Larry Peter makes an ever-increasing number of fine, prize-winning cheeses. Saddles Restaurant in Sonoma specializes in steaks (no surprise) and offers an extensive menu of Martinis which you can enjoy while sitting in a saddle! An elegant choice in Santa Rosa is Fountain Grove Inn.

Paradise Ridge Winery, 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr, Santa Rosa CA 95403; 707-528-9463;
Gourmet au Bay on Bodega Bay, where sunset is the event. Try wine surfing: for the price of a regular glass of wine ($6), they’ll give you three small samples (on a surf board tray) from a vast choice of area wines.
Landmark Vineyards, 101 Adobe Canyon Rd, Kenwood CA 95452;

About the author
Edith Wagner is editor of Reunions magazine and loves to explore reunion places.

Are you wondering what a convention and visitors bureau (CVB) can do for your reunion? Learn more at "What conventions and visitors bureaus can do for you." Then, contact the CVB in your city or away because they are there to help and most of their services are free.

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