“I cook with wine. Sometimes, I even add it to the food.”–W.C. Fields
More than ten million people a year visit wine country in Napa and Sonoma counties–about an hour and a half from the city of San Francisco. They come for the wine and stay for the beauty, tranquility and charm of this Northern California Paradise, and they spend billions on wine, food, lodging and entertainment. The region’s exceptional wines are requested and served throughout the Bay Area, making wine country the hub of the nine-county area’s culture, lifestyle and economy. Two wineries share top rank with France as winners of the “Judgment of Paris” putting Napa on the international must-taste-wine-map.
With more than 600 wineries to choose from, the region is a mecca for those who like to combine culture, wine, food and entertainment with pristine beauty and serenity. Sean Penn and Robin Wright Penn, Katie Couric, JZ and Beyonce, Rachel McAdams and other celebrities are repeat visitors. Even if you’re not famous, the people who keep wine country humming, treat all visitors with consistent, unparalleled hospitality.
Part of the steady heartbeat that keeps everything running like a well-oiled machine, is credited to an organization called CANVAS–an acronym for Concierge Alliance of Napa Valley and Sonoma. Its founder is Colby Smith, a household name among those who live and work in wine country and to the thousands of Bay Area restaurants serving wine from the Valley. Colby is a people-connector who tends to downplay her role as the ultimate wine country organizer. She knows that her company is a valuable service, but insists it is only as good as its members.
“There are thousands of very talented people who make wine country the special place it is. Meeting and event planners, concierges, restaurants, entertainers, vintners and wineries, even mom and pop roadside stands and gas stations. I just happen to be the glue.”
CANVAS facilitates workshops, research trips, web resources and networking so the Wine Region’s hospitality professionals can convey a high-quality, personalized level of caring to millions of wine country visitors and pair them with thousands of hospitality workers in an area that covers over 2,500 miles.
“The Law of the Few” as described by Malcom Gladwell in his 2002 best seller, The Tipping Point:How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, relates to exceptional people “who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them” says Gladwell. “The lesson of stickiness is the same. There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it.”
Colby is one of those few and she started the CANVAS trend seven years ago. She saw an opportunity to add value to customer satisfaction, and offer services to the industry that would have multi-level benefits to individual business; the industry as a whole; and the most important component—the wine country visitor.
Before she founded CANVAS, hospitality workers in the Valleys were separate, but united by default, all of them catering to the end-consumer. CANVAS, she decided, would match the needs and interests of each segment of the industry.
Visitor numbers were increasing,” says Colby, but there was a loose affiliation between the businesses who served our visitors and they needed a cohesive platform to deliver the best customer service. Concierges, meeting planners and restaurants could help each other. There is so much going on in the region and it’s a challenge to navigate the options without basic tools.”
Putting social in social media
Colby uses a balanced social media plan but insists there is nothing that tops true old-school social interaction. Social media alone is not enough in a region where people gather specifically for social interaction. She is constantly on the phone with clients and potential exhibitors, or sending e-mails to her data base of close to two-thousand people. Meeting for lunch over local cuisine and wine, of course is a must. Armed with a plethora of information and statistics and a Type A personality, she is fearless, and formerly worked as a stunt woman, taking high leaps and falls for the stars. She also has a background in web design, public relations, modeling and television production.
The social gathering of the summer for Napa and Sonoma Valleys is the 2016 Wine Country Hospitality Trade Show. It’s a private networking event that connects corporate meeting and event planners with top hospitality professionals. Colby likes to keep things intimate. A hundred-plus exhibitors and 150 attendees will be wined and dined at Cornerstone Sonoma/Sunset Magazine Test Campus on July 12. As soon as the tables are cleared, Colby will start planning for 2017.
“It never ends,” she says “but I love what I do. I guess meeting and being with people and putting them together is part of my DNA.”
For more information about Napa and Sonoma wine country, visit these sites and start planning your visit to the Bay Area’s social hub for a memorable experience.
www.discovernapasonoma.com (a sneak peek )
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