I recently had the most relaxing getaway of my life. It was that good. A big part of it was the chance to spend time with friends on a girls-only getaway.
Another part of it was our chosen activities. We spent the weekend wine tasting in Sonoma. We were there with the express purpose of relaxing.
But relaxation wasn't a sure thing. All three of us tend to be results-focused, intense and driven, so relaxing doesn't come automatically for any of us. On top of that, one of us had significant flight delays, one was coming off a brutal work travel schedule, one had just acquired a new business, and another had been battling a sinus infection that put her further behind than usual. Clearly, we needed to relax, but the odds were stacked against us. However, we beat those odds and had a great time.
Part of our success in turning off the intensity and getting relaxed can be attributed to the people we encountered. They were relaxed. And they were service-oriented. They helped us ease into our four-day getaway and to kick back, knowing everything would be taken care of for us. `
I started calling it Sonoma-Style Service because it was apparent almost everywhere we went in Sonoma. Let me offer a few shout outs as examples of the kind if service I wish were more common in other places, too.
Our first stop, fresh from the airport and just entering Sonoma was the beautiful Jacuzzi winery. Robert was our host here, welcoming us to Sonoma with stories about the winery's history and with great patience in answering my newbie questions (it was my first wine-tasting experience). He helped set the pace and mood for our getaway. Although there were lots of guests to accommodate, Robert made us feel like we were the only ones there. He was easygoing and attentive, so we began to unwind.
Robert set the standard. It's a good thing we started at Jacuzzi, though, because our second stop was less relaxing. We felt crowded and rushed. There wasn't the same easy dialogue and service-orientation. As those all-too-familiar feelings of hurry-up tensions were creeping back in, I felt at risk of not being able to fully enjoy the long weekend.
This contrast between the first and second winery was striking. Both were set in the beautiful landscape. Both were outfitted and decorated with care. Both were staffed by professionals. The only discernible difference was in how the people we encountered chose to interact with us.
Fortunately, what we experienced in the second winery was the exception rather than the rule. In total, we visited 14 wineries and several other businesses. There were only two places where the service was disappointing. And there were several where the service was so exceptional that I felt compelled to write this blog about it.
We spent our Saturday being chauffeured from one to another place. Our driver, Brian, was helpful and knowledgeable and polite in every possible way. His company, Beau Limo, seemed to have courteous drivers everywhere we went. But Brian took time to get to know what we were looking for and to help plan a route including everything we asked for and more.
Brian epitomized the term "personalized service." He genuinely made an effort to take care of every concern we had. He worked hard to make us comfortable and to answer all the questions that we came up with.
One of Brian's suggestions, based on an interview about what we were hoping to do, was that we visit Robert Hunter, a boutique winery and majestic estate with historical gardens. We were met there by Kurt who spent about two hours narrating our private tour through these beautiful gardens and educating us about Sonoma wine-making.
Then there was Sam at Kenwood. He played along with our silly mood and helped us understand the differences between the private reserve wines, the Jack London collection, the use of the art on wine bottles and so much more.
When we arrived at Imagery, business was bustling. Jen found a spot for us in a reserve tasting room. It was more than we had planned to do here, but since these were the only seats in the house, she made an accommodation for us. Again, the emphasis seemed to be on helping us relax and enjoy our time. (Which we did!)
One of the most historic places we visited was Gundlach Bundschu. Cynthia spent time here telling us about their past, the family and the pride that winemakers take in their craft. It felt like talking with a new friend.
Great service wasn't limited to wineries. Our server at brunch was Bruce at the Fig Café. He took time to make us feel welcome, to answer questions about the menu and about the surroundings, and he interacted with us in a way that went beyond customer and server. He made our time there extra special.
When I think about service, I think about the feeling I'm left with after the encounter. Part of it is personalization, part of it is product knowledge, and part of it is the ability to put those two things together. When a service provider uses their knowledge in a way that helps me, personally, that epitomizes top-notch service.
As I think back to this stand-out service in Sonoma, I'm struck by how frequently someone offered something to me that I would not have asked for on my own. In each case, they did this in response to something else I had said or indicated. They helped me by first knowing a little bit about me.
Sonoma-Style Service doesn't have to be limited to Sonoma businesses. We could all give our customers that great Sonoma feeling... It just takes a little time to get acquainted first so you can personalize what you're offering.