There are a plethora of places to choose in the Bay Area when selecting a company off-site. That is the beauty of the Bay Area. One of my favorite options for the ultimate company off-site is some of the hidden gems in the Sonoma County, near cities such as Guerneville, Forestville or Healdsburg. The reason is you will get the beauty of wine country without the exorbitant prices or high traffic of Napa. Sonoma is just a hop, skip and a jump from San Francisco and gives you and your company a wealth of activities to do to get your team bonded and ready to take on the next milestone.
Picking Your Home Base
An excellent home base for the ultimate Sonoma off-site is Farmhouse Inn. Farmhouse Inn was founded by siblings Catherine Bartolomei-Smith and Joe Bartolomei. The Bartolomei clan has been living in the Sonoma Valley for five generations. Catherine and Joe first bought Farmhouse back in 2001. Yes, you read that right, 2001 when the Internet and the rest of the economy went in the tank. Let’s just say they know a thing or two about standing the test of time and it shows.
The grounds at Farmhouse Inn are impeccable. The property is nestled right off River Road and backs up into a lush forest. Their Farmhouse Inn restaurant has a Michelin star, and the staff is warm, professional and knowledgeable. The concierge staff is superb and proactively works to get you the amenities you need to make your stay unforgettable, such as a selection of handcrafted soaps and body treatments that you can pick out yourself upon check-in. You receive a delicious artisanal handmade dessert in your room upon arrival, and they even provide chef-made s’mores for brisk evenings by the fire. Farmhouse is perfect for groups of 5–25 since they have 25 rooms and have ample meeting spaces against a gorgeous backdrop of lush greenery and rustic decor.
The Farmhouse is one option right in the thick of it but if you want something different and off the beaten path, The Applewood Inn is a farther out option. There is not much close to The Applewood but it’s still picturesque. There are also VBRO options like Modern Home in Bodega Bay or Healdsburg Vineyard Estate to name a few.
Wines, Wines and More Wines
Close to Farmhouse are numerous wineries to chose from. No corporate off-site is complete without some sort of winery tour and tasting — even if you don’t drink. Some of my favorites are:
- Fog Crest: Has some great Chardonnay (not too oaky, which I love) and Pinot Noir. Oliver, their head of sales, is a great guy and has awesome recommendations. He took the time to gives us all the ins and outs of the area and even jotted some great notes down for us that we will be keeping for a while. The patio view is stellar overlooking the grapes that make up the delicious wine that you are drinking and the tunes are hip and retro. You could reserve out the whole patio for a group pow wow, tasting and conversation. I highly recommend this one!
- Medlock Ames: has a great tasting room along with a wonderful patio garden for snacks and a group experience. Their wines are all organic and stellar.
- DRNK: Tastings are by appointment only and it’s pretty tricky to find the entrance but it’s worth it. The wines are spectacular and Ryan, the wine maker, makes lots of different ones (like 12 different ones). Well worth it. Also, ask Ryan about his drones. They can set up a lunch or dinner in their cave, where they’ve built out a beautiful dining area. A perfect way for your group of 10–12 to escape from the heat and have a delicious meal with superb wine pairing. Who doesn’t love a great cave?
- Lynmar Estate: has a beautiful garden that is perfect to stroll around or enjoy a glass of their award winning Pinot. They even have classes on wine tasting as well.
- Dutton-Goldfield: has a large tasting room and outdoor patio with a large capacity and tasting option for much larger groups. They also just started offering a vineyard lunch. So give them a call to set that up.
- Iron Horse: is known for their bubbles and has a rustic tasting area that overlooks the vineyard. Lots of local artisan food to purchase as well.
- Hop Kiln: another great place for big groups. It also has a large picnic area and the old Hop Kiln is a great place to tour around.
All told, there are more than 450 wineries in Sonoma County, so I’m clearly missing a few. For more recommendations, just ask your hotel concierge or you can browse them all at Sonoma County Wineries.
Team Building Activities Besides Tasting Wine
There are lots of great team building activities to do in Sonoma to get your team properly bonded and functioning at a high level in-between tasting wine and planning for world domination. Here are some of the best Sonoma has to offer:
- Wine Blending at Dry Creek: okay, I lied. Technically this is tasting wine but it’s also doing something rather than swirling and spitting. Learn how blends are made and then taste your creation.
