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Extreme Wine Tourism at Sonoma

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by Liz Thach, MW

Wine lovers around the world appreciate a unique wine tourism experience, and fortunately many wineries have been happy to oblige by providing an increasingly long list of innovative activities. 

Dog walks in vineyards, river kayaking and fashion shoe try on events, all followed by wine tasting, are just a few examples. However, a completely new wine tourism experience has come to Sonoma County in the form of the Sonoma Speed Festival, and this can truly be called “Extreme Wine Tourism.”

Sauvignon Blanc and racing Ferrari 2 Picmonkey

Conceived by Jeff O’Neill, long-time race car enthusiast and CEO of O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, the event is designed to bring both car and wine fans to a unique three day event at Sonoma Raceway where they can witness historic cars race around the track while sipping wine. "Our primary goal is to bring the greatest authentic historic race cars to the track where they belong,” says O’Neill, “while at the same time experience the delicious wine and food of California.”

In addition to races performed by historic Ford Mustang cars, Rag Time racers featuring models from 1910- 1920, Ferrari, and Porsche, Mercedes-Benz featured the 10-time Grand Prix winning W07 Hybrid with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport racing team. While there, this car and driver broke the track record at 1.15 minutes.

The event featured 17 high-end wineries, including such illustrious names as Williams Seylem Winery, Clos Pegase, Robert Hall, Girard Winery, Gary Farrell, Keller Estate and Adobe Road, amongst others. Food included Viansa’s Italian Marketplace, Rob Larman’s Cochon Valant BBQ, and charcuterie and sweet creations by Chef Izzy Kurtz.

“The best part for me,” said wine tourist Lupe Leon, visiting from the East Bay, “was the chance to walk by hundreds of amazing cars while sipping a glass of wine. Then getting to see them race on the track was truly a memorable experience.”

It should be mentioned that no race car drivers drank alcohol before climbing behind the wheel, but the majority of the wine tourists were able to watch the races with a glass in hand. This inaugural event is expected to be offered against next year, but in the meantime, wine and car devotees can still visit the Sonoma Raceway during their regular car racing season, and then spend a few extra days visiting some of the 1000 wineries in Napa/Sonoma Wine Country.                  

 Liz Thach MW bio pic MUG

Editor’s note:  Dr. Liz Thach, MW is a wine, food, and travel journalist as well as the Distinguished Professor of Wine & Management at Sonoma State University. One of her research specialties is Wine Tourism, and she has co-authored a book entitled “Best Practices in Global Wine Tourism.” Liz can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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