Sonoma 2011 – A TWM franchise field trip

Tim's Wine Market

As a franchisor I feel it is imperative that my franchises know and understand wine country.  To that end, for the second year in a row I have organized a three day, “field trip” to Northern California, this time with a focus on Sonoma County.  For the next three days I will be posting a little travel blog about our adventure.February 27, 2011– Day OneOne of the great things about visiting northern California is the United flight 37, which departs Orlando very early but arrives in San Francisco at 9:30, so we have a full day.  As this is a franchise education trip I try not to plan only winery visits, but also things that they can use to help run their individual stores.  One of my favorite non-wine places to visit is Draeger’s of San Mateo, a grocery/wine/housewares/restaurant/cooking school that is only a few minutes south of the airport.  We wandered the store for an hour, admiring their housewares and cookbook displays, the wine shop and of course my favorite part, the bakery.  While we have no plans to be as big as this, it certainly gives us food for thought about what non-wine related items we may be carrying in the future.I always like to make sure we are all fortified before we start the wine tasting portion of the trip, so of course that means a quick stop at In and Out in Mill Valley.  If you haven’t been, it’s worth the stop.  Remember these words, Animal Style. My standard order is a 2×2 animal style, with animal style fries and a Neapolitan shake.  With this much grease and fat lubricating my veins I am now ready to taste wine.Our first wine stop is to an Australian importer, Wine Trees.  Here we taste 12 wines and find several potential WOM selections, as well as a few potential, weekly email features.  We also take a few minutes to admire our host’s garden.  If you have never visited California this time of year it is amazing how much is blooming as spring has not quite started.  Everywhere you look are blooming plums, something that looks like dogwoods, as well as poppies, lilies and rosemary.  For a gardener like me it is a true bonus.Michael, Craig, John and DaveThe second stop for the day was high in the hills of Bennet Valley, at a new, tiny producer, Flanagan Vineyards. I met Eric a few weeks ago in Orlando and was knocked out by his Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is easy to see why after visiting the site.  His vineyards are thirty-five degree slopes, twelve to fifteen hundred feet above the valley floor.  With virtually no top soil the vines struggle to yield even two tons of fruit per acre (Napa Valley floor will often yield eight to ten tons).  Phillipe Melka makes the wines for this property and his signature, elegant style is perfect fit for this amazing site.  These wines are expensive but worth it for a special night.  The Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon will be in stock in the Orlando store by mid-March.At Eric Flanagan’s recommendation we finished the night at Zazu, a farm to table restaurant that appears to be in the middle of no where.  The wine list is very affordable and the food is fantastic, with pork products made from their own herd of black strip pigs, peppered across the menu.  Chef Duskie Estes and husband John Stewart have a great operation going, well worth the visit.