Planning a corporate event in Sonoma Valley is ideal, particularly for smaller meetings or retreats. With plenty of intimate venues and the exquisite backdrop of vineyards and historic towns, it’s easy to turn what might normally be an average event into a highly memorable one. But creating that wine country meeting involves more than a pretty space—it means a deeper understanding of how things work in Sonoma Valley and collaborating effectively with the hospitality team at your chosen venue.

To get the best tips on planning a wine country meeting we interviewed the Directors of Sales for three of  Sonoma Valley’s top meetings sites to find best practices. A special thanks to Joan Harvey of Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, Michael Wilson of MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa, and Xavier Bon of the Lodge at Sonoma. Here are top tips on how to plan your meeting, retreat or getaway in Sonoma Valley.

Do your homework before contacting venues

Doing your research before you start contacting venues is a great way to empower yourself. Looking at venue websites, understanding the number of rooms available, pricing, and the layout of the meeting space is key to starting the process. Once you are sure that the venue is within your budget and fits your general needs, then you’re ready to reach out to the venues.

Michael Wilson advises event planners to hold off on calling out for an RFP until they’re serious and focused. “Look at the websites first, look at the published rates, and know if it’s within your budget. The more focused you are, the quicker a response you’ll get from the sales team…which often means better service. This makes interactions super-efficient and could mean a better rate.”

Confirm your venue and dates early; then read the fine print

Most corporate events book a year in advance. Make sure to be clear on your dates, your timing, and your venue of choice. These days, with the backlog of corporate events and conventions that were postponed, last-minute bookings are a thing of the past; look ahead and pick your dates early.

Xavier Bon explains, “The best rates for corporate groups in Sonoma Valley can be found midweek (arrivals on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday) with rates in the low $300’s from November through March. If your goal is to get the lowest rate, stay away from summer weekends, or weekends during harvest season which runs from August through most of the month of October.” Joan Harvey also recommends Sunday arrivals for the best pricing. In short, get to know the published rates, and remember the adage, “off-peak and midweek means great pricing.”

Signing a contract makes your company responsible for all costs. Empower yourself by reading the fine print. Get informed about taxes and service surcharges, and ask for an all-inclusive rate so that you know what the occupancy and tourism taxes will be included in the final balance of the bill. When you factor them in ahead of time, they will help you stay on budget and avoid unnecessary surprises.

Streamline communication through email

When planning a corporate event, it’s common to want to reach for the phone, make a quick call, and ask all the questions you have as they come up. But do yourself a favor: be professional and organize your thoughts first. Michael Wilson explains that when you streamline communication through email, you create a paper trail for you and the hospitality team at your choice venue. This helps avoid miscommunication, ensures you get your response in a more efficient window of time, and signals to the venue that you are professional about this important business transaction.

When a venue sees that you’re serious, they will treat you accordingly. As your corporate event approaches and the last-minute questions invariably come up, you’ll have a useful record of all the important communications between you and the venue to reference.

Look for places to enjoy nature and year-round activities

To really enhance the experience of a corporate event, retreat or small convention, Joan Harvey recommends picking a venue that offers a connection to the outdoors. Whether it’s a private patio for a happy hour, a conference room with a great view, or an outdoor dining space, creating connection with nature enhances the impact, turning your event into an experience.

And when planning your wine country meeting, make sure you offer opportunities for participants to get out and about in town and in nature to experience the community. Sonoma Valley offers an incredible array of experiences to enjoy in the outdoors, regardless of time of year. From hot air-ballooning above the valley and horseback riding through vineyards to hiking through the mountains and ziplining through California’s iconic redwood trees, there are countless ways to foster team-building and creative collaboration for your participants.

Consider hiring a local destination management company to handle logistics

Streamlining your time and resources is effective for everyone. Xavier Bon offers a pro tip for event planners: “Hire a local destination management company to handle the logistics! There are some great local companies that will handle arrivals, departures and offsite activities, and they will work closely with the hotel to ensure a seamless experience for your group. If you have a smaller group and choose to plan on your own, make sure to utilize the Hotel Concierge and Event Manager assigned to your group.”

Assume best intentions and keep interactions friendly

Hospitality is what Sonoma Valley does best. With a county full of seasoned hospitality professionals and warm, friendly service, we are able to welcome and serve hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It’s not just what we do; it’s a source of pride. Keeping things small, bespoke and special is our style.

While mistakes, miscommunications, and misunderstandings happen, know that Sonoma Valley would be nothing without the great people we have welcoming our visitors every day. Please assume best intentions and know that we value you immensely, and look to serve however long you’re able to stay. Regardless of where you come from, of what your budget is, and who you are when you’re at home, our hospitality teams treat everyone with the same degree of respect. When you bring your best game to the mix, you can be sure they will, too!

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