Alumni Travel Program - Sonoma Valley
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Wine, Dine and Design - Sonoma Valley
Summer 2014

Spend four days in Sonoma County where you will experience world-class wine tasting and gourmet restaurants, along with stimulating discussion of winery architecture.  This tour will be led by Sonoma County-native, and Hiram College professor, James Thompson.


About Your Host
James Thompson grew up in Sonoma County and did his undergraduate studies at Saint Mary's College of California.  He later left the area and received his Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame in 2008.  Since then, he has taught in the political science department at Hiram College where he has worked closely with Hiram's Garfield Institute for Public Leadership.

Along with his study of politics, James is also very interested in architecture, and teaches a course at Hiram on the relationship between political ideologies and architectural styles. Furthermore, he is a founding member -- along with Hiram president Tom Chema -- of the Jaoquin Weiss Institute, which is dedicated to preserving the past and promoting the future of Cuban architecture. 

Package includes: 

  • hotel accommodations
  • shuttle transportation (four day)
  • four lunches and four dinners (your main entrée is covered; extra food and wine during meals will be purchased by the individual at the time of consumption)
  • wine tasting fees for eight winery stops

Fee: $2,000 per person

Participants are responsible for their airfare and transportation to/from the hotel.


Trip Itinerary

Arrival Day

Check into the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park.  This hotel is ideally located in the middle of Sonoma County, and thus provides an easy starting point for all the planned day trips.  Furthermore, the hotel is easily accessed from San Francisco International Airport, via the Sonoma County Airporter shuttle, which does hourly pickups right outside the SFO baggage claim area, and takes passengers directly to the Doubletree (shuttle cost is $37 per person). The Airporter also runs from the Santa Rosa airport (Sonoma County's main airport) to the Doubletree. 


Day 1

10:00 a.m. - presentation by Professor Thompson on the political, cultural, viticultural and architectural history of the county

11:00 a.m. - drive to Sonoma, which is a postcard-perfect town, and was not only the original county seat for Sonoma County but was also – very briefly – the first capital "city” after California became a State 

12:00 Noon - lunch at the Red Grape, which is a quintessential bistro-style Sonoma County restaurant, right off the central square

1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. - explore downtown Sonoma (the Mission, the shops, the art galleries, etc.)

3:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. - wine (cheese, and olive oil) tasting at Jacuzzi Winery and Carneros Winery.


These two wineries are not merely attractive destinations gastronomically and aesthetically, but they also have adopted architectural styles – Romanesque and French Renaissance, respectively – which are thoroughly "imported" to the area, and thus offer excellent starting points as we trace the evolution of winery architectural style as it moves from being pleasantly foreign to fully 21st Century Sonoma County-ian. 



 7:00 p.m. -  dinner in El Dorado Kitchen, a restaurant which perfectly expresses the marriage of casualness and sophistication which is the essence of Sonoma County culture

Day 2

10:00 a.m. -  touring bus / scenic drive through rolling vineyards, and through the towns of Glen Ellen and Kenwood

12:00 noon - lunch at VJB, in Kenwood

Owned by friends of Professor Thompson, this is an architectural collage of buildings housing a wine storage-and-tasting facility, a spectacular dining room, gelato bar, and a deli. Brief presentation during lunch by Professor Thompson regarding the winery architecture which will be viewed that afternoon.

2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. - wine tasting at Ledson Winery and then at Chateau St. Jean Winery



The gothic architecture of the former, while interesting, is the most aesthetically out-of-place of any winery which will be seen on the trip – and arguably, is the most out-of-place in the entire county – and thus indicates the importance of finding a locally appropriate architectural style. The style of Chateau St. Jean then provides the first clue as to what that might look like, insofar as it seeks to present a location-conscious building which reflects the soft-toned aesthetic of the region, while nonetheless being one of the county's most impressive venues.


7:00 p.m. - dinner at the Kenwood Restaurant, which is set amidst the rolling vineyards


Day 3 

10:00 a.m. - drive to Bodega Bay, on the Pacific Coast

11:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon - on the beach 

12:00 Noon - 1:00 p.m. - lunch at The Tides restaurant, which specializes in fresh-caught seafood

2:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. - drive alongside the Russian River, through redwood forests, to Korbell Champagne Cellars



Not only a world famous champagne brand, but it has a stylish, understated architectural profile which moves more towards an authentic expression of Sonoma County taste.

After champagne tasting, then travel to Hops Kiln Winery, which occupies a landmark local building that used to be a hops-drying facility, and which expresses an early sense of Sonoma aesthetic style.


6:00 p.m. - dinner at John Ash restaurant



Day 4

10:00 a.m. - drive to the town of Healdsburg, which has become – over the last decade or so – the most exclusive destination in the county

11:00 a.m. - visit the art gallery of Marc Harris, one of the country's most successful artists.

A personal friend of Professor Thompson, he will provide a no-doubt unforgettable introduction to his art, and to Healdsburg in general.

12:00 noon - lunch at Campo Fino, an exquisite little restaurant tucked away off the central square, favored by the locals


2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. - wine tasting at Jordan Winery and Stryker Winery, both located in Alexander Valley, just to the north of Healdsburg


No winery in the county does a better job of marrying European style to the Northern California sensibility than Jordan, which echoes a French chateau while being very much a Sonoma destination. Stryker, on the other hand, is indeed the perfect distillation of a contemporary, purely Sonoma County aesthetic, and thus it functions as the architectural culmination of the trip. A final architectural discussion will be held on the grounds, accompanied, of course, by wine and cheese.

7:00 p.m. - dinner at Coppola Winery, which is owned by Francis Ford Coppola

This winery is unique in Sonoma County, offering as it does not only wine tasting, but also a museum of Coppola movie memorabilia, and a sophisticated, stylish restaurant.

Departure Day 

Checkout of the Doubletree Hotel 


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