- Corporate Iron Chef: these guys catered my wedding and the food is spectacular. Get competitive and see which one of your team will be crowned Iron Chef. Cue fog machine and dramatic music.
- Take in a Road Race: Sonoma Raceway is home to NASCAR. Bring your whole group and take in a race. You can even walk the track post race.
- Safari: Safari West has over 400+ acres of land with giraffes, gazelles, zebras, oryx, antelopes, cape buffalo, wildebeests and many of the other 900 animals in an exotic African Savannah setting. It’s like you went to Africa without needing the shots.
- Ropes Course: you know I had to put the classic rope course and trust falls stuff. Please do this before you taste wine.
- Ramekins Sonoma Valley Culinary School: has group classes where you cook a 4 course meal. Make it into a competition or not. Either way, you’ll eat some great food and figure out who among your team can make the perfect roux.
- Window Shopping in Downtown Healdsburg: Healdsburg has a great downtown with lots of great shopping and eating. It’s worth a stroll.
- Rafting on the Russian River: This is a great group bonding activity for even large groups. You can see who will lead the charge and who will fall out of the raft. If it’s a hot day, I’d want to fall off the raft.
- Hiking: There are lots of great places to hike in Sonoma. Sugarloaf State Park is a great option as well as Salt Point State Park where you can see the pygmy forest and a tree named after my family. Seriously, no joke.
- Medlock Ames Bar: Few know about the cocktail-filled speakeasy after 5pm behind the Medlock Ames tasting room. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. Technically, not wine :)!
- Russian River Brewing Co.: If you are into big bold beers, then iconic Pliny The Elder is the one to try. The place can be a bit chaotic but they do serve food and have ample space for groups.
Now, For the Group Lunch or Dinner
Sonoma is a foodie’s paradise. There are lots and lots of fantastic restaurants for all styles and appetites. It’s actually hard to just pick a few since they are all good but pick I must:
- Underwood Bar and Bistro: a great casual place in Graton with wonderful food and some nice non-wine drink alternatives.
- Valette: a beautiful dinning room that is the perfect spot for a nice dinner. The atmosphere is rustic chic and the food takes inspiration from local farms and producers.
- Farmhouse Inn: is a Michelin Star rated restaurant right on the Farmhouse Inn property. The food is an art creation and a treat for your tastebuds. The staff is very knowledgeable and the wine pairing is well worth it.
- Barn Diva: direct from farm fresh provisions, a stellar cocktail list and they can handle big groups. I love their YOURS OR MINE? which has their own barrel aged whiskey. Yum.
- Jimtown: has the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. Great place to grab lunch for the whole group to eat at any of the wineries mentioned above. It’s right down the street from Medlock Ames.
Can’t Make Up Your Mind? Here’s Some Help
The good folks at Farmhouse sent me some great itineraries to help you plan your ultimate Sonoma off-site. These itineraries mostly scale with people but make sure to check with the venues just to make sure. I only listed up to three days since anything past that is probably a bit too long for an off-site and your liver. The itineraries are wine heavy so if you want to substitute one of the team building activities, those should probably be the whole day or before hitting the wineries. I’m sure there is some sort of law against trust falls after a morning of wine tasting.
- Day 1: Fog Crest, Lynmar Estate, Lunch at Jimtown, Medlock Ames, Tour Headsburgs, & Dinner at Valette.
- Day 2: Spa Treatment, Iron Horse, Hop Kiln, lunch at Underwood, Dutton-Goldfield, Emeritus, & Dinner at Farmhouse Inn
- Day 3: Hike Pigmy Forrest, Bear Republic, Flying Goat Coffee, Cooperage, Russian River Brewing Co., & Dinner at The Girl and the Fig.
The ultimate Sonoma off-site is not that hard to plan because Sonoma is such a wonderful place to visit. It’s full of rustic charm, great restaurants, award winning wines and most of all fantastic and friendly people. So, grab your team and head to Sonoma and do some team building.