Defining the “Sonoma lifestyle” can be an elusive proposition, especially since its interpretation is often left to marketers and PR flaks who draw from warmed-over notions of Napa from under a setting Tuscan sun.
This is something I’m called upon to do, both professionally and socially, with some regularity. The former I can usually accomplish with some plug-n-play boilerplate (see above – I keep reams of this crap at the ready). However, I find that people tend to bristle when my eyes glaze like I’d just been shown the queen of hearts in the original “Manchurian Candidate” and recite “Sonoma is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful town I’ve ever known in my life.” Anyway, the fact is, I believe in our fair hamlet, our bucolic burg is the gem of Sonoma County. I also believe that we’re not properly managing the hard-earned equity we’ve built over generations into our brand, which is being siphoned from us not just by the sundry products I have occasion to lambaste in this space (heinous example: Boston-based Crabtree and Evelyn, Ltd. owns the trademark “Sonoma Valley”), but by our neighbors throughout the county that bears our name – what I like to call “Fauxnoma.”
But you say, “Daedalus, you L.A. burnout, you’re always bandying marketing terms around. This is where I live, not a media conspiracy – why should I care?” Listen, I care because Sonoma County is where I was born and raised and where I’ve witnessed systematic erosion of its natural charm in quarters such as my hometown of Petaluma, which a single developer has transformed into a riverfront strip mall. You should care because your homes, businesses and lifestyle experience will see diminished value as the creep of unchecked exploitation of the Sonoma premise continues. More importantly, we love it here. Don’t we? This week, the results of a study conducted by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index determined that Sonoma County ranks first in the state of California and fifth in the nation for “well-being.” Perhaps this will help add a zero or two back onto the perceived value of our homes. Or perhaps this will incentivize the powers that be that the town of Sonoma should join the rest of the county in contributing to the Sonoma County Business Improvement Area (BIA) Assessment, lest Rohnert Park, Windsor and Petaluma’s sprawling east side seize upon the mantle of “The Happiest Place in California” – the headline cresting the Press Democrat’s story about the study.
Participation in the BIA would add an additional 2 percent hotel tax, passed on to visitors of our local hotels and would allow the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau to assert its estimable marketing efforts on our behalf. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, permit me to remind you that I am Sonoma County’s Lifestyle Ambassador and produce and host an ongoing video series for the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau.
In this capacity, what I find particularly galling is that I’m not permitted to showcase the wonder of our local attractions to the world because the Isle of Sonoma doesn’t contribute. The irony is stinging, particularly when I live and work in a town of such tremendous beauty and have to trundle my crew to the next towns over to celebrate their wines, hotels, spas, restaurants, etc. Be assured, I’m not merely complaining about my commute, I’m worried that the opportunity cost will eventually bite us in the ass.
And note, this is not to deny or allay the efforts of our local visitors bureau – this should be a complement, a wheels within wheels strategy that functions as a perpetual awareness machine. Please note, currently, the towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg are the only holdouts from the countywide program. This is the same Healdsburg, mind you, that was featured in the Wine Spectator a couple of years back with the headline, “The New Sonoma.” With headlines like that who needs frenemies